Why "Obey" Needs to Be Struck From Your Wedding Vows

Traditional vows can sound downright oppressive to many brides-to-be

Photo by Cat Mayer Studio

It's about time the traditional wedding vows had an overhaul. Those sacred words—to love, honor, and, especially, obey—don't have much significance in today's modern world and can sound downright oppressive to many brides-to-be. But what should the perfect marriage promises include? We talked with real brides to find out what their marriage vows meant to them.

Eleven years ago, I was married in the tropical heat of a Cuban beach resort. The vows that the officiant translated from the original Spanish and had us recite to each other sounded more like a business contract than romantic promises for our lives together. The "marital code" that is repeated at Cuban weddings includes promises to equally share household chores and child-care duties. What it lacks in fireworks it certainly makes up for in equal opportunities, which suited this feminist bride nicely, thank you very much.

Kerri Moriarty actually didn't plan on getting married at all, and it certainly wasn't on her bucket list for a life well-lived. But as her relationship with her boyfriend, Chris Taylor, deepened, he caught her by surprise and she ended up saying yes despite herself. However, it was important to her that she keep her last name and that they signed a prenuptial agreement.

A traditional wedding was most definitely not in the cards. They vetoed a church setting, choosing instead to marry at Boston's Battery Wharf Hotel, where Next Level Films captured the action. Kerri's brother acted as the registrar and married the pair outdoors, deciding who said their vows first after the toss of a coin!

They wrote the most beautiful and original of very modern vows, including saying "I do" to "Do you take each other, for eva? For eva eva?" which was also written in curly script across their wedding-cake topper.

Kerri kept it real during the service by admitting that none of us are perfect but saying to Chris, "I promise to be the best person for you." Chris praised his new wife's independence and business acumen, announcing to the congregation that Kerri "makes being successful look easy."

In his personally written vows, he declared, "I promise to never hold you back," and he also cheekily complimented her "great taste in men." The vow Chris made that provoked the most tears in the assembled guests was "I promise to always know you." With this line, he was pledging that their love would be a verb that changes as they grow rather than a static oath that stalls at the first inevitable bump in the road. Kerri and Chris have started their married life as equals and intend to keep it that way.

Alain de Botton, the author and philosopher, thinks we should all be rethinking our wedding vows and replacing them with something a little more realistic. He warns against our "excessive expectations" of marriage and reminds us that we are, at heart, a "flawed species." With that in mind, here are three promises modern couples may want to consider:

  • I promise to support your ambitions and dreams
  • I will comfort you when you can't be strong, and I will lean on you when you can
  • And, most simply of all...I will love you.

Your exact wedding vows may well be forgotten as you age and your marriage develops and changes from an exciting, novel experience into a daily habit. But what remains is the love you share and the friendship you nourish each day, and that's a promise worth keeping.

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