Why I don’t like the word “vows” in the context of weddings

Guest post by Jessa
Tattooed Bride and Tattooed Groom in New Jersey

I don't like the word “vows” in the context of weddings. A vow is like a promise and, whether we like it or not, promises are easy to break. I prefer the word “intentions,” because it gives you a clear view of my side of things and my way of thinking. What I intend to do is what is important, how I intend to treat you — right now and for the rest of my life.

This is just truth. I can't see into the future. I can't see all of the ways that we will inevitably hurt one another. I can't see how our love is going to grow and morph into (hopefully) this bigger, even stronger thing than it is today, at our wedding. What I can see is how I want to treat you, and how I intend to love you.

Here is what I wrote as my “marriage intentions”…

Your love is like an electric current running straight through my heart. Sometimes it's overwhelming. Sometimes I look at you, and I feel really full, like a balloon stretched to its limits — but in a good way. Your love is solid ground beneath my feet, it is an arm around my shoulder and the kind of hug that makes all of your worries melt away. Your love is my bread and water. It is a snowball fight in the winter and the sunshine sinking deep into my skin on a warm summer day. It's the adrenaline of climbing down a steep cliff and standing next to a freezing waterfall, with its roar pounding in my ears. Your love is chicken noodle soup when I'm sick and macaroni and cheese when I'm sad. Your love is so big that I never knew I could want it or that it could ever be in my reach.

I intend to be those things for you too. I intend to support you — in your decisions, in your choices, and in your life. I intend to help you continue to learn and improve, and to do the same, so that we can always be the best versions of ourselves for one another. I intend to love you — hard, unconditionally, and openly — as much or more than I do today, which is a lot by the way.

We love this idea of stating intentions instead of making vows! Anyone else have great ideas to use as a wedding vow alternative?

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Comments on Why I don’t like the word “vows” in the context of weddings

  1. That’s a really good way to re-frame it – I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of promises and vows, because so many things that affect their fulfilment are out of our control. It is something that my Beloved struggles with though, never having the certainty (false though it may be) of pinning me down.

    • Thanks! I felt that same discomfort when I sat down to “write my vows” and it took a while to figure out why. To be honest, so much of traditional weddings make me uncomfortable that I almost ignored my discomfort and went with it. I’m so glad I didn’t, as this helped me to frame how I view our future and discuss it with my partner honestly.

  2. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Can’t intentions be changed, discarded, ignored?

    Look… what you ‘intend’ to do is of absolutely no importance at all. What you DO is what matters, always. Whether than means a ‘vow’ or a ‘promise’ is the right thing to use in a wedding ceremony, I have no idea. But I do know that ‘intentions’ are useless.

    • “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

      I think if you are going into a marriage or partnership it is always important to think about how you want to treat someone and how you want to be treated. You are right, that you then have to follow through with actions that are inspired by those intentions. For me, when a promise or a vow is broken that is it. It’s broken. If I promise to be the sunshine in your day on that altar and then one day I’m surly and morose, I’ve broken the promise. With intentions, it’s more like “well, I really didn’t follow through on that one yesterday. I’m going to make a better effort today to bring some sunshine into their life.”

      That’s the difference to me.

  3. Sorry, but I really do not get the concept. A marriage per se is not the statement of “good intentions”, you can also have good intentions toward your partner in a relationship without rings, hell you can even go old and have kids and love each other honestly and endlessly in an relationship without ever marrying. And that is perfectly fine as well!

    The reason why you marry is because you know NOW that you are going to spend your whole life with this person through wind and through weather in the good times and the bad and because you want to give your partner the official promise to stay with him until death do you part. That is, what marriage means.

    Marriage is not about “well, i’ll try my best and we’ll see what life brings and if its fine, its fine and if I change my mind along the way…meh.”

    Of course today we know that life does not always turn out the way we plan and some things change so severely that we are not able to keep our promises any more. And of course then you need to break your promise. People make mistakes.

    But you have to at least be sure at the time when you marry someone that you can keep the promise with this person! If you are not willing to make this commitment NOW, if you are not sure that he or she is going to be the partner for your life and until your death, if you are not sure you can love him or her the rest of your life, right NOW in this moment, if you are giving the possibility that you break your vows so much room that you do not even want to vow, why are you marrying somebody?

    • I also prefer using a word like “intentions” or even “plans”. For me, it is about the precision of language and what the word vow (solemn promise) means. Breaking a promise is not an option for me, and you stated yourself, “And of course then you need to break your promise”. That is why I’ve never made one, casually or otherwise. I prefer to be specific and realistic with my words.

      I think too often people use powerful words like vow to add a facade of strength to their relationship, which sometimes means you avoid having real thoughtful conversations about feelings and the state of that relationship.

    • It’s OK that you don’t get the concept, marriage is a really personal thing! This is about how I view marriage. I appreciate you reading it and sharing your thoughts. I guess your last sentence is a little incendiary to me, but I’ll try to respond.

      I think it’s perfectly legitimate to marry someone knowing that there are qualifications. If I had to make promises to my partner they would have to be couched in those, which is what made me pause and reflect on this in the first place.

      “I promise to be by your side every day, except those days when you are traveling for work. I promise to always love you, unless you break my heart by cheating on me. I promise to trust you (when you are being generally trustworthy) and be the best version of me for you (except when I’m feeling really sick or depressed). I promise to support everything you do (except when it’s really not in yours or our best interest and then I’m going to challenge you).” etc etc Vows as most people see them seem to me like they require a long discussion and honest reflection and agreement.

      Is there really nothing that your partner can do that would make you stop loving them or make you not be married to them anymore? If so, I’m a little in awe of that. I’m not sure if I find it admirable or unrealistic. Either way, it doesn’t make my marriage any less valid. And anyways, I didn’t make any vows so I’m certainly not going to break them. 🙂

      • Well of course there would be things for me, that would make it impossible for me to carry on with a relationship (and I am happy that today I can get divorced in this worst of all cases). A marriage is always a bond of two people and the vows are only valid if they are kept from both sides. If my partner betrays me, he has broken his vow to be true to me and if he looses his feelings, he has broken his vow to love me.
        I do not question that there are couples who will not make it forever or there are unexpected life situations which make a marriage break. But to me, marriage is the bond that you close for a lifetime because you can’t see a future where you would be able to be without your partner or with another partner.

        Avoiding a vow just because I fear I may break it does not really make sense to me. It’s not like lightning is going to hit me if I break a vow but it is equally sad and hurting to me to loose a partner if he only stated “intensions” as it would be if he broke a vow. Because in fact, during the marriage, I rely on intensions just as much as I rely on a vow, the feelings are the same. You can not just put a “disclaimer” sticker on your marriage and tell your partner “well, I told you, I only TRY to do my best” if it all goes wrong. This does not help avoid the pain at all. It is the basis of a marriage to be able to rely on some basic agreements and values between the two partners and it is not as if I would not be equally hurt if my partner can not fullfill his intensions.
        On the other hand it would put my marriage in question, if my partner did not feel that he sees a future for us in which he is able to stick to his vows and therefor refuses to vow to me. Marriage is an incredibly idealistic way to start your life together. I would even say if you aren’t a teeny tiny bit idealistic, you won’t marry.

  4. If you take your vows/intentions seriously enough to handpick words that express exactly what you’re feeling/intending, I think it not only shows that you’re acknowledging the natural changes that will inevitably come from your relationship together and within each of you as individuals, but it also shows how much you care about your partner’s feelings and expectations of that future. If you want your intentions for each other to have explicit room to grow/shift/change/etc. in the same way you and your partner will also grow/shift/change, that makes perfect sense to me.


  5. I found this to be a wonderful post that was both insightful and thought provoking. And it is quite fitting, especially in this age of divorces after, say for example, 21 months (Kaley Cuoco, anyone?). As of lately, people forget that vows are a powerful thing. Personally, I try to not make promises that I can’t keep. I have not exactly had the greatest luck lately with keeping them. But as far as “intentions” go, the clichéd saying “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” is something I honestly don’t agree with. If you make the effort, then you are doing better than some of them suckers out there who get divorced after a short amount of time. Weddings are just one day. Marriages take a lifetime of work. If you are willing to put in the effort for one day, then you should be willing to put in the effort to make the marriage work. If that is the case, then who cares whether you call them “vows” or “intentions?”

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