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Meaning of Marriage Vows – Forsaking All Others

November 2, 2014

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.

Please leave your comments. I am interested to know what you think about this article!

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.”

  1. Nice Blog, thanks for sharing this kind of information.

  2. Anonymous permalink

    very nice thanks a lot

  3. Susan sharadon permalink

    So let me ask you this, is watching porn considered forsaking all others? You are looking at other women/men naked, is this a Vow breaker?

    • Thank you for your question, Susan! I believe that if you have lust in your heart for anyone other than your spouse, this is NOT forsaking all others. Since porn often leads to making contacts with others on social media sites — or even worse — to making contacts with escorts or extramarital affairs, this is definitely a vow breaker. With advertisements like Ashley Madison and other cheating/dating ads showing on your TV, the temptation is even greater. I am not an authority on marriage vows, but I do believe in them.

      I also believe that the human form is beautiful, as God intended. Simply seeing a naked body can be innocent, and simply unavoidable in this day and age of R-rated movies on your TV set and it is impossible when flipping channels during prime time to avoid it unless you stick to the Disney Channel.

      These days, folks are desensitized by the nudity, sex, and advertisements for sex workers. Because it is the prevailing attitude that cheating on your spouse is okay unless you get caught, the “forsaking all others” may very well be a concept from the past that loses all meaning when someone is in front of the justice of the peace or preacher on their wedding day. Sure, they may mean it at the moment, but a vow is a sacred commitment. A vow is something that should never be broken in the covenant of marriage.

      On the other hand, if you watch porn as a couple — is that also breaking a vow? I cannot answer that…

      Perhaps you should seek out a marriage counselor or talk to the preacher who married you guys. Bring the spouse with you, if you can. Maybe, just maybe, if that person is sensitive to your feelings and your own commitment, you can work it out.

      Keep me posted on your progress, and good luck!

      • Rush permalink

        What if, before meeting your wife/husband, you were intimate with an individual or individuals. Those “relationships” are no longer sexual but over time, you became friends or ‘cool,’ would you agree that forsaking all others means that you must terminate those relationships even if it’s no longer sexual and there are no longer any intentions on your part? Looking forward to any and all responses.

  4. Geneva permalink

    My comment also , is if your husband has been in a lot of relationships and says that they are juat friends and on occasion has hunted a women down and her 14 year old daughter becausw they new one another when they were single 18 years ago , should this be appropriate , and did not even tell me about it , i found out by accident , now wants them all to be close friends , this has been going on now for the 5 years we’ve been married , he says that is what he is to do is love his neighbor, yet he forsakes his wife , and he drive over the road in a semi and has done this for many years , and does not want to let go of his friends over his wife ?

  5. I think of pornography as a violation of “forsaking all others.” I think it means virtual others as well as physical others, and I believe that true intimacy can only grow in marriage if one does “forsake all others.” Only then can we build a deep, true, physically, spiritually and psychologically intimate marriage.

  6. Dancer permalink

    I am interested here in the references to “that may harm the marriage.
    When does an innocent friend become a harmful lover?
    Surely “forsake” doesn’t mean no friends either. therefore the clause about not harming the marriage is significant.
    IMHO this has to mean anything, which if the spouse found out would hurt or upset the spouse, is ‘off limits’. So the boundary between friend (good) and lover (bad) becomes a very grey area.

  7. Johnny Hooks Jr permalink

    When we leave the bible all kinds of he’ll takes place. People want to hear what they want to do and what they want to hear case closed. Marriage was created for God’s GLORY not our prophetic news.

  8. I have been married for 28 years since the very beginning my husband’s eldest daughter has been trying to Break us apart. The only thing we have ever father about is what his now all four kids are trying to do constantly trying to separate us. I was reading our marriage Vals to him the other day, when I got to the part about forsaking all others he asked me what do you think that means and I said you can’t have sex with other people he said look it up I found this blog! It May be helping to save our marriage

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