ERP 098: How are your Marriage Vows helping you?

By Posted in - Podcast February 27th, 2017 2 Comments

The challenge with wedding vows:

Wedding vows are beautiful expressions of love. When we go to a wedding, we want to hear about the couple’s love for one another. We are moved by the deeply sentimental proclamations. We are inspired by the power of love, demonstrated through a reading, scripture, poem, original vows or some combination.

However, vows are often aspirational and very hard to follow.

(Please listen to the podcast episode or read the transcript to hear more explanations, stories and examples.)

Last fall, my husband and I went to a friend’s wedding. They got married on a yacht and had a small ceremony. The groom is someone who I used to take volleyball lessons from and is an amazing teacher and coach. Coach John Wooden has had a huge influence on his teachings, so it was fitting that he incorporated a quote from Wooden:

“Promise to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit trouble to press on you. – John Wooden”

Truthfully, I love these expressions probably more than most people. And I work with couples all the time and see how they do not have practical direction with their commitments. Their vows do not support their practice of loving each other in the every day moments of life.

Not only do vows tend to be more aspirational rather than practical, they tend to be very general and vast.

Most people who have explored how to set and accomplish goals have come across S.M.A.R.T. goals…which stand for Specific. Measurable. Actionable. Realistic. Time-Bound.

Now, I am not suggesting that couples turn their vows into goals. However, I do think it can be extremely helpful for couples to have working agreements and operational commitments.

Commitments to guide us:

Back in 2006, Reid, my now husband and boyfriend at the time, were taking a short road trip. We were in the car and I remember him asking me what I thought about commitments. I told him that I thought commitments are most powerful and work best when they are seen as self-commitments and guiding principles. Commitments that I hold myself to and work towards. It is my integrity and desire that give me the motivation, rather than the obligation we often think about when we imagine a commitment to someone else.

Empirically Supportive Marriage Vows – an example

A couple of years ago, I came across this article “How To Craft An Empirically Supported Marriage, by Melanie Tannenbaum” I saved the article because I loved the example of how practical and scientifically proven ways of loving could be woven into marriage vows.

Granted both partners are psychologists, and they understand “that one of the most challenging tasks in a person’s life is successfully navigating romantic relationships.” They wanted to be mindful and intentional about their commitments and not leave the success of their marriage up to chance.

Here are some of their vows:

“On a daily basis, think about what your spouse does that you value, and verbally express your gratitude. No one is perfect, and focusing on your partner’s shortcomings while overlooking their desirable qualities doesn’t enhance anyone’s enjoyment of the relationship –- not your partner’s, and not your own. So Melanie, when Justin is ready to go to bed a solid three hours before you, let him know that you appreciate how conscientious he’s being. And Justin, when Melanie frenetically dances around the house to Tropi-Pop tunes at 11 PM on a Tuesday, let her know you appreciate her spirit and vim.

However, everyone fights occasionally, and what determines whether couples stay together isn’t whether they fight, but how they fight. When disagreements arise, listen to your partner, acknowledge the role you had in the conflict, focus on specific behaviors rather than criticizing your partner’s personality, and share concerns in a polite, empathetic manner. Respect each other in good times and bad.

It’s also important to create shared positive experiences. Hobbies are a great way to do this, and some are better than others for promoting good relationships. Activities that let you face challenges together as a team are an ideal way to build a stronger bond. As a bonus, exciting activities that increase your heart rate will let you benefit from misattribution of arousal. So, for the sake of your relationship, continue traveling, exploring, mud-running, moving cross-country, and taking risks — as a team.

Although it’s good to do things together, it’s also important to support each other’s personal freedom and autonomy. People enter into relationships because they admire the other individual. Help your partner continue to be that individual by respecting their personal goals and interests. Sometimes that’s as simple as asking questions to show your support. So don’t worry, Justin, there’s no need to sign up for Zumba yourself — but do continue to ask Melanie how it went whenever she comes home from teaching a class.”

If you want to read the article and see their references, you can check it out here.

In my work with couples, I have found it to be so important for the couple to have a shared philosophy, especially about how to handle challenges. Most couples have no idea how to deal with upset and disagreement when it happens.

Drifting away from each other:

Unfortunately, we are all familiar with couples “falling out of love” and “drifting part.” The sad reality is that we often expect our love to flourish without investing the time, energy, and effort into the connection.

Recently, I was watching This Is Us, a show on NBC.  There was an exchange between two friends. One friend confronted the other about his marriage falling apart. Here is an excerpt (from episode 14 “I Call Marriage”):

“You want to know why my marriage ended Jack? For as long as I can remember, I have woken up at 6:30 every day to make Shelly coffee, splash of milk two sugars. I would make it and bring it to her in bed. She says that he day doesn’t even start until she’s got caffeine in her veins. And then one day, woke up , 6:30, like always, and I made myself one. I just didn’t feel like making Shelly one. And the worst part is she didn’t even notice. We stopped noticing each other, Jack. We stopped trying to make each other happy. When we realized that, we knew it was over. Now, I think that every single couple has a handful of these moments when you reach a crossroads. Just sometime it happens early on, first fight…sometimes it happens ten years in, when you’ve had the same fight about taking out the trash every night for a week. They’re make or break these moments. And you either roll up your sleeves and you fight for what you’ve got or you decide that you’re tired and you give up. And I had one of these moments when I didn’t make Shelly her coffee.”

In an email that I recently got from Dr. Keith Witt, he wrote:

 “How to intentionally maintain your marital love affair?” Cultivate “I’ll do what it takes,” commitments to nurture the marital love affair throughout lifecycles. We begin relationships with a “I’ll stay as long as…” commitments, as in, “I’ll stay as long as we love each other,” or “As long as my needs are fulfilled.” If we are successful at taking care of our love for each other, these shift to “I’ll do what it takes.” commitments, where we both resolve to face problems and work through them when issues arise. “I’ll do what it takes,” couples tend to stay together and be more fulfilled. “I’ll do what it takes,” couples are more willing to keep focusing on the marital love affair to keep it satisfying and alive through all the life stages.”

Operational commitments:

What you will do when you are feeling challenged? When you feel distant… resentful…hurt? How will you show up? How will you deal?

Do you know what your operational commitments are in your marriage/relationship? If not, I encourage you to schedule some time to develop them. Maybe for your next anniversary take some time to add some practical and conscious commitments to your marriage vows.

If you feel like you and your partner could use an overhaul in your ways of operating together. Sign-up for the free webinar on March 15th to get some insight into how to cultivate a happier more connected relationship as well as learning about the Connected Couple program.

Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks offer some great input about conscious commitments, in their article titled “Conscious Loving: The Journey To Co-Commitment” (summarizing their book by the same title):

  • Commitment 1: I commit myself to full closeness, and to clearing up anything within me that stands in the way.
  • Commitment 2: I commit myself to my own complete development as an individual.
  • Commitment 3: I commit to revealing myself fully in the relationship, not to concealing myself.
  • Commitment 4: I commit myself to the full empowerment of people around me.
  • Commitment 5: I commit myself to acting from the awareness that I am 100 percent the source of my reality.
  • Commitment 6: I commit myself to having a good time in my close relationships.

Creating and maintaining conscious commitments is an ever evolving process, as you continue to explore and deepen in yourself and your intimacy with your partner.



Click on this link to access the transcript for this episode: ERP 098: How are your Marriage Vows helping you? [Transcript]

If you have a topic you would like me to discuss, please contact me by clicking on the “Ask Dr. Jessica Higgins” button here.

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If you are interested in developing new skills to overcome relationship challenges, please consider taking the Empowered Relationship Course or doing relationship coaching work with me.


(2) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Ken - Reply

    March 1, 2017 at 4:14 am

    Another relationship podcast gem. Dr. Jessica Higgins is a compassionate and gifted intellectual with the ability to focus her expertise on the subject at hand and transfer those truths to listeners like us.
    This episode gives me the tools to make my “I love you” tangible and measurable. This is fundamental to any relationship. Thank you Dr. Jessica!

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      March 2, 2017 at 6:51 pm

      Hi Ken, Thank you! I am touched by your comment and feedback. Your input means so much to me. Thank you!

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