Insights from Wedding Favors Unlimited's Wedding and Marriage Advisor - Dr. Peter Pearson of The Couple's Institute. Having counseled more than 10,000 couples over 30 years, Dr. Pearson is a world-renown expert in helping couples resolve issues and create strong, loving relationships.
#1 - Wedding Vows are an antidote to your worst self
You’re mean. You’re picky. You hide the truth. All of us have done this as some point. And most of us are secretly ashamed of our worst selves. But there’s no way to act perfectly all the time. Why? Because Mother Nature gave our brain two systems: The limbic system aka the lizard brain and the prefrontal cortex, aka the visionary brain. And every single day, you’re in a constant struggle between the two. What are these two brains?
The lizard brain is selfish and wants benefits and rewards without much effort or risk. When it doesn’t get its way, the lizard brain can and will pout, punish, preach, get profane or prickly. It shows up when it feels a threat, pain, or fear. It does the nasties not because it is mean but it feels it is not going to get something that it deems important. It is terribly self-protective and in the heat of a conflict it doesn’t think about the consequences of being nasty or withdrawn – it just wants relief as soon as possible.
The visionary brain acts differently. This part of the brain that is responsible for being patient and inspirational. It tries to be peaceful, positive, persevering, prudent, penitent, purposeful, and loving. It’s the side of you that loves others and gives without looking for anything in return. It envisions happiness in your life and the the lives of others arounds you and works on growing love in the world around you. Wedding vows come from the prefrontal cortex – this is the part of the brain that is responsible for being patient and inspiring.
Wedding vows are great antidotes to the lizard brain – many couples indirectly recognize the negative influence of the lizard brain when they write vows such as “I will never try to hurt you just because I'm angry or tired. I will always work to be worth of your love, and accept that neither of us is perfect.” Include vows that recognize your worst self and how you’ll make an effort to counter your lizard brain.
#2 Wedding Vows force you to think about your values and what values are important to you
For most couples, the only time in their lives that they reflect on what is important to them is when they are in the process of seeking a mate or a job. Most couples stop thinking about this as soon as they get married or hired.
But wedding vows force us to rethink what is important and what we value. Vows force us to recognize that we need to appreciate each other on a regular basis. Wedding vows let couples hear why they are chosen, and fulfill their need to feel wanted and appreciated. Vows such as “Your creativity and talent inspire me.” tell our partners what is important to them. One of our favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa: “There is greater hunger in the world for appreciation than for bread.” Writing vows that cement why you want and appreciate your partner can help reinforce what’s important to you.
Newly married couples often come to couples’ counseling saying ‘tell us how to communicate!” In my experience, the skills are relatively simple, the hard part is that couples don’t have the will to apply them. They don’t have a big enough “why” that gets them beyond the lizard brain. The vows are our way to emphasize what values are important to us when things are bad. Making a promise to “be strong in difficult times” helps guide us when relationships hit rough spots.
#3 Wedding Vows can be our personal and relationship GPS in times of duress, disappointment and disillusionments
No relationship is perfect. We know this because no one marries an identical twin and few people would choose to marry a personality clone of themselves. You’ve probably already had more than one disagreement by now, and there will more than a few in the years to come.
What vows do is they tell us how we will treat our partner when they are less than their stellar self. Vows tell us what do and how to be. Each line will tell us what is the ‘ideal’ behavior and and why we think that’s an ideal to act. Here’s an example of one that describes the kind of person they want to be: “I want to be curious and caring when things get difficult.” Vows help us reflect on all the different roles we play for each other
#4 The vows make us reflect on all the different roles we play for each other
This is just a handful of the many roles you will play for your partner during your marriage. Both partners will not only play these roles, but also learn from each other the best way to live out these roles in a way that makes the other happy.
One of the most important roles you’ll play is one of trusted partner. Vows profess trust, that you’ll each be there for each other. And Trust is the foundation of a relationship that flourishes. For example, your vows may include phrases such as “I promise to be strong for you” or “I promise to hold you up in times of trial and challenge, and to support you and our marriage with all I am and all I can give.” These vows impose a binding trust that you’ll be there for each other, through all sorts of situations
#5 Vows help us explain and remind us why we are with someone
Wedding vows are derived from our best and highest self. We go outside our personal self-absorbed bubble, our lizard brain, where the focus is on maximum gain with minimal effort. Instead, wedding vows rely on our visionary brain to help us explain who we are and why we are with someone.
Many of the vows are about the “why” of being together, which can be pretty darn important. The German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once said, ‘He who has a why can endure any how.’ Knowing your why is an important first step in figuring out how to achieve goals that excite your imagination – together and individually.
Together you will create a life you enjoy living (versus merely surviving!). The why in your vows gives you the courage to take the risks needed to get ahead, stay motivated when the chips are down, and move your life and relationship to a more challenging, and more rewarding trajectory.
This process of reflecting about what our partner means to us usually stops sometime after wedding and then doesn’t reappear until one person is bitterly disappointed by their partner.
By using your vows to record why you are marrying someone, you can rely on it to remind you why you’re willing to overlook breakfast dishes in the sink, instead of your partner putting them away.
Vows help explain our vision of who we want to be and what kind of relationship we want with our partner. They ultimately remind us all the best reasons we are with someone. Reminders that will echo through the rest of our lives.
Interested in chatting with Dr. Pearson? Feeling Antsy about your upcoming event? You can reach him at The Couple's Institute