The Third Vow

Most wedding guests are unaware that they have an obligation beyond bearing gifts when they attend a wedding. What most don’t realize before they arrive, is that their participation at this age-old, sacred ceremony is not as observers, but as participants. 

Did you know that three vows are made during a wedding ceremony? The first and second are those the bride and groom make to each other.  After those vows, during most wedding ceremonies, the Minister then asks this question:  “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”   They are expected to respond, with vigor: “We will! ”

Just as we expect the bride and groom to uphold their vows to each other, the third vow, made by the witnesses, bears equal weight. Even beyond that expectation, there is an unspoken understanding that we hold this same responsibility to all married people within our community.   

But how do we uphold a vow to keep our friends married?  How can we “uphold” people in their marriage? Do we have a responsibility when a marriage is stressed, as every marriage inevitably is?   How do we help each other stay married?

In order to answer this question, it helps to understand your community as a web: Imagine that your community is a web is made of clasped hands, where “clasped hands” can be any kind of connection between the people you know. Every time we get to know someone, the web grows another channel, and expands a little more. The stitches in the web are closer for some, more far apart for others, but are all still connected. 

When someone leaves your community, a hole opens up where there was once a connection. When the loss is sudden or painful, as with a death or a difficult divorce, the resulting hole is ragged and chaotic, and the entire web jiggles for some time, leaving your whole community feeling insecure and a little helpless. When holes appear in our web, we instinctively reach across the gap toward each other, and pull a little more tightly, a little more closely, until our community is stitched back together. It’s a lot of work, and repairing holes tends to take a toll on the whole community.

For one reason or another we all at some time loosen our grip on each other. Sometimes we lose connections as friends, and sometimes our married friends loosen their connections with each other.  It is during those times that the rest of us have to reach farther and hold on tighter. It is in these moments that we pull our friends’ weight and uphold our vows to each other.  If we allow the connections to go slack, the web blows wildly in the breeze, leaving us all feeling queasy and insecure. It is for our own benefit, as well as for the benefit of those we have vowed to support, that we do whatever we can to keep the connections in our web strong. Instinctively we know that one weakness in our web could mean another hole, and we need each other - so much we exist as a web.

Admittedly, there are those in our web who clasp no hands, and may even work to weaken the bonds we hold between each other. In those instances, the community may benefit from the release of one link. Even that causes a hole though, and we must reach across the gap then as well, and grasp each other closer in order to restore our web.

So, how do we do it? How do we help our friends stay married? How do we help others when sometimes it’s hard enough to keep ourselves married? Can single people support married people? How do we keep the connections in our web secure? How do we help each other uphold the first vow we make to our spouse, as well as the Third Vow we make to each other?

We start by recognizing that we have an obligation to each other. We have either literally taken a vow to help our friends stay married, or we have taken an implied vow to keep our own communities strong. Recognize that you, as a married person, are a powerful example to other married people. That example alone can help others uphold their own vows. Recognize that anything you do to weaken a marriage bond affects the entire community, and recognize that anything you do to support your friends makes our entire community stronger. 

Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?  We will.