To Have and to Hold

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The Meaning

How often have we heard those classic words from the silver screen or at a church wedding!  At its most basic, “To Have and To Hold” refers to the physical embrace of husband and wife.

“To have” is to receive without reservation the total self-gift of the other. It’s not a statement of ownership, but rather a promise of unconditional acceptance.
“To hold” is a pledge of physical affection and tenderness, a vow to be available to the other in body and soul, a promise to cherish, value and protect the other as we would a prized treasure.
“To have and to hold” is truly beautiful poetry, loaded with meaning and significance. But it is not just nice poetry. It is also sage advice.

When It All Starts To Change

Too often when marriages come under stress, we stop ‘having’ and we stop ‘holding’. We put conditions on the other’s acceptability and we put limits on our ‘presence’ (including physical availability). And yet, when one or the other is feeling fragile, wounded, stressed or isolated, there is nothing that can soften the heart and kindle the soul more effectively that the genuine openness and physical affection of the beloved.

For a wife, her husband’s strong loving arms encircling her communicates security, reassurance, stability, confidence. So often when she pushes her husband away with nagging or irritability, she is subconsciously crying out for him to rescue her from herself. She needs to know that he is a man who can withstand the storms of her emotions and be the refuge to whom she can flee when she is overwhelmed.

For a husband, the open, respectful affection of his wife reaches deep into his psyche, empowering him and drawing him towards self-sacrificing love. A husband is never more alive in his masculinity than when he is secure in the knowledge of his ability to serve and pleasure his wife. When he withdraws from the relationship, he does so not to punish her, but to protect himself from the shame of her rejection and his failure to please her.

To have and to hold… Five simple words: eloquent poetry with a profound message.

Francine & Byron Pirola

Francine & Byron Pirola are the founders and principal authors of the SmartLoving series. They are passionate about living Catholic marriage to the full and helping couples reach their marital potential. They have been married since 1988 and have five children. Their articles may be reproduced for non commercial purposes with appropriate acknowledgement and back links. For Media Enquiries Please Contact us here

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  1. DORCAS AJIMELEN on July 16, 2022 at 7:50 am

    Nice exposition.
    I truly pray this will resonate again in marriages, especially amongst christians so that the message can be adequately preached to the entire world.
    God bless and keep you two to the very end.

  2. Mordy on April 22, 2016 at 7:49 am

    “To have and to hold” is an old legal phrase often found in deeds. The incorporation of the phrase in wedding vows is likely derived from the notion that a wife is the property of her husband.

    • Doug on December 15, 2021 at 5:47 pm

      “…to have and to hold”, a phrase commonly used in Christian marriage vows

      The habendum clause in property transfer, in English and American real estate law

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