When a couple takes the traditional marriage vows, they acknowledge three essentials parts to the relationship of marriage.
Marriage is a relationship of extraordinary care (I promise to love, comfort, honor, and cherish), sexually exclusivity (forsaking all others), and permanency (as long as you both shall live) between a man (to be your husband) and a woman (to be your wife).
1. Extraordinary Care
In the vows, a couple of promise to “love, comfort, honor, and keep” each other in any of life’s circumstances: “in joy and in sorrow, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health.” Couples making this promise don’t intend to care for each other only when times are good. They promise to care for each other when times are bad as well. And if, at the time of the wedding, one of them refused to make that promise, few would be willing to go through with the ceremony.
2. Sexual Exclusivity
When a couple marry, they promise to “forsake all others” and be “faithful” to each other—sexually. Faithfulness in marriage is so fundamental to the marriage agreement that when the vow is broken, most marriages go into a free fall. Infidelity ranks as one of the most painful experiences of a betrayed spouse’s life. Anyone who knew at the time of their wedding that their spouse would eventually have an affair would refuse to marry that person. It’s that important to remain faithful.
Affairs do not harm just marriages—they also harm children. A child also feels betrayed by a parent who cheats and then lies about it. Can you think of a worse example to a developing child than an unfaithful father or mother?
A couple who marry promise to remain together “as long as we both shall live,” and that promise is essential to marriage for a host of reasons. The most important reason is that stability and continuity are required for raising children successfully. If a couple were told on the day of their wedding that they would divorce when their children were young and needed them the most, they would stop the ceremony. Even if a couple knew they could only avoid divorce until their children became adults, I’m not sure they would agree to be married. That’s because marriage creates interdependence — both spouses come to need each other in order to thrive. A divorce at any stage of life rips them apart, damaging both of them.