Your wedding Vows are the pivotal point of your wedding ceremony. With a Celebrant led wedding ceremony, there are so many ways you can choose to conduct your wedding ceremony, elements you can emphasise or even exclude, but the wedding vows will always remain. After all, it’s this exchange of promises that seals the deal. How you choose to exchange your vows is a very personal decision. You might only want to say ‘I do’ or you might want to write a stream of declarations and promises. Discuss the way you want to make it happen with your partner.
During the wedding ceremony, we usually arrive at the Vows before the exchange of rings. If the rings are a tangible, physical signature to the agreement, then the spoken words of your vows are the fine details. So you don’t want to get them wrong!
Choose your style
You can choose to do traditional, western style wedding vows. These below come from the Christian/Catholic church but have no religious references. You could, of course, choose your vows from any other religion, these are here for an example because they are the most widely used. I also use ‘Bride’ and “Groom’ because I am too lazy to be politically correct, but I don’t mean them to be exclusive.
‘I, (Groom) take you (Bride) to be my wife. I promise to be faithful to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honour you all the days of my life’
(Repeated by the bride.)
‘I, (Groom) take you, (Bride) to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to hold until death us do part.
(Repeated by the bride)
You can read the vows from a card, or repeat them line by line after your Celebrant.
But you could also take these vows as a guide and embellish them and personalise them. You don’t have to add pages of words, just include something which resonates and holds meaning for both of you. Hold in mind what your partner and marriage mean to you and then make your promise to sustain this – simple! But if these traditional words feel heartfelt and satisfy your expression of intent, then that’s fine too!
If you are worried that you won’t get your words out or just don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of everyone, then you can of course just say ‘I do’:
The Celebrant can say:
‘Do you (groom) take (bride) to be your wife? Do you promise to be faithful to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love and to honour her all the days of your life?’
To which you will answer ‘I do’
(Repeated by the bride)
Again, you can edit these words and make them more personal to you. One of my couples from last year took this structure as a starting point, but completely tweaked it to suit them:
‘B, you have chosen T to be your husband. Do you promise to remain best friends and partners in crime for the rest of your lives, to continue on the current path of love, support, kindness, curiosity and life fulfilment, until the very end?’
See – they even managed to get a Harry Potter reference in there too!
A vow is a promise – this is the moment when you tell your partner what you promise them for your future together, this is why it is so important to spend some time thinking and reflecting on exactly what you are promising.
Writing your own vows
If you want to write your own vows, fantastic. But make sure both of you are up for it and invest the same time and thought into it.
You can discuss beforehand what you want to promise each other and write your vows together, or you can choose to write them separately and not reveal them until the day. One of my couples wanted to keep their vows secret, but asked me to look at them and see that they were about the same length and the same tone – that’s an option too. Personal vows can be used in addition to ‘I do’s’
Add in some personal bits – we know that you want to promise to love and support your partner forever, you are marrying them after all, so put in something personal ‘I promise never to go to sleep on an argument’ or ‘I promise to always put the toilet seat down’. A note on humourous vows however – include them by all means, but limit them. You want to aim for inducing a wry smile rather a LOL. This is the part of your ceremony that does require solemnity and an air of decorum, even if the rest of your ceremony is fun and relaxed.
Maybe you want to write extremely personal vows, but don’t want to read them out in front of everyone. So why don’t you write them down for each other and give them to each to read rather than speaking them aloud? This way you still get to exchange them during the ceremony, but they remain private and secret to you both.
How long should they be?
If you are particularly verbose and could wax lyrical for hours about how much you love your partner – fantastic! Write it all down, but then choose the most poignant bits for your vows. Ideally, you wouldn’t want to take more than 2 minutes each to say your vows. And that’s longer than you think. Try reading aloud to for 2 minutes and you will see for yourself just how much can be said! This doesn’t mean that the rest of your beautiful outpouring of love and intent has to go to waste though. Put the rest of it into a letter and during your ceremony put it into an anniversary or ‘fight’ box. You can decide to open this either on an anniversary or keep it to read after a disagreement when you need a little reminder of the bigger picture.
Practise reading them
No-one loves an enthusiastic, grandiose and expressive sentence more than me. But through my work as a Celebrant, I have learnt that sometimes sentences which read fantastically on paper don’t always translate as well when read aloud! So when you have written your vows practise reading them out loud. Do the words roll easily off your tongue and flow, or do you stumble over a word or phrase each time? If so, adjust it, reword it to fit your tongue. Do they sound sincere, heartfelt and most importantly, like you? Is the tone and language yours? Try them out on a friend – or on your new best friend; your Celebrant!
If the aesthetics of your wedding are important to you then consider what you will read your vows from. This will be a much photographed moment and whereas I find a dog-eared piece of paper endearing, it might not be what you want to record in your photos! So mount them on a piece of card, hold them in a book or use nice stationary and always, always give a copy of them to your Celebrant – just in case!
On the day
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MEMORISE YOUR WEDDING VOWS! I’m sorry for shouty caps, but this is really, really important. You may be accustomed to public speaking, you may be convinced that you will remember your heartfelt promises. And you might, but chances are the emotion of the moment will clear your brain of most things. Practise reading them until you are so comfortable that you can lift your eyes from the paper, and take your time. We all want to hear them, no one more so than your partner.
Nothing in your wedding ceremony should feel unnatural or uncomfortable to you, particularly these expressions of devotion and intent. This is the heart of the ceremony, the reason why we are all gathered here today. Make them count and don’t be afraid to do them your way. Now off you go and create!
(Top image by Elias Kordelakos)