SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)
Every marriage needs a "job well done!" now and again. An unexpected (and well-timed) hug and kiss help, while a thoughtful anniversary dinner or a weekend away from the kids works wonders, too. But for more and more couples, what really defines their deepening commitment to each other is renewing their vows, whether it's at a bash attended by nearly as many guests as came to the original wedding or an ultra-private ceremony with handwritten poems and no witnesses at all.
Experts say couples' realization that if marriages aren't nurtured they're likely to wither is what's fueling the trend. "Renewing vows elevates the importance of the marital tie," says David Popenoe, PhD, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and codirector of the National Marriage Project. Couples aren't waiting for their 50th or even their 20th anniversary to do it.
"The terror attacks on September 11 illustrated how fragile life can be, and for many couples this prompted a desire to formally restate their commitment," says Gerard J. Monaghan, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants, in New Milford, Connecticut.
A deeper meaning runs through even the most lighthearted vow-renewal party. "There's a new perception of marriage as a status symbol, meaning, if a couple manages to stay married for a number of years, that's a point of pride, and recommitting themselves adds even more value and meaning to the marriage," says Diane Sollee, founder and director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, in Washington, D.C., and director of Smartmarriages.com, a national marriage-education clearinghouse.
For some the ceremony can also be tinged with poignancy. "Couples who have experienced a trauma may feel the need to reaffirm their commitment," explains Paul G. Schauble, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Florida, in Gainesville. Dr. Schauble is familiar with the sentiments. In August 2003, after he recovered from a severe spinal-cord injury, he and his wife re-exchanged wedding vows.
Vow renewals look forward, too. "I would say that affirming your commitment to your partner, and to the institution of marriage, is the single most important thing you can do to keep a marriage together," says Dr. Popenoe. Here are four such affirmations.
On April 27, 2003, some 85 guests gathered at a historic mission in San Diego, California, for Buddy and Shawn Kornegay's wedding. The event featured all the appropriate nuptial ingredients -- formally attired bride and groom, color-coordinated bridal party, sit-down dinner reception, champagne toasts, music, and dancing. For the Kornegays, it was the ceremony they'd always wanted.
It had been a long time coming. The couple eloped on Valentine's Day, 1993, after dating for almost two years. It was a dollars-and-cents decision. "My parents just couldn't afford to pay for a nice wedding," explains Shawn, now 39. The young couple was similarly cash-strapped but eager to be husband and wife. "Vegas made the most sense to us," Shawn says.
Each wearing a blue suit, Shawn and Buddy exchanged vows and inexpensive gold bands during a five-minute ceremony at the Silver Bell Chapel, one of countless quickie wedding spots that dot the Las Vegas Strip. A chapel employee served as their witness. After celebrating at a $9.99 buffet, the newlyweds played blackjack into the night and flew back to California the next morning.
During these first few years of marriage, in addition to starting a family -- Patrick was born in 1997 and Travis in 1998 -- the Kornegays spent a ton of their time going to weddings. "One day I actually sat down and counted them all up," recalls Shawn, who works in the communications department at Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth. "We had literally attended 35 weddings in 10 years, and after each one of them I thought about my own wedding. So many of the ceremonies were touching and beautiful, and I started feeling I'd missed something."
Several months before the couple's 10th anniversary, Shawn asked Buddy, 48, what he thought of renewing their vows at a formal wedding ceremony. "It wasn't something I would have come up with," admits Buddy, who works in fleet services at American Airlines. "But I could see how important it was to her, so I said, 'Go for it.'"
The pair's Presbyterian pastor agreed to perform the ceremony. Just after 4 in the afternoon, Shawn, wearing a beaded, ivory-colored silk wedding gown, locked elbows with her father to start the procession. "It was like coming full circle, because when Buddy and I eloped, my dad was disappointed that we didn't have a formal wedding," she says. "Now he was finally getting the chance to walk me down the aisle."
It was emotional for Buddy too: "When I saw Shawn coming down the aisle, I started crying. She looked so beautiful, and I felt so lucky. And having our sons standing up there with me -- I couldn't have been happier."
Says Shawn, "We waited 10 years, and it was definitely worth it."
Just four years after their 1994 Catholic wedding, Jennifer and Patrick Kardian, who live in Roswell, Georgia, were hit with a shock: Patrick was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. "Of course we were absolutely devastated," says Jennifer, now 35.
Nearly eight months of chemotherapy followed, and it looked as though the Hodgkin's had been defeated. Six months later, however, the Kardians received awful news: Patrick's cancer had returned.
This time doctors were not as confident. "They wouldn't give us any prognosis," Jennifer says. "All they told us was they were going to use the most aggressive treatment possible." That turned out to be a two-month course of chemo, followed by an autologous stem-cell transplant (the patient provides stem cells), and culminating in 40 days of radiation treatment.
Although Patrick was weak and bedridden for months, the Kardians tried to be as positive as possible. "I couldn't imagine life without him, so I refused to even entertain the thought," says Jennifer. "Patrick and I made an agreement that we could cry on the days we received bad news, but only for that one day. We needed to devote our energy to fighting for Patrick's life."
Their focus appears to have paid off. While a recurrence will remain a lifelong threat, Patrick has been cancer-free for the last four years. More good news arrived in November 2003, when Jennifer found out she was pregnant. These two facts convinced the Kardians that on April 30, 2004 -- their 10th anniversary -- they should renew their vows. "We both just felt so fortunate," explains Jennifer. "Not only did we survive the awful ordeal of Patrick's illness, but in just three months we were going to be parents for the first time. Renewing our vows seemed like a very fitting way to enter this next phase of our lives."
Although the pair was serious about reaffirming their commitment, given the sizable stress they had experienced, it seemed a dose of fun was in order. Jennifer adds: "I also wanted to do something that was the polar opposite of our first wedding, which was so formal. In fact, I wanted it to be as cheesy as possible."
So the couple, along with Jennifer's sister and brother-in-law, flew to Las Vegas for a drive-through ceremony at the Little White Wedding Chapel, on Las Vegas Boulevard.
The two made quite a pair: Jennifer, six months pregnant, was outfitted in a custom-painted T-shirt bearing her and Patrick's names, a purple feather boa, and a crystal tiara, while Patrick donned a tuxedo T-shirt accented with rhinestone studs.
Although the short service was steeped in silliness, replete with a serenading Elvis impersonator, Jennifer couldn't contain her tears when vowing to remain true "in sickness and in health." "Those were no longer just words to me," she explains. "We lived those words." Patrick adds, "Now we hope to just live the 'in health' part."
When Marci Blaze and Steve Levine were married on December 14, 1986, a significant number of the 150 guests had their doubts. The couple had gotten engaged after a courtship of just two months. Family and friends worried that Marci, who had recently ended a two-year relationship, was on the rebound. Then there was the anti-Steve sentiment: He had been married before and seemed to have a rather high profile among the single ladies in Venice, California.
"We knew that people felt we were rushing to the altar, but we were in love and didn't see any reason to wait," explains Marci, now 50. Steve was also well aware of the swirling skepticism. So much so, in fact, that at the conclusion of the Jewish ceremony, before escorting his bride down the aisle, he replaced the yarmulke he'd been wearing with a white satin baseball cap embroidered with the words "trust me."
Fast-forward nearly two decades, and it seems safe to conclude that the naysayers were wrong. Not that the pair, who now live in Pacific Palisades, California, haven't struggled.
Both are self-employed -- Marci in marketing communications and Steve in advertising -- so financial bumps have strained the relationship here and there. The couple also shared custody of Steve's now-grown daughter, and parenting presented challenges. "We've definitely faced our fair share of obstacles," Marci observes, "but I think we're a stronger couple as a result."
On the subject of vow renewal, Marci notes, "We know a couple who do it every year, and we really admire their relationship." As Marci and Steve's 15th anniversary approached, in 2001, they were invited to vacation with friends who own a home in Hawaii. "We both thought this would be a wonderful setting to renew our vows," Marci says.
So on the white sand along a stretch of the Maui coast, the pair stood before a kuhina, a Hawaiian female spiritual leader. (Although Marci and Steve remain observant Jews, this service intrigued them.) During the ceremony, attended only by the family at whose house they were staying, Marci and Steve exchanged vows they had written themselves. "I couldn't have done that at our first wedding," says Marci, "because we were still getting to know each other. When we renewed our vows, I had truly meaningful things to say." In his vows, Steve, now 56, poetically chronicled the couple's challenges and triumphs since first marrying.
Looking back, he concludes, "At our first wedding, we were married by someone else. This time, we really felt as though we married each other."
Jack Farmer has always had a flair for the dramatic. He choreographed his 1996 marriage proposal to Christine for maximum romantic effect. "We were on a Caribbean cruise, and I knew we would be anchoring briefly next to a beautiful volcano," says Jack, now 42. "I wanted it to be the backdrop, so I had to make sure we were on the upper deck and to get down on one knee at just the right moment."
The couple, who live in Edwardsville, Illinois, were married in a Catholic ceremony on May 10, 1997. They got busy with work -- Jack in public relations, Christine at a small newspaper -- and in 2000 bought a ranch house. It was time to start a family.
After nearly a year of trying, Christine got pregnant, but miscarried weeks later. "That was a tough time for us," recalls Christine, now 36. "We started thinking that our dream of having a family was never going to happen."
But it did. On October 9, 2002, Christine gave birth to their daughter, Jenna. Since then, Jack's feelings for his wife have intensified: "I feel this whole new level of love for Christine. She's such a wonderful mother, and I'm incredibly thankful for what she's bringing to my life."
Last year, as the pair's seventh anniversary approached, Jack kept asking himself, "What can I do to show Christine how important she is to me?" Suddenly he had his answer: "What I was feeling was this incredible desire to marry her all over again. I guess you could say I had a different kind of seven-year itch."
So Jack decided to surprise his wife by one day getting down on bended knee and telling her how crazy in love he was, concluding with, "I want to marry you again. Today." In tears, Christine agreed. Jack had already arranged for Christine's mom to babysit, so once she arrived, the couple drove to their parish church, where Jack had arranged for their priest to perform a renewal ceremony. "I really wanted this to be a special moment that was only shared by Christine, me, and our priest, with God as our witness," explains Jack.
With Christine and Jack holding hands, the priest quoted scripture about the sacrament of marriage and blessed the couple's wedding rings again. "We repeated our original wedding vows, but this time around it was definitely more difficult to get the words out," says Christine. "Somehow the vows seemed more real."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, October 2005.