Is the 'Forsake All Others' Part of Marriage Vows Dated?


Q: I recently asked my girlfriend of three years to get married. Neither of us is religious but some members of our families are so we decided to have a church wedding. I'm wondering if we could change the vows though. I have every intention of being faithful, and have done a pretty good job so far, but promising to "forsake all others" as long as I live sounds unrealistic these days so why bring it up?

He Said: Marriage is designed to be a major life-changing event and a wedding marks your official transition into this new state. Some clergy will work with you on what you want and don't want covered in your ceremony but I would stick to the script that millions before you have spoken. Standing up in a church in front of friends, family, and a video camera and swearing to do something gives you a gigantic incentive to follow through. Imagine if we had to do that for New Year's resolutions. Forsaking delicious temptations, whether it's a hottie in the office or a warm chocolate brownie, takes practice and commitment. But marriage vows are not there to stick stop signs  in your sex life; rather, they are supposed to help you focus your energy on your spouse and your new life together. You might argue that you can't honestly promise to be in love forever, but you can promise to try.

She Said: Yes, I think you should write your own vows. In fact, I think you should sit down with your fiancee as soon as possible and work on them, letting her know that you'd like to leave out mention of lifetime monogamy. I'm suggesting this only because it's sure to get you two talking about exactly what you are committing to here. If you leave out the monogamy clause, does that mean you're entering an open marriage from the get-go? Or are you simply wanting a parachute clause should one of the office interns start to look tempting after your wife bears two of your kids and has spit-up dripping from her sweats? When you imagine having trouble forsaking all others in the future, what do you envision? A one-night stand every so often on a business trip, or possibly falling in love with someone else way down the road after a long marriage to your wife? These are uncomfortable questions, and I tend to agree with you that lifetime monogamy is both a difficult and increasingly unrealistic goal for most couples. But simply omitting it from your vows isn't the answer, and I can't imagine either your wife or any church-affiliated clergyperson is going to let your penchant for denial fly. You can create any kind of marriage you want, and you don't need an advice columnist to do it. But you do need your life partner's input and agreement. Hash it out with her and you'll soon see exactly what your options, desires, and fears are in this area.

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