By Cindy O'Donnell, LCSW

There was an old episode of “The Dick Van Dyke” show where Rob, the main character is trying to get married and he keeps saying “I Do?” ---- “I Don’t?” Note the question marks. Ends up Rob is sick with a severe case of bronchitis and can’t hear because his ears are all plug up. Nowadays it seems like that is how marriage works, minus the bronchitis…”I do” followed by “I don’t.” It’s as if we’ve forgotten the true nature and meaning of wedding vows. Now they may vary slightly but the traditional vows are as follows:

"I, [speaker's name], take you, [partner's name] for my lawful [wife/husband], to have and to hold, from this day forward, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; and therefore I pledge thee my faith."

It’s as if we’ve forgotten or choose to forget the, for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or in health…till we are parted by death. We’ve chosen to reword the wedding vows. They tend to sound something like this:

I, [speaker’s name], take you [partner’s name] for my lawful [husband/wife], to have and to hold, from this day forward or until I deem that I no longer love you, you change in any way that I don’t like or you lose your current financial status or health. I then reserve the right to terminate this commitment.

What Christians sometimes do not understand is that marriage is a covenant (Malachi 2:14); it is more than just a commitment. It is a covenant between husband and wife that says I take you and I pledge before God and these witnesses. It is not a covenant to be broken or taken lightly. Having said that it is certainly not always easy to live marriage out especially when the worse, the poorer or the sickness creeps up.

What do we do? Well here are a few things I’ve seen that can help couples keep their covenant

1) Know that what you have committed to is a covenant just like the covenants God made to Noah, Moses, Abraham and David.

2) Remember that we are to serve one another (Galatians 5:13, 1 Peter 4:10).

We often start relationships with the expectation of, “What are you going to do for me?” This is not all bad but if we get stuck there, trouble brews. We are called to serve and if each partner was serving each other, imagine the kind of relationship that could be built. If both partners were considering the other’s need and serving each other, paradoxically, each of their needs would be met.

3) Be honest and take responsibility for yourself, your actions, thoughts and choices.

We live in a world where our default mode is to blame the other person.Pointing fingers only usually leads to circular arguments that do not get resolved and have potential to become damaging.

4) Remember that we are also called to love each other, love our neighbors and love our enemies.

This kind of love is not solely the romantic or “you are so great!” kind of love.God calls us to love Him and then each other.Loving others including your spouse is more of an action than a feeling.We love well through our body language, the words we use and the tone in which these words are spoken.Love is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, irritable, resentful or self-serving.Love comes with healthy boundaries. We are not to be walked on or injured, but we are called to this kind of love action, even when our spouse is the enemy and at times they may be.

5) And lastly…Forbearance: refraining from enforcing what you think your spouse has coming.

Lack of forbearance magnifies tension and conflict; it builds walls in a marriage and makes us petty and peevish, it ultimately can sever the relationship. According to Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh Demoss, “Exercising forbearance in minor matters is important practice for extending forgiveness in the bigger issues.” She feels that many conflicts and issues that arise in a marriage could be averted, including divorce, if forbearance was practiced within the marriage.

Forbearance is a by-product of love, the kind of love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:5-7,

It [love] does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Relationships are messy, including marriage. We have sold out to the happily ever after ending and when it doesn’t happen, we get on our white horse and gallop away. As messy as they can be…marriage is a beautiful mess. It is a place of safety, a place to love and be loved. Marriage is the kind of relationship that often can bring out the worst in us but it allows God to make the best of us. Happily ever after is loving with all your heart and knowing that you are truly loved… for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death does part you.