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Meaning of Marriage Vows – Forsaking All Others

February 20, 2012

Author’s Note:

Bea Northcott is Executive Director of Marriage Investors. This is the eighth and last of a series of “Family Foundations” articles which explore the meaning of the words in wedding vows and how couples can use them daily to give meaning to their marriages.

The series of articles on the meaning of the marriage vows has been expanded and published into a book – Promising Words: The Meaning of the Marriage Vows. (317) 308-9889 | Marriage Investors, 1876 Northwood Plaza #201, Franklin, IN 46131 | Copyright 2008  Meaning of Marriage Vows – Part 8 | Marriage Investors.

Meaning of Marriage Vows – Part 8

Important Vow to Keep: Forsaking all others

Shortly after I started this series of articles on the meaning of marriage vows, someone asked if there would be an article about “forsaking all others.” This was well before Tiger Woods became the poster boy for marital infidelity. Unfortunately, much of what I’ve read about Woods’ infidelity has been about the effect it will have on his and golf’s fortunes rather than on what it means to marriages.

The phrase “forsaking all others” is not technically part of the marriage vows but is included in the Declaration of Consent from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church published in 1549. The marriage ceremony outlined in the Book of Common Prayer is the basis for most weddings in the United States.

The Declaration of Consent occurs prior to the actual vows. The officiant asks: “Will you have this man/woman to be your husband/wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him/her, comfort him/her, honor and keep him/her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him/her as long as you both shall live?”

According to “An exposition of the Book of Common Prayer and administration of the sacraments and other rites and ceremonies of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (1807)” by Andrew Fowler the reason for the inclusion of “forsaking all others” is added “to prevent those three mischievous and fatal destroyers of marriage, adultery, polygamy and divorce.”

Usually, the first thought in the mind of a person whose spouse has committed adultery is usually such anger at the shattering of trust that they immediately decide to end the marriage. But such marriages can survive and even get stronger. The Smart Marriages website ( has a number of resources on surviving infidelity.

The word forsake means “to renounce or turn away from entirely” and “abandon.” It is the act of sacrificing or surrendering a possession, right or privilege.

While the historical context of “forsaking” includes adultery, infidelity does not always equal adultery. There are many other ways a spouse can be unfaithful.

A common, modern definition of infidelity includes anything that interferes with the marital relationship and becomes dangerous to the marriage.

This means not letting in-laws, parents, siblings, or society intrude into the marriage.

This can include excesses in work, hobbies, television, computers, video games, or an emotional relationship with another person (of either gender) that does not include adultery, but does intrude into the marital relationship.

Intrusions into a marriage can also include children. A few months ago, I was talking with an engaged Franklin College student who had taken a class on relationships. She said the most important thing she learned was that nurturing the marriage relationship was even more important than being a parent. “Eventually children will grow up and move away, but the husband and wife will stay together forever,” she said.

As I was researching this column, I was surprised to find that few examples on internet wedding sites included the Declaration of Consent in the order of wedding ceremonies. In fact, one woman posted the question: “Where is the part about forsaking all others?”

There is a lot of confusion, misinformation and contradictions about wedding ceremonies on the internet, just as there are with many other topics. One website confused the Declaration of Consent with the giving away of the bride.

Another site included examples of several different types of marriage ceremonies. Only the “religious” ceremony included the Declaration of Consent. The “civil” ceremony replaced “forsaking all others”with “the intention of being faithful in marriage.”

Unfortunately, intent is significantly different from a vow to remain faithful.

One introduction to the wedding ceremony I read says very clearly: “I call to your attention the seriousness of the decision which you have made and the covenant you are about to declare before God. Be very clear that your marriage is dependent upon your willingness to be faithful to each other and faithful to your understanding of God’s will for your marriage. Unfaithfulness in either is a betrayal of your covenant. Constant and continuous obedience to your vow will result in a marriage which will be blessed, a home which will be a place of peace, and a relationship in which you both grow in love.”

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