In most Western faiths, it is either the vows themselves (their actual wording determined by the religion) or the officiant's pronouncement of you as husband and wife that makes your marriage official. A marriage license, which must be signed and filed for certification by your officiant, is what makes your union legal. In some traditions no vows are spoken: At Muslim ceremonies, the cleric explains to the couple what their responsibilities are, and they give their consent. In Eastern Orthodox ceremonies, instead of speaking, the couple perform a series of rituals, including exchanging rings three times, to seal the union.
How Can We Personalize the Traditional Vows?
Even couples who choose to recite classic wedding vows often amend or update the wording slightly. For example, you might want to replace "till death do us part" with the brighter "as long as we both shall live." Anthony and Denise Sacramone of Forest Hills, New York, stuck to the standard wording. Says Anthony, "We had traditional notions of marriage; we wanted to plant ourselves on firm, well-trodden ground." They changed their vows only slightly, to "love, honor, and cherish" instead of "love, honor, and obey."
Begin thinking about what you'd like to say at least a month before the wedding. Will you write your vows together or separately? If the latter, will you share them with each other before the ceremony or let your words be a surprise? Either way, spend time alone and together reflecting on how you fell in love, what you admire in each other, milestones in your romance, and hopes for the years ahead. If a line from a poem or song appeals to you, write it down, too. Include what's important to you. If either of you has children, you may want to include a vow to honor them as well. When Scott and Alyssa Shaffer married, he promised, among other things, to always let her have the last cookie and to walk the dogs early in the morning so she could sleep late.
If We Write Our Own, Do We Have to Memorize Them?
You can certainly memorize your lines if you like, but if you're at all worried about forgetting them in the moment, print a copy in a size and typeface that's easy to read. If you want to be able to look into the eyes of your beloved as you say the words you've written to each other, ask your officiant to read them aloud line by line for you to repeat after him. You can also read them aloud yourselves; just practice speaking slowly and clearly and looking up from time to time. Even if you feel comfortable memorizing your vows, it is still a good idea to give a written copy to your officiant to have on hand in case you forget a phrase and need prompting.
What are Ring Vows?
In many ceremonies, after a bride and groom recite marriage vows, they place wedding bands on each other's fingers while declaring that this exchange seals their union and binds them together for life. Most ring vows are short, no more than one or two sentences; "With this ring, I thee wed" is the most universally recognized phrasing. If you want to personalize the wording, you might refer to the centuries-old concept that the band's shape symbolizes eternal love, with something like "Just as this wedding ring is never-ending and unbreakable, so is my love for you." Some couples choose other messages: "With this ring our hands, like our lives, are joined forever," for instance. If you're torn between paying tribute to the past and putting your own spin on the words you exchange, you might want to consider writing your own marriage vows but using traditional ring vows or vice versa.