The promise you made to your spouse on your wedding day is the most significant promise you’ve ever made. And I believe the fulfillment of that promise (or the lack thereof) will end up significantly shaping your marriage.
As sincere as you probably were when you promised, “I do” to your spouse, your sincerity has likely been tested in the years that followed. Why? Fulfilling that promise (and any promise) can be challenging at times. Keeping your marriage promise requires prioritizing your word over your circumstances. It requires sacrifice, commitment, embracing delayed gratification, and valuing the recipient of the promise (your spouse) more than yourself. Fulfilling your promise requires patience, trust, and self-control. But, as hard as fulfilling your marriage promise might be at times, it is worth keeping.
Here are 10 things to remember to help you fulfill your promise to your spouse…and as a result, have a healthy, growing marriage for a lifetime.
Your Promise is Vertical
I believe a lot of people stand across the alter from each other and think their promise is directed towards each other. And to be clear, you did promise to each other. But first and foremost you were making a promise to God to care for the spouse he gave to you…his perfect gift for you.
This changes things, doesn’t it? If you only promised to your spouse, it might get difficult to fulfill that promise when your spouse gets a little prickly. But when you realize your promise was primarily towards God, it increases the stakes of who and what you’re promising to. You made a promise to your spouse, but your primary promise was to God.
Your Promise is Permanent
The promise you made to your spouse is permanent. The bible refers to this promise as a covenant. Malachi 2:14 says, “…the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth…though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”
A covenant is a relationship between two partners who make binding promises to each other and work together to reach a common goal. This binding promise you made to each other and to God was not meant to be broken. Matthew 19:6 says, “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
If you go in to marriage thinking there’s an out, you’ll likely end up taking steps away from your relationship when seasons of tough conflict hit. At first these steps might be subconscious and almost unnoticeable, but over time they can gather quick momentum. Entertaining that your promise is breakable is a slippery slope that can lead to damaging distance between you and your spouse. Tough conflict will put your promise to the test, and a strong commitment between you and your spouse is one of the best foundations to resolve conflict well and experience deep intimacy.
Put another way, you’ll never give 100% to someone you’re not 100% committed to. And the only way to successfully resolve conflict (and experience deep intimacy) is for you and your spouse to give 100%, 100% of the time. The starting place of giving this to each other is making a promise to each other until death do you part.
Entertaining that your marriage is temporary plants a deceivingly small and subtle seed of division in your heart. Don’t plant that seed. It has the potential to sprout and grow deep roots very quickly.
When was the last time you told your spouse you in it…forever?
Your Promise is Blind
In a lot of ways, the promise you made to your spouse on your wedding day was blind. You knew who you were promising to, but you didn’t know exactly what you were promising to. No one who’s ever made that promise really knew what they were saying “I do” to. Yes, you made an educated guess based on your dating relationship, but there’s no way to really tell what you’re promising to.
I’ve heard it said that you marry 3 people at the altar. The person you think they are. They person they really are. And the person they will become in response to being married to you.
The famous theologian, Forest Gump, put it this way, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” To a certain degree, the same is true of marriage. You don’t completely know what you’re gonna get until after you make the promise.
Tim Keller, in his book, “The Meaning of Marriage”, says it this way, “Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.” This is what makes the marital promise so significant. You’re making a promise based on an unknown future. As risky as this might seem, I believe this somewhat blind promise has the ability to “unlock” intimacy in ways not otherwise possible (see below).
Your Promise Is Risky
Making a lifelong promise to someone without knowing what the future takes being vulnerable, a willingness to get hurt, let down, disappointed, etc… Every marriage will go through these moments and sometimes there will even be seasons where you and your spouse just aren’t clicking. But if these difficult moments / seasons are experienced where 2 people are 100% committed to the relationship, the future days will be filled with greater intimacy than the days before.
As I think back to the moments and seasons when Star loved me when I was being unlovable, it makes me appreciate and love her even more. She wasn’t loving me in response to my behavior, she was loving me in response to the promise she made to me. Her promise fueled her love when her emotions were putting on the brakes. Her unconditional and undeserved love not only impacted me, but it strengthened the bonds of love between us. And, it motivated me to love her unconditionally. She made a sacrificial and somewhat risky investment in our relationship that ended up having a great return. It was hard for her in the moment, but in the end it unlocked a deeper form of intimacy between us not before possible.
Everyone wants intimacy in their marriage, but not many are willing to be vulnerable enough to get there. Making and fulfilling a promise requires vulnerability, and vulnerability is required for intimacy. Loving with a complete commitment to each other is risky, but it’s the only way to experience the deep intimacy and unconditional love that everyone wants.
Your Promise Requires Leaving
The promise you made to your spouse should change the way you see and treat all of your other relationships. Your spouse got promoted on your wedding day, and all your other relationships got demoted…including your parents. You should continue to honor your parents and treat your friends well, but not at the expense of fulfilling your promise to honor your spouse first. As you let go of your parents and friends with “both hands”, you are free to take your spouse firmly by both hands and CLEAVE to them. You will only be able to cleave to your spouse to the degree you leave your family and friends.
Your Promise is a Gift
I like how W. E. Vine says that a promise is “a gift graciously bestowed, not a pledge secured by negotiation.” You are not only giving the gift of yourself at the altar, you are giving the gift of yourself forever regardless of how your spouse “performs”. How significant this promise is to give, and how wonderful this gift is to receive!
You’ve exchanged many gifts with your spouse over the years, but the greatest most significant gift you’ve ever given, or will ever give, is the gift of your promise to be with them forever. The security that accompanies this type of promise builds intimacy, trust, and mutual love.
When was the last time you thanked your spouse for the gift of their promise to you?
Your Promise Protects
I like the picture Alistair Begg paints regarding our wedding promise, “Vows provide walls of protection when threatening emotional winds and waves begin to beat upon the relationship.” Marriage will have seasons of internal struggles, but chances are high there will be at least a few external struggles and temptations along the way as well.
Remembering and re-affirming your promise to God and to your spouse can help you walk away from “slippery places” and resist temptations when they come.
Your Promise Works
It turns out that fulfilling your wedding promise might be the key to successfully navigating the inevitable ups and downs of marriage. Linda J Waite found that, “…2/3 of unhappy marriages will become happy within 5 years if they stay married and do not get divorced.”
Something significant happens when you “stick it out”. Expressing love to each other in the temporary absence of feelings is a powerful force that builds BIG connection in the future of your relationship. Expressing this type of love IS an investment worth making. Loving your spouse in the absence of feelings of love will build a future love that won’t easily be broken.
Of course there are some seasons that demand doing more than just staying together for the sake of staying together. If you’re experiencing a repeated cycle of conflict or if your season of disconnection is growing deeper and is prolonged, please reach out for help right away.
But if you’re in one of the inevitable seasons where your marriage isn’t completely “clicking”, remember the promise you made to your spouse and let that promise fuel your love when your emotions are putting on the brakes.
Your Promise Changes You
We’ve said the promise is difficult but also worth it to achieve the intimacy only possible on the side. A promise produces deep love between 2 people, but it also produces the best environment for change to take place. Why is this important?
We all go in to marriage with a certain degree of selfishness, pride, and independence. Any one of these characteristics can weaken a marriage, but a combination of all 3 (which we all have) can literally take a marriage out. So why would God put 2 people with these relationally devastating character qualities together…in the same house…in the same room…and sleeping in the same bed? Because in order for the covenant relationship of marriage to work, these qualities have to be continually worked out.
Put another way, marriage will eventually bring out the worst in you. It does bring out the best in you too, but when you’re living with another flawed human being all day every day, your pride, selfishness, and independence will come out. In order for you to rid yourself of these relational cancer like qualities, you have to be first be more aware of them. And ironically, marriage provides the best environment for your negative character qualities to be exposed so that you can take steps in the direction of changing.
But, the fulfillment of your promise is the key to this happening successfully. I’ve heard it said that marriage is God’s workshop for change. But if you leave the workshop before the work is done, you’ll short circuit the change that needs to happen in order for your relationship to be everything God wants it to be. As you and your spouse partner with God to become more selfless, humble, and interdependent, you will have a healthier and more satisfying relationship.
On-going personal change is required to have a great marriage, and fulfilling your promise to your spouse creates the best environment for personal change to take place. Don’t just promise to your marriage, promise to pursue working on the areas of struggle your marriage reveals.
Your Promise Brings Glory To God
Our ultimate goal in life should be to give God glory in everything we do, say, and think (1 Corinthians 10:31). And the most significant way we can give him Glory is to become more and more like him.
God has given us the institution of marriage to be one of his primary workshops for changing us to become more like him so that we would give him more glory. So one of our goals is to see all of our interactions in marriage as opportunities to give God glory. Every conversation, every word, every action, every attempt at resolving conflict is an opportunity to give God glory and to fulfill our ultimate purpose in life.
God is a promise keeper. He is the ULTIMATE promise keeper. He does what he says…always. God promised he will never leave us, will always love us, and is preparing a place for us that is guaranteed. He is committed to us in every way.
As you keep your promise to your spouse in the same way God is fulfilling his promise to you, you are imitating the perfect Promise Keeper and therefore giving God glory. At the end of the day, and at the end of your life, that’s the most important thing you and I can accomplish.
Hans co-founded Marriage Revolution with his wife, Star, in 2010. He counsels couples in The Woodlands, TX, speaks at marriage conferences around the country, and provides leadership and direction to Marriage Revolution.