Renewal of Wedding Vows
Types Of Vow Renewal Ceremonies And Their Purposes
Researchers have identified three different types of vow renewal events: (a) couple or family initiated events, where the couple or members or their families planned and carried out a renewal of vows ceremony; (b) relational repair events, where the couple came together after a separation or severe relational challenges and renewed their vows; and (c) group or mass renewal of vows events, an event usually planned by a church where multiple couples would renewal their vows (Braithwaite and Baxter 1995). Reasons for holding the vow renewal event differ within these three types.
The first type of renewal ritual is initiated by the couple or their family. Although a couple may renew their wedding vows at any time during their marriage, the majority hold this ceremony as a way to commemorate a milestone wedding anniversary, such as their twenty-fifth, fortieth, or even fiftieth anniversary. Several different motivations or goals are reflected within the couple-initiated ritual. Couples use the ceremony as an opportunity to publicly express their love and commitment to one another. Other couples pay homage to their marriage by giving themselves the "real wedding" that they never had. For some, their original wedding ceremonies were often found lacking in emotional and/or material ways. These include couples who had eloped, had limited financial means when they married, or married during wartime, and they opt for a large, formal renewal ceremony with all the traditional wedding trimmings (e.g., formal clothing, flowers, and wedding cake).
Some couples choose to enact the vow renewal event to pay homage to friends and family. These couples recognize that their marriages are embedded in communal webs of family and friends and believe these significant others should be honored through the celebration of the vow renewal event. (Baxter and Braithwaite 2001). Another function performed by the vow renewal ceremony is to pay homage to the institution of marriage. Some couples feel that the public renewal of their marriage testifies to the endurance, strength, and beauty of the institution of marriage. In honoring their own successful marriage, couples feel that they are serving as role models to others, particularly members of the younger generation. Finally, for many of the couples, the renewal demonstrates a reverence for God and testifies to God's presence in their marriage.
A second type of vow renewal ritual is one that reflects relational repair, most often after a separation or severe relational challenge. The couple chooses to renew their vows to mark a turning point in their relationship, such as signifying the successful resolution of a crisis in the relationship (e.g., after an extramarital affair) or marking the transition to another stage in the relationship's history (e.g., after the children have left home).
The third type of vow renewal event is a mass ceremony in which a member of the clergy administers a common set of vows to an assembled group of couples who simultaneously renew their respective marriages. In some instances, a presiding minister or priest simply asks couples to stand up during part of a regular church service. In other instances, couples sign up for a special church service during which the mass ceremony will take place. These mass ceremonies recognize the central role of marriage in the institution of the church. Other mass ceremony renewal events involve marriage enrichment programs such as Marriage Encounter, in which couples participate in a structured program intended to enhance communication skills between spouses, and culminates in a group-enacted renewal of marital vows. Although most couples participating in mass ceremonies report they are glad they participated, some couples report that these mass vow renewals are somewhat impersonal and less meaningful than couple-initiated and repair vow renewal ceremonies.
In short, the marriage vow renewal event is a communication ritual that pays homage to both the unique marital bond between partners as well as the broader institution of marriage. The public nature of the marriage vow renewal event and the function of witnesses stresses the importance of understanding marriage, not as simply a relationship of two people, but as embedded in webs of social relationships including family, friends, and the community.
Baxter, L. A., and Braithwaite, D. O. (2001). "Performing Marriage: Marriage Renewal Rituals as Cultural Performance." Southern Communication Journal 67:94–109
Braithwaite, D. O., and Baxter, L. A. (1995). "'I do' Again: The Relational Dialectics of Renewing Marriage Vows." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 12:177–198.
DAWN O. BRAITHWAITE