Renewing Vows to Save a Marriage

In an era when celebrity weddings have an almost unrivaled potential to catch the public eye, another kind of nuptial ceremony -- the renewal of vows -- seems just as noteworthy.

Most recently, the celebrity power couple of Madonna and Guy Ritchie reportedly opted to tie the double knot at a private Kabbalah ceremony in Los Angeles, using the occasion to announce their pledge to try and rebuild their shaky seven-year marriage.

It's a strategy that just might work. Relationship experts say that pledging to recommit to a spouse is, for many couples, an essential part in healing a broken marriage.

Dawn O. Braithwaite, professor of communication studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has researched couples who opt to renew their vows. And she says that while there are a number of reasons why couples might renew their vows -- from indulging in a fantasy wedding they could never afford, to satisfying a desire to have their families involved in their recommitment -- some of those who seek a renewal do it to salvage a faltering marriage.

"They want to fix something," Braithwaite said. "It's what we call relationship repair; they want to repair infidelity, or having grown apart, or a relationship that was not very close."

David Popenoe, professor of sociology at Rutgers University and co-director of the National Marriage Project, agrees. "It's kind of a promising concept, though I suppose only a very small percentage of married couples are doing it," he said. "But I think that it is something that I would personally encourage."

But some experts say that while the idea of a ceremony to celebrate a matrimonial recommitment may be as commendable as it is romantic, both Madonna and Ritchie will likely need to change the way they act toward one another for it to do any good.

For some celebrity personalities, this may be easier said than done.

"Celebrities, in particular, are at risk for 'special person syndrome,'" said Susan Heitler, a Denver-based clinical psychologist and author of "The Power of Two."

"If somebody grows up with special talents -- if they are taller, smarter or more athletic than others -- they can see themselves as being in a special category and that makes the rules not apply to them," she said. "They have never really learned how to be a teammate. They have always been in the limelight alone. But marriage is a two-person game."

And renewing vows alone may not be enough to heal all of the damage that has been done within a relationship. Former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards renewed his vows in a ceremony on July 30 of last year, just months before an infidelity scandal rocked his personal and political life.

When It's Time to Recommit

The task of rebuilding a marriage, for celebrities and non-celebs alike, is not a simple proposal.

"Often when people first pick someone to marry, their heart knows what they are doing," Heitler said. "At the same time, perhaps at least one of the partners does not have the skill set to maintain a successful marriage. Over time, the irritation grows and the affection fades."

Heitler, who says she specializes in "last-ditch couples" who are often referred to her by a divorce lawyer, says that recommitting to a marriage involves learning new ways of interacting with one another -- and a commitment to compromise.

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