Make your vow exchange more personal with the help of these tips.
Photography: Steve Steinhardt
So, you've decided to write personal wedding vows. First and foremost, you're not alone. Many modern couples are opting to customize their wedding ceremonies by penning their own exchange. Despite their increasing popularity, however, almost every pair who decides on them wonders how to start. That's where we come in. Through years of experience working with couples, our hearts have melted at a number of unique wedding vows. Here, we offer up our best tips for tackling the task, supplemented by advice from real officiants.
There's no one template for non-traditional wedding vows, but there are a few pointers that'll help you craft them. Whether you're searching for phrasing inspiration, looking for formatting examples, or have specific questions ("How long should wedding vows be?"), we've got you covered. Your wedding vow structure is entirely up to you—that's the beauty of a personalized exchange. Still, most couples appreciate some guidance, which you can find ahead.
Before you take the plunge, remember this: Wedding vows are important because they're a concrete symbol of your union and commitment. The promises you make to one another on your big day will set the tone for your entire marriage. While they certainly give guests insight into your special bond, primarily, they're for you and your partner. That's why we recommend catering them to each other. That could mean making him cry with emotional sentiments or making her laugh with funny wedding vows. Do what feels best to you, your future spouse, and your relationship. With that in mind, you really can't go wrong.
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It's important to consider what you'd like your vows to be like before organizing the rest of your ceremony, as the length and format may impact the proceedings. You don't have to start writing your vows until about a month out, though. By then, most of planning will be complete, which will help you focus on the task.
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Discuss your vision with your officiant before putting pen to paper. Not only can the expert provide guidance, but you'll have to coordinate to make sure all the bases are covered. For instance, is the celebrant going to ask, "Do you take each other in matrimony?" and thus prompt the ring exchange, or will you cue up the major moments?
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When you're ready, schedule some alone time to work on your vows independently. Even if you're planning on having your a coordinated exchange, you don't want to influence each other's words just yet. We recommend starting about one month before the big day. By then, all your planning and decision-making will be nearly finished, and you can focus your mind and heart squarely on the day's emotion.
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Ask Yourself Questions
As you're brainstorming, look inside. "The first step is to excavate your own heart," advises the Rev. Judith Johnson, author of The Wedding Ceremony Planner. She recommends asking yourself questions such as, "Why have I chosen this person to be my partner? What do I love most about him or her?" Take time to really think about the answers, and translate them into a vow.
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Once you've gathered your own thoughts, feel free to start looking for external inspiration. Some brides and grooms consult movies, books, or other couple's vows. Go ahead and borrow a favorite quote if you'd like. You can also mix traditional wording with personalized phrasing.
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Hit the Basics
Of course, don't forget the must-haves. Vow exchanges always include, well, vows. For that, take this tip into account: "Focus on what marriage means to you. What are you saying yes to, and what can you promise your partner?" says the Rev. Jeddah Vailakis, an interfaith minister in New York.
If your words will be guiding the ceremony, mention the rings, as well. Someone has to signal that it's time to put them on. These "ring vows" are short, no more than one or two sentences. "With this ring, I thee wed" is the classic phrasing, but you can get creative.
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Who says you have to stick to prose? Go ahead and draft a poem, a song, or a list of why you love your future spouse. That being said, you can also pull from the past, or simply rehearse an updated version of tradition. For example, you might want to replace "till death do us part" with "as long as we both shall live."
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Stay True to Yourself
Don't feel the pressure to write something that sounds formal. Speak from your heart and describe your emotions. Then edit the text so that it stands the test of time—consider whether you will feel moved by these words when you look back on them later. If comedy isn't your thing, then don't try to be funny. Your vows are about you, so don't force anything unnatural. Does that mean saying something sappy, instead? Go right ahead.
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Remember that your vows are only one part of the ceremony. You may start with a bunch of ideas as you brainstorm, but you should narrow them down. Say them out loud and aim for your part to be no more than a few minutes.
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Consult Each Other
Eventually, make a date to sit down together to share your thoughts. If you want your specific words to be a surprise, at the very least, ensure you both agree on each other's length or format. We also advise getting permission before sharing something especially intimate about your partner or relationship.
You may also decide to have multiple versions—one for your public ceremony, and one to share privately. Discuss this option, too.
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When they're all set, definitely practice, but don't stress too much. Johnson recommends writing your vows somewhere to have on the big day, just in case. Give a copy to your officiant, best man, or maid of honor as backup. Or, to worry even less about memorization, ask your officiant to read your vows aloud line by line for you to repeat.
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You've worked too hard not to have a copy forever. We like keepsake vow booklets for this purpose. Alternatively or additionally, honor them in other ways, like as décor at your reception. This couple had them written on their cake!