Vows are a staple of most wedding ceremonies, but "traditional" ones are typically heteronormative. That's why many LGBTQ+ couples choose to create their own instead. Coming up with something new is hard though, and especially when the inspiration out there may not represent your relationship. To help you out, we consulted two experts for tips on writing and sharing wedding vows. And because love is love, most of this advice applies to anyone, regardless of their identity.
Find Your Muses
"My advice for all couples who want to write their own vows is to take inspiration from what you love and what moves you," shares Hannah Nielsen-Jones, the Life-Cycle Celebrant behind River & Root Ceremonies, a company that specializes in crafting personalized rituals. "That can be something that already has words in it, like a song or a poem, but it could also be the feeling that you get from seeing a special painting in a museum or sharing a unique experience with a loved one." She emphasizes that "inspiration can come in many forms."
"The best vows are ones that are personal and authentic," adds Jove Meyer, a top wedding planner who's passionate about inclusivity. "The more a person digs into their heart, soul, and mind to find those aspects of their relationship, the better."
Rethink the Possibilities
Instead of looking to past celebrations to help you plan your own, look to each other and feel free to start fresh. There's no set ceremony format that you have to follow. "You can customize your vows in any number of ways," says Nielsen-Jones. "You can speak them as a dialogue, each person sharing promises (with the same words or different words). You can read a poem together. You can exchange cards with private vows on them during the ceremony, and speak other words during the vow exchange. You could let actions speak louder than words, and do something together in lieu of or in addition to vows (planting a tree or drinking out of the same cup, for example). Do you like speaking in public? If that's tough for you, consider shorter vows, or framing the vows as a series of questions that the officiant or the guests ask you and you only need to reply, 'Yes.'"
Of course, "when folks I'm working with are struggling with writing vows, I gently remind them that they don't have to start from scratch: there are a lot of wonderful, meaningful vows out there already," she notes. You can use them as a base, but modify them (swap the pronouns, etc.) to suit your specific relationship.
"What (if anything) do you and your partner need to say, do, hear, or have witnessed in order to feel married? Once you have some clarity around that, things can really flow from there," advises Nielsen-Jones. Work with your future spouse to agree on a tone and format. "Humorous? Poetic? Mushy? Say three things that you admire about your partner, and then three things that you love about your relationship, and then three things that you promise for your married life?" It all depends on what you both desire, she shares. "Remember that you don't have to say the same things (but you can if you want). The most important thing is that your vows ring true and sound like they're from your heart. And it's okay to ask for help! If you have a friend who's writing you like, ask them to look over your vows as a wedding present."
Meyer reiterates the above points, saying that "couples should agree on a general length and format, so that one person doesn't outshine the other." You should also make sure that you're on the same page about how much you wish to share about your personal lives with the crowd—some people are more private than others.
Be True to Yourselves
Are you and your partner more reserved? You don't have to lay it all out. "It can be helpful for couples to plan two sets of vows: one for the public ceremony that everyone will witness, and one for a private vow exchange that only the two of them (or the two of them plus an officiant) will hear, either before or after the public ceremony," Nielsen-Jones suggests.
On the flipside, if you want to share things publicly, go right ahead. "Being that marriage equality is relatively new in the United States, LGBTQ+ couples are often not used to being openly affectionate and loving in public, so writing their vows and sharing them publicly can be a more emotional process than for straight couples who have not had to fight for their right to marry," Meyer recognizes. "For some LGBTQ+ couples, there may be guests who aren't 100 percent supportive of the way that they love and it can be easier to edit your vows to make them comfortable, but I encourage all couples to share their love out loud as honest and as raw as they can. If their guests cannot support their love, then the burden is on them to change, not the couple getting married."