In the absence of sufficient Real Love, we tend to marry our partners with the expectation that they will make us happy for the rest of our lives. Regardless of the words actually spoken at the wedding ceremony, what we hear our spouses say is this:
“I promise to make you happy—always. I will heal your past wounds and satisfy your present needs and expectations—even when you don’t express them. I will lift you up when you’re discouraged. I will accept and love you no matter what mistakes you make. I give to you all that I have or ever will have. And I will never leave you.”
Neither partner is consciously aware of making this bushel of promises, but each partner still hears them and insists that they be fulfilled. When both partners lack sufficient Real Love, however, they can’t possibly make one another happy, and then their efforts to do that yield only disappointment and anger, no matter how hard they try.
I have been asked on several occasions what marriage vows would look like if both partners understood the principles of Real Love. I suggest these vows might look something like the following:
I spent a lifetime looking for a kind of happiness that eluded me. Again and again, I was deceived by the temporary satisfaction that came from approval, praise, excitement, power, and safety.
But then I found Real Love—unconditional love. I found people who cared about my happiness without wanting anything from me in return, and gradually I’ve learned to care for others in a similar way.
That love has changed everything for me. I’m not empty and afraid all the time anymore, and I’m no longer a prisoner to my anger.
I’ve discovered the peace and genuine power that naturally flow from loving others without conditions. I’ve learned to feel that way toward many people and to have healthy, rewarding relationships with them. I don’t claim to love perfectly, but I’m getting better at it.
So why, of all these people whom I have learned to love, have I chosen to make a vow of marriage only with you?
Because in addition to the unconditional love I share with many, I want to share with you a higher, unique level of loving. I choose to seek that higher plain with you because I believe you have a desire to participate fully in an honest, healthy relationship and because I believe you are willing to commit to the process of learning how to become an unconditionally loving human being. I believe that I can feel more unconditionally loved, become more unconditionally loving, and feel greater happiness with you than with anyone else I know.
Seeing that combination of reality and potential in you, with a full heart I commit:
- that I will continue to share with you the truth about who I am—my mistakes, flaws, fears, foolishness, and successes.
- that when I become empty and afraid—and when I then behave badly—I will not quit our relationship. I will stay with you. I will try to admit the selfishness in my feelings and behavior and will then do whatever it takes to find the Real Love I need to participate in a loving relationship with you.
- that when you become empty and afraid—and when you behave badly—I will not leave our relationship. I will stay with you. Instead of protecting myself or getting my own needs met in the moment, I will try to see your need for love and will do whatever it takes to find and share with you the Real Love we need to have a loving relationship.
- to share my body with you, freely, in a way that I will share with no one else.
- to share with you my material resources, completely and without reservation, again in a way that I will share with no one else.
- to share my heart with you in a way that no one else will ever know.
- that I will stay engaged in a relationship with you while I learn to love you, no matter what the temporary difficulties might be.
Vows like these reflect a realistic understanding of what a healthy relationship can become. They also serve as a guide for the development of that relationship.
Find genuine happiness now and forever.
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