“…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part.”
I have to admit that when I took my wedding vows, I didn’t really understand what they meant. Sure, I understood the meaning of the words–better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness, and health are all fairly standard words in the English language–but I didn’t know what actually living them out would entail. After three and a half years of marriage, I’m just now starting to understand.
“To have and to hold” — I belong to my husband, and he belongs to me. We don’t belong to anyone else. Nobody else can touch us or enter our hearts. While this may seem very limiting, it’s actually empowering. There’s a special connection between a husband and wife that can’t be replicated in any other type of relationship. We’re meant to support each other, to hold each other in our arms.
“For better or for worse” — Here is the straightforward acknowledgement that being married isn’t always going to be blissful and rosy. There’s going to be tough times. Really tough times. Times when you feel like giving up. But with that harsh reality is also the promise of balance. As hopeless as a particular rough patch may seem, things usually get better. It’s just a matter of pushing through the difficulty to get there. It’s the “better” that makes the “worse” bearable. A bit of a challenge is not a reason to abandon ship.
“For richer, for poorer” — Sometimes I think about how much easier my life would be if my husband and I were rich. At least half of my worries would be irrelevant with more money in the picture. But where would the opportunity for growth be if all of my problems were so easily solved, or better yet, nonexistent? The true test of my character comes with having my budget stretched to its limits. Unfortunately, this scenario often brings out the worst in me. It’s hard to remain hopeful and optimistic when in today’s cruel world, money is required for virtually everything. But the lesson to be learned from this phrase, “for richer, for poorer,” is that ultimately, money doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, or if you’re poor. What matters is how you treat each other.
“In sickness and in health” — I always thought that “sickness” meant being in a debilitating accident or lying on your deathbed. I never imagined that it entailed something as seemingly benign as day to day ups and downs. “Sickness” refers to anything that isn’t healthy–addiction, mental illness, and hormonal imbalance included. Depression can be just as deadly as any other sickness. In denying my own “sickness,” it spread like a cancer and infiltrated nearly every aspect of my life. While my husband has been steadfast in his commitment to staying with me “in sickness and in health,” I have a responsibility to my marriage and to myself to seek help for my afflictions.
“To love and to cherish” — There’s a big difference between being in love and loving. Being in love is being blissfully blind to all of the other person’s imperfections. Loving that person means accepting them as they are–imperfections and all. But as the vows suggest, this doesn’t mean resentfully putting up with all of their idiosyncrasies. To “cherish” is to love each and every part of them, even the annoying parts.
“Until death do us part” — Marriage is meant to last a lifetime. Sometimes it’s hard not to look at this length of time like a sentence and feel trapped. There should be peace in knowing that there’s safety and security in a lifetime commitment. Despite the ups and downs, good times and bad, that solid foundation is always there to fall back on.
My husband always talks about having a vow renewal for our first milestone anniversary (five years). I’ve always resisted the idea in an effort to avoid all of the pomp and circumstance. But now, with a fresh new year ahead of me, why wait another year and a half to restate my commitment? I’ll say my vows with a much better understanding of what they mean:
“I, Nicole, take Raleigh to be my husband, to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part.”