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Tips for (Successfully) Writing Your Wedding Vows


A (mostly) comprehensive guide

by Lucy Bennett, Deputy Editor

Tips for (Successfully) Writing Your Wedding Vows | A Practical Wedding

When Bryan and I made the decision to write our own wedding vows, there wasn’t much on the Internet that we could find to point us in a starting direction. So, for the most part, I winged it. I collected every snippet of info I could find on personal vows, then we cut, pasted, wrote, tweaked, and deleted until we had something beautiful and meaningful. Later, I found an APW classic on how to write your own vows and felt pretty bad for Past Lucy, since it was nearly everything she needed to begin with. However, so you don’t have to spend the same (ridiculous) number of hours I did going down the “how to write your wedding own vows” Internet rabbit hole, I’ve expanded and updated our classic how-to, to take you from start to finish.

1. Make the decision (formally). You might have known that you’ve wanted to write your vows for years and years, but maybe your partner does not. Talk to them! Decide together that you definitely want to write them. There is nothing wrong with saying traditional vows. (Meg and David did!) But if you’re going to DIY this, both of you have to be equally committed to this concept. If not, it’s going to show in your vows.

2. Clear it with your officiant. This is an important first step that’s easily forgotten. Catholic, Episcopalian, and Jewish congregations, for example, may require you say all or part of the traditional vows. Often this won’t preclude also saying vows that you wrote, but you’ll want to know what the rules are (and what the religious reasoning for them is) up front. Some officiants may ask to review your vows before the ceremony, so be prepared to have them early if this is the case.

3. Work out the details. Will you write your vows together, or separately? Will you show them to each other beforehand, or will you keep them a secret until the ceremony? Do you want to set a due date for when you need to have your vows written? (Hey, you might laugh, but tell me you don’t know someone who wrote their vows the day of the wedding night before.)

4. Decide on a structure for your vows. Particularly if you’ve decided that you will not see each other’s vows before the ceremony, it’s not a bad idea to make sure both of you are going to be vowing somewhat similar things. You don’t want to be promising to care for someone on their deathbed, while they’re promising to always DVR Grey’s Anatomy for you. Having a structure will also help you keep your word limit, and help your vows match your partner’s. Even though we looked over each other’s vows beforehand, Bryan and I decided to use the structure below as a jumping off point. It gave us a place to start, while still allowing us to write using our own voices.

[Name] I take you to be my [husband/wife/partner]. I will love you unconditionally and without hesitation, for it is your heart that moves me, your spirit that inspires me, your humor that delights me, and your hand I want to hold for all of our days.
I promise __.
I promise __.
I will __.
I will __.
I promise to love, respect, and trust you, and give you the best of myself, for I know that together we will build a life far better than either of us could imagine alone.

Finding a structure that works for you may require some tracking down, but don’t be afraid to mix and match from lots of examples you find.

5. Research, research, research (And reflection!). A good place to start looking at vows is reading traditional ones—from your own religion, if you practice a certain faith, but from others as well. See what strikes a chord with you. You can even incorporate these into what you write, or use them as a jump-off point. Secondly, steal ideas! Borrow freely from poetry, books, even movies or video games. Jot down words and phrases that capture your feelings. The quotes you keep closest to your heart ring true for a reason. Use them. And if you’re someone who keeps a journal, go back and steal from your past self too. You’re not publishing a book, or writing a college essay. Plagiarism is both allowed and encouraged. Truth is, most vows are plagiarism, since we’re hoping to steal some wisdom from people that have gone before us.

Take some time, both separately and together, to think about what you love about each other and what makes your relationship special. Write down the most memorable moments you have shared together, good or bad. Think about the promises you want to make to your partner, and the ones you don’t. For example,  I promised that Bryan would always be my family. However, I ain’t promising to obey nobody, so I made sure to keep that kind of language far away from my vows.

6. Write Early, write more than you need. Don’t leave writing your vows until the day before the wedding! Give them the time and thought they deserve, and save your future self the stress of trying to be super thoughtful—most likely, you’ll be in a million different places on the eve of your wedding, which is not the proper brain space. Work on your vows in that pocket of time after you’ve set up all your major vendors and before you have to start thinking about the details. If that’s still too far in advance, then give yourself at least a month, so you can try and write from a more relaxed, not rushed, frame of mind. A few loose deadlines: try to get a first draft together about three weeks before the wedding, and have your final version completed at least two days out. (And note: if you’re eloping or getting married on short notice, just rock it out the day before. It’ll be awesome.)

When you’re starting out, write down everything you can think of. Write more than you could possibly need. In a Google document, buried on my computer, I have at least three pages of memories, experiences, potential promises, and more. It’s far more than I ever needed for vows, but getting it all on paper allowed me to see all my thoughts at once. Eventually, the most important things rose to the surface. Write what you love about your spouse, key memories that define your relationship and why they’re important. Good writing is in the details—the specifics that speak to a universal truth. Apply this to your vows. I focused on a few experiences and memories that I felt really identified our relationship, and put my vows together using that. What are the little things that your partner appreciates that you do? How does that symbolize your overall relationship?

A big thing to think about when you’re writing: is there something that you can work on to build an even better, healthier relationship? I promised Bryan that I would not run from the challenges we might face, because my first instinct is always to flee. It was important that I promise, in front of our community, to work on that.

7. Cut It Down. Aim to have your vows last for about one minute or less per person. Believe me, it’s longer than it sounds. Get at the heart of what marrying this person means to you; pick the most important promises and make them well. If you have more to say, save the more personal thoughts and give your spouse a letter on the morning of the ceremony.

8. Refine your tone, but be yourself. It’s best to decide on your overall tone before you put pen to paper, but make sure to go back over your words and refine towards the tone you want to achieve. Poetic and romantic? Humorous but touching? It’s up to you. The most important thing is that your vows ring true and sound like they’re from your heart. However, while your vows can be lighthearted, they should, in some way, acknowledge the seriousness of the commitment you’re about to make. Use humor in moderation, and remember, at the end of the day, making the audience laugh is not your goal.

Your vows shouldn’t be so personal that they can’t be followed by anyone, so don’t make them overly cryptic, or embarrassing. You’ve invited your family and friends to witness your vows in order to make your bond public, so think about your words from their point of view—your guests want to feel included in that moment, even if they’re not feeling exactly what you’re feeling. That means putting a soft limit on inside jokes, deeply personal anecdotes, obscure nicknames, or code words. Moderation is key. Unless it’s just the two of you eloping, in which case, go crazy.

9. Practice! Memorization is optional, practicing is not. Practice looking up while you read so you can actually look at your partner as you say your vows, and so you can be confident in speaking clearly—it’s common to mumble or speak softly when reading, so practice so your family and friends will hear you. These are words meant to be heard by an audience, so check how they sound when spoken. Read your vows out loud to make sure they flow easily. Watch out for tongue twisters and run on sentences—you don’t want to run out of breath or stumble over your words.

10. At the end of the day, they’re your words. do what you want. Seriously. Your vows don’t even have to sound or read like vows; you could write an essay, a sonnet, or rap them if that’s what is going to mean the most to you. Vows should sound like you, especially when you’re making promises to your partner. On this day of all days, you shouldn’t sound like someone else.

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is the Deputy Editor of APW and a freelance designer/writer hybrid. When not coming up with weird self-challenges, she can be found marathoning TV shows or playing board games. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, her moderately internet-famous pup, and two cats. She takes herself very seriously.

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  • http://readingandthensome.blogspot.com/ Martha Smith

    We had toyed with the idea of writing our own vows but ultimately decided against it – while we were confident we could write meaningful vows, neither of us was sure of our ability to then say those words in front of 150 people without sobbing. So we went the traditional route and used the standard Catholic vows, but instead of our priest reading the vows and us simply saying “I do,” we memorized the vows. And we still cried. Just be aware!

  • Sarah E

    So helpful, Lucy, thanks! We just started talking last night about setting aside a weekend to write the ceremony and everything.

  • vegankitchendiaries

    Plagiarism is both allowed and encouraged.

    Well thank GOODNESS for that! This is so helpful, Lucy! The “personal stuff” freaks me and Mr. VeganKD-to-be out!

  • Laura C

    Another example of APW’s uncanny timing — we started working on our ceremony/vows on Monday. I’ve shared this link before, but I will again because it’s so helpful to us in understanding where the vows proper fit in the context of a broader traditional-yet-flexible wedding ceremony. For me I think it takes a little pressure off the vows, because looking at them as part of a bigger ceremony I remember that they’re not the only place to say something important.

    And I’m so glad to have this post now, because the vows are the part we are nowhere near finalizing. We pulled some phrases and sentences we want to use from different sources, but haven’t shaped them or linked them together yet. Which is fine, we have two months plus to do it. But I have a feeling we’re going to need lots and lots of advice, because it’s one thing to have a couple sentences you want to work in and another thing entirely to have a finished product.

  • Kelsey

    This is fantastic! Thank you Lucy!

  • guest

    Wow, such helpful, practical advice! As for this section:

    “However, while your vows can be lighthearted, they should, in some way,
    acknowledge the seriousness of the commitment you’re about to make. Use
    humor in moderation, and remember, at the end of the day, making the
    audience laugh is not your goal.”
    I wholeheartedly agree. I attended a wedding where the vows were very funny. Really, truly funny, and everyone was laughing. You vow not to roll your eyes at his Disney references? Fantastic! You vow to let her have as many pets as she wants? Precious! But after it was over, I couldn’t remember anything regarding commitment in there. Not saying everyone needs “til death do us part” or whatever, but commitment even without the timeline seems sort of… a big point of what marriage is about? I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but they divorced three months later. While the fun stuff is good, I don’t think it covers everything.

    • Katherine

      I believe that our vows had one humorous line…we promised to have a marriage “grounded in love, logic, and laughter.” Referring to logic in wedding vows is decidedly out-of-the norm, but it was there because it was truly important to us, and a huge part of our personalities. Humor simply for the sake of humor would have felt much less appropriate.

  • Pingback: Best Tips for (Successfully) Writing Your Wedding Vows, DJ Prices, DJ Reviews()

  • Lawyerette510

    We wrote our entire ceremony and a friend officiated. The above is a really great summary of the process to do vows and the ceremony. I’d also add “Check your citations” somewhere along there, not so much for vows, but for readings, if you’re going to have the person doing the reading say where it is from, or you’re going to print it in a program.

    I’m glad we did, as one of the readings we used and loved I found in APW comments as from the Dali Lhama but after internet research looking for source material discovered it’s from a chain email that started in the late 90s. We still used it, we felt free to adapt it a little more, and we attributed it to “the unknowns of the internets.”

    We wrote our vows together and exchanged identical vows. Our process looked like us compiling tons of materials and ideas we liked, then cutting, pasting and adapting each piece to fit us. We did the cutting, pasting and adapting during a get-away about 5 weeks before the wedding, then tweaked it a little more about 3 weeks out.

    In case someone wants an idea for vows, here are ours. We did a statement of intent, a community vow, and then our vows:

    Cara do you take Dave to be your husband, loving him as he is now and who he is yet to become? I do.

    Dave do you take Cara to be your wife, loving her as she is now and who she is yet to become? I do.

    I ask of you both:

    Do you promise to choose each other every day, to love each other in word and deed? We do.

    Do you promise to recognize one another as equals and as partners knowing that you do not complete, but instead complement each other? We do.

    Do you promise to support one another in your goals and wishes for the future? We do.

    Officiant: Two people in love do not live in isolation. Their love is a source of strength with which they may nourish not only each other but also the world around them. And in turn, we, their community of friends and family, have a responsibility to nourish this couple. By our steadfast care, respect, and love, we can support their marriage and the new family they are creating today. Will you who are present here today, surround Cara and Dave in love, offering them the joys of your friendship, and supporting them in their marriage? If so, please answer by saying: We will.

    All (hopefully): We will.

    [Reading]

    Vows

    Through all of our years I will love you and have faith in your love for me, when we are together and when we are apart. I will be honest with you and listen to you. I promise to work with you to foster and cherish our relationship knowing that together we will build a life far better than either of us could imagine alone. Together we will build a home of learning, laughter and light, and we will fill it with peace, happiness, and love towards all that enter it. Today, I choose you to be my husband/wife. I accept you as you are, and I offer myself in return. I will care for you, stand beside you, and share with you all of life’s adversities and all of its joys from this day forward, and all the days of my life.

    • Violet

      Your vows are SO lovely!!
      I’m glad you mentioned the citation/reference part. If I have to read one more quote that supposedly Einstein said that he actually didn’t say, I’m gonna… whew, honestly, I’ll just take a deep breath and move on with my day, but still.

      • Lawyerette510

        Oh thank you!

    • Lily

      those vows are amazing. I actually teared up. I love the audience vow part too – I definitely want to include something like that.

    • Sarah E

      Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s really lovely, and I hope to incorporate some of these ideas in my ceremony (which we’re also writing ourselves)

  • ruth

    We used traditional vows, but we wrote our wedding ceremony – a deeply personal, meaningful and delightful experience, which I highly recommend (we’re an interfaith couple, so we crafted a ceremony that combined our most beloved parts of our various cultural and spiritual herritages, along with the help of some very cool, open minded officiants ) We were going to write our vows, but in the end realized that the old ’till death do us part’ encapsulated the magnitude of the promise we were making to each other far better than we could. However, we did write letters about why we were choosing each other, which our officiants read, which became a great space for sharing personal stories and gave our guests the opportunity to get to know our relationship better

  • Katherine

    Here’s the process my husband & I used to create our vows, in case it’s helpful:
    1) We each wrote our own separate essay about “what marriage means to me.” (Mine was actually a bullet-pointed list, because that’s how I tend to write.)

    2) My husband read through both essays, looking for themes, and creating a list of key words.

    3) We wrote our vows together, making sure to incorporate those themes/words.

    • Laura C

      Oh, nice. I really like this approach.

      • Katherine

        It’s totally the math teacher/librarian nerd approach. But it worked well for us. :)

  • vegankitchendiaries

    A bit surprising but I really liked this article blurb from Deadspin (yes, DEADSPIN!) about writing your own vows called ‘Do Not Write Your Own Wedding Vows’. And they link APW!!! A nice man-friendly link for anyone who has a sports enthusiast fiance who might not be a wedding planning enthusiast… (Uh… who is??)

    http://deadspin.com/do-not-write-your-own-wedding-vows-1520573411

    • Meg Keene

      !!!!! As someone who didn’t write her own vows (very intentionally) I actually really love this article, so I super appreciate the link.

      Also, as someone ten years into this relationship thing, this is basically it. Nailed it, Deadspin: I LOVE YOU AND I WON’T FUCK OTHER PEOPLE AND I SWEAR I WON’T HATE YOU WHEN WE’RE BOTH YELLING AT THE KIDS A DECADE FROM NOW. (I mean, unless you’re into fucking other people.)

      • Caz

        Haha! Yeah, our “alternative” vows were “I promise I won’t cheat on you or steal from your parents”…

        • Meg Keene

          Important points to cover ;)

          Sometimes you don’t need to get too flowery is what.

    • Laura C

      Yes! When we were working on our vows Monday my fiance found this and read it to me. (I read him the part from the APW book about writing your own vows.)

    • MC

      Oh this is good – my fiance keeps having all these ideas about how to make jokes/make things funny and I keep telling him that the ceremony is not exactly the best time to make a bunch of jokes. Maybe I’ll send this to him…

      • Meg Keene

        I have seriously been at some weddings where people tried to make jokes in the vows, and it’s got to be one of the most awkward things I’ve ever witnessed. I’m not saying there isn’t a way to do it (but I suspect it’s more like, not really intending to be funny, not trying to run a comedy show. I think I made a joke after I dropped David’s ring, and people laughed, but I wasn’t trying to be funny, persay.)

        ANYWAY. It can come off pretty painfully. Like, this is your one moment to say the big huge important things to each other… and if you’re making jokes instead, it reads like you can’t bring yourself to get serious the one time in your life you need to get serious. It’s… odd.

        WAY WORSE though is when one person makes jokes in their vows, and one person is heartfelt. I can’t even tell you how that feels to watch because I’ve blocked it out of my memory.

        • Heather

          I had one clever line but it was for him, though the audience laughed,too: “I cannot promise to ever make a long story short, but I can promise to try to speak more slowly when I’m excited.” (Two things that drive him nuts.)

          • Meg Keene

            THAT is a perfect illustration of what works, I think. Because it’s funny, but it’s still honest and heartfelt. And you were saying it because you meant it, not just to make a joke.

            I wish I could come up with an example of what doesn’t work, but anything that isn’t from the heart (lots of things that we say to be funny are mildly mocking, which is fine, but NOT THE PLACE FOR IT).

        • Stephanie B.

          I had one line in my vows that made the guests laugh, but I really didn’t intend it to: “I love you more than the semicolon.” (I’m an editor and a fierce wordnerd, and the semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark. And throughout our relationship, I’ve always said to my husband, with 100% seriousness, “I love you more than the semicolon.” It’s how I communicate.)

          So it was, as Heather said above, something I included for my husband, because it’s part of our shared language, and he knows that it’s serious (yet lighthearted; I own that). But our guests laughed when I said it, I think largely because it was unexpected (and lighthearted) among the rest of the heartfelt vows.

          • MC

            “it’s part of our shared language”

            I love this example because it is perfect, and also because I love semicolons and sometimes think about getting a semicolon tattoo.

          • Stephanie B.

            Yes! I want a semicolon tattoo, but I’ve never been able to decide on a location for it. I should just try out different locations with a Sharpie.

        • MC

          I 100% agree. To Fiance’s credit, I don’t think he wants to make any jokes during the vows – and he’s one of those people that says all their ideas out loud before thinking them through at all, and often he’s not *totally* being serious. I think we’re mostly on the same page – he really wants our ceremony to reflect us and our relationship and I keep having to assure him that it will look like ours because we are the ones writing the ceremony, saying those words, etc. Writing this all down does make me realize I should say all of this to him, though.

      • Outside Bride

        I had cousins who did their vows to the cadence of Green Eggs and Ham, which sounds super cheesy, but actually worked. I think in part because their personalities are so offbeat that wholly “traditional” vows would have felt out of place, in part because they still incorporated some of the traditional language, and in part because the words were really heartfelt. But I think that there was also something to the choice of source material, since Dr. Seuss is funny but also wise and sincere, and it lent a bit of that innocent wonder to the vows. So, it we all got a giggle, but everyone talked about how touching they were as well. We’ll be going the traditional route (with some adjustments for gender stuff), because I just trust that more for us. I think it can work to have funny stuff, but you have to put a lot of thought into it to get what you want.

    • Dawn

      As Lucy said, writing your own vows works when both people are into it. Not everyone is a writer or is comfortable sharing personal vows they wrote in front of an audience. As a traditional-vow user, I have to say that Deadspin covers a lot of my thinking. This wasn’t an area of disagreement for us, though it would have been had I wanted us to write our own vows! My husband is not a native English speaker and not a writer. He is also not a performer. Fortunately, we are both religious enough and traditional enough that a version of the standard vows of our church worked for us.

      • Meg Keene

        And weirdly, as writers and performers (each in our own way), we wanted no part of personal vows. Maybe too much like work? Go figure.

  • breezyred

    For those of you reading the comments who are looking for something more spontaneous, my spouse and I chose a slightly different route. We chose five “general” topics and an overall structure, and then we winged it from there. My spouse spoke off the cuff, while I had written bullet points of the promises I would make within the topics we chose. Our vows ended up being part prepared and part impromptu, but were parallel in structure and complemented each other well.

  • Caz

    We wrote our own vows, together, and it’s one of my favourite pre-wedding memories (a whole 6 weeks post-wedding!). We read through a bunch of articles from APW (thanks!) and stuff I’d found online and ended up with 4 sentences (in addition to the vows we had to exchange as part of our UK civil ceremony); two which were the same, two which mirrored each other. We had one quite light-hearted one each which definitely helped us not to tear up, especially as they got a laugh from our guests! We switched between “I vow” and “I promise” for each line. We had them printed out to read during the ceremony (my husband says he wish he’d practised his more!) and plan to get them framed and displayed somewhere in the house. I’m so glad we wrote them ourselves, and wrote them together. It was such a lovely way of talking about what we wanted to promise to each other and I’m really proud of them :-)

  • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

    Oh geez I need this so bad. We are getting married NEXT saturday and have not started writing our vows. It’s been like the last thing on my brain…after a million other things that we are trying to pull together right now. : /

    • Caitlin_DD

      It’s not the night before, you got this.

  • Rowany

    We definitely procrastinated on our vows – we put in early deadlines and set aside time to work on it months in advance, had lots of examples saved, etc but without the time crunch it was hard to get our creative juices flowing. Honestly I think it was the lack of sleep and jetlag a few days before the wedding that lowered my inhibitions and let the words out. My advice: to avoid this kind of scenario, try drinking (not too much to be incapacitated but not too little that you still edit yourself) during your set-aside vow-writing time. Has the same effect as sleep deficit but more fun and less stress!!

  • Jane

    I don’t get why people do this. The classics are so good. I don’t have anything to say about love that hasn’t already been covered perfectly in the Book of Common Prayer. And I still think of my traditional vows almost every day, in lots of circumstances. My husband and I have written each other beautiful letters about how we feel about each other, but our wedding was different. It was serious. I did not want to laugh through my vows, or personalize them. I wanted to take a solemn, time-tested oath in front of our loved ones that I would stand by this man come hell or high water.

    I’m probably coming off a little judge-y. I haven’t been to many weddings where couples took the traditional vows. I’ve heard so many “personalized” vows over the years. It’s not that the personalized ones are always awkward. I’ve heard nice ones that were meaningful. However, I think maybe the culture is getting to a point where couples think their wedding isn’t legit unless they write their own vows. It’s just not the case. The vows are the heartbeat of the wedding. The oldies have stood the test of time.

    • Heather

      We did both. Our officiant said “In exchanging wedding vows today, Heather and T acknowledge that their commitment joins them to a tradition of marriage that is thousands of years old. As a tribute to this covenant and to the generations of people who have stood in this place before them, T and Heather have chosen to include traditional wedding vows as well as the personal vows they have written for one another.”

      It was super important to us that we include personalized vows, because our wedding was intensely personal and we crafted every word of our ceremony to reflect our values. And neither of us are religious, so we wanted to be sure we believed in every word.

      Also, my SIL said that at each wedding she goes to, she looks for something that allows her to really see the couple, a moment where she tangibly feels that their union is the best thing ever, and for her (and for me) that moment was our personal vows.

      To each their own.

    • MC

      I think a lot of it is not being religious or not feeling connected to the vows from a certain religion. My fiance and I aren’t Catholic, although plenty of our family members are Catholic/Christian, and it would not feel genuine at all for us to use Catholic or Christian vows. I do love the idea of doing something that connects us to the history of marriage, but vows aren’t that thing for us.

      I do agree that keeping them simple and not too eclectic is best – but hey, to each their own.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I have this little book that’s a wedding guide for clergy. I think it dates from before the 1979 BCP, FWIW. It just outlines topics to include in pre-marital counseling, gives some tips for wedding sermons, and about half is devoted to liturgical matters. It’s written for all Protestant clergy, so it has some new/alternative liturgies for churches without a liturgical tradition, as well as an outline of the BCP rite (which is actually older than the Roman Catholic rite used in English-speaking countries; the Romans borrowed from the Anglicans).

      In the author’s estimation, it’s actually couples with more traditional and thought-out ideas about marriage who want to write their own vows. Those who just accept what’s been handed down can avoid ever having to really think about it. Not that all or even most do avoid it, but if you write your vows, you HAVE to think about them, but if you just show up at the chapel, you don’t.

      We went straight from the Prayer Book. Didn’t even have a double-ring ceremony. I even spent an afternoon at a seminary library research the history of the wedding liturgy.

      • Violet

        Right right right. It’s that “not all rectangles are squares but all squares are rectangles” thing. Not everyone who uses traditional vows avoids thinking about them, but all people who write their own DEFINITELY have to think about them.

    • JSwen

      To each their own. It would be incredibly insincere if my fiance and I read vows from any religion. I think that secular weddings are becoming more acceptable, socially, so couples are feeling more free to speak truthfully in their vows. Nothing wrong with that.

      • Mezza

        This. The religion in which I was raised doesn’t recognize my marriage anyway, so it would have felt extra insincere to use the words of that institution.

    • Violet

      This isn’t a fully formed thought, so bear with me here. I have no problem with people writing their own vows. As others have said, to each his/her own.

      For us, writing our own vows just wasn’t the right fit. Like you, I couldn’t think of anything I needed to say that wasn’t already encapsulated in the BoCP. I am not religious, but other than mentioning God, the vow part itself contains no elements of religion in it (“In the Name of God, I, N., take you, N., to be my wife/husband, 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 cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.”). I see a distinction between our relationship (which is intensely unique, personal, and ever-changing as we change) and our marriage (which is part of the larger cultural institution of marriage). This distinction is why I believe marriage should be for everyone. Otherwise, it’s saying, “You can’t sit with us.” As in, you can’t be a part of this institution. Sure, have your relationship, but you’re not allowed into the broader context. Nu-uh, don’t like it. So, is our relationship personal and unique? Yes. Is our marriage? Not really, no. As such, I was fine with our vows being vows that tied us in culturally by saying the same words so many others have spoken.

      All that said, my partner hates passive voice, so we asked the priest if we could say, “until death parts us” rather than “until we are parted by death.” But you know, grammar, not a content change.

      • JSwen

        Hahah. Is your partner an attorney? :)

        • Violet

          Haha! Oh my gosh, he would be SO flattered you thought that. (He really admires attorneys.) Nope, he’s just a stickler. : )

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Avoiding the passive voice became a thousand times more difficult when I started legal writing. Attorneys deal with so many intangibles, and have to be so precise about what we know and don’t know, that the very things that make the passive voice disfavored by English teachers make it useful in legal writing. That said, I can usually rearrange a sentence to avoid it.

          • JSwen

            My fiance worked for a partner who would scream at him from across the office if he used passive voice in a document, hence my assumption that all attorneys avoid the passive voice. :)

    • Caitlin_DD

      As a super non-religious person, I would feel like I was disrespecting traditional vows if I “borrowed” them from any religion. If I had issue with any part of where those vows came from, the message would not be wholly true when I said it, and I think that would be disrespecting my partner.

      • JSwen

        Agreed. My partner is half-Jewish and he considered having a chuppah because he likes the idea of it (four important people help hold it up, symbolizing supporting your marriage) but ultimately, he wasn’t raised Jewish and it would have felt borrowed and cheap.

      • Eh

        This is why I could not have a church wedding even though my MIL wanted us to have one. I would be disrespecting their religion by having a wedding in their church by their minister (even if my MIL thinks that a “church is just a place to get married”).

    • http://www.therewm.com/ Rachel W. Miller

      Frankly, yes…you’re coming across as extremely judge-y.

      • Jane

        Oh, guilty as charged. Why am I still reading a wedding blog eight months after my own wedding if not to judge my warped, smug little heart out? But still, my plea–the oldies are lovely, and it’s quite easy to take God out of them entirely if the couple is not religious. You don’t HAVE to be original, creative, and personalized to the max to have a beautiful, meaningful ceremony.

        • rabbitdarling

          For me, (hi, polyamorous atheist with a MA in philosophy, here), the traditional vows communicate aspects of how we conceptualize marriage as a culture that I tend to find problematic, sometimes personally, and at other times, politically. For example, the notion that a promise should be what keeps two people together ‘forever’, or the promise to ‘belong’ to another human being to the exclusion of all others — neither of my loves nor I feel this way about relationships, and it would be a huge emotional disconnect to use words that hearken to a tradition all of us find at best not ours and at worst, pretty troubling. As far as I’m concerned, commitment isn’t a promise we make; instead, it is a prediction we base on the evidence that is our relationship thus far. I predict that I will continue to choose my loves with the same ferocity I do today, indefinitely, because those loves have demonstrated to me that wanting a life with them is good for all parties, that we weather storms and flourish for having found and loved one another. It is my solemn hope that if either of my partners ceases feeling that way, that they will do what is correct, and change the terms of our relationship such that, if we may, that flourishing will continue as best it can — even if that means negotiating what it would mean for the relationship as it stood ending. While I understand that traditional wedding vows do speak to some individuals and how they grok love, commitment, prediction, and trust. Ultimately, people should choose to express their vows in the way that suits them. The notion that couples who write their own vows are simply trying to ride the Unique Train to Etsy Wedding Land is a little bit callous, especially for those of us (like me) who already feel like we simply don’t fit in to a lot of discussions about marriage, commitment, and love.
          That said, I’m pleased for you, Jane, that the traditional vows worked for you and your partner. When people find words that speak to the heart of their relationships, that is a beautiful thing.
          However, this is why I (and perhaps people like me) are often so quiet here at APW, despite loving and cherishing the community.

          If you think you’re sounding judgmental, it’s likely you do. And it is possible that someone vulnerable and quite different is silenced by it. There is enough love-judging happening out there in the world.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Jane said she didn’t “get why,” and rabbitdarling has an excellent response as to why some families would never consider traditional vows.

            I won’t speak for Jane, but as an Anglican like Jane, I’d explain back to rabbitdarling that not everyone is looking to “find words that speak to the heart of their relationships.” I try to form my relationships around the words of the BCP; the words come first.

            While of course lots of people will reject a worldview that involves ordering their lives around a religious book, I think for everyone marriage vows are both descriptive and aspirational. Having made such a public statement of your “prediction” for your relationship, you’re more likely to see those predictions come to pass.

          • rabbitdarling

            This was very helpful! Thank you EJ. I would imagine we likely share more in common than you imagine. For me the words come first, too. It’s just that I’m the one who wrote them. I agree with you that our promises and predictions mean more for having been publicly spoken.
            As an aside, I love when people live their lives mindfully — whether it is based on a text, a ritual, or ideas of their own authoring. Your mindfulness shines, here. I see it and thank you for it.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Thank you. It’s really hard for someone who hasn’t lived it to understand the importance of the BCP to Anglicans, and vice versa for Anglicans to comprehend why starting from scratch might be appealing. I have the advantage that I’ve lived both ways and been dealing with these issues for a long time.

            My husband is Roman Catholic and reading a book about the BCP. His comment was, “It’s so weird. All the fights come down to this book. You don’t fight about the Bible or doctrine. You fight about what’s in the book.”

        • KH_Tas

          For some non-religious people (like me), taking God out of it won’t work. I’ve seen it done well, but for some of us, it reinforces the idea that a religion that we long parted ways with is intrinsically better than what we find to be true. I get that enough from some of my family.

      • Meg Keene

        To be totally frank, I agree with Jane. I mean, less the second paragraph, because obviously personal vows can be great. but in terms of what I think personally? That’s how I feel too.

        So I’m willing to cut her some slack ;) Judgement aside, I think what she’s saying is smart. Not right for everyone, but not voiced very often these days, and not wrong.

        “I don’t have anything to say about love that hasn’t already been covered perfectly in the Book of Common Prayer.” Is about where it’s at for me. I mean, Jewish wedding aside. But you know what I mean. Not everyone is with me, but there you are!

    • Jules

      I think it’s important here to note that traditional vows aren’t intrinsically better than personalized or vice versa…which seems to be an implication of “the classics are so good”. Personalized doesn’t always mean they’re not good enough or that they’re not meaningful.

      If traditional ones don’t mean much to you (religion or purely because of content – maybe you just don’t like the phrase “to have and to hold”), then it makes sense to write your own. If traditional ones DO mean something to you (time honored, traditional), then it makes sense to say them. The point is actually making a decision.

      I mostly take issue with people accepting that they have to say traditional vows without examining and reflecting upon what they mean. You’re saying them, but you have to OWN them. Did you think about them? Did you mean what you said? Great. Whether you do that by way of traditional or your own words, I don’t care.

      Also, there’s no saying that personalized vows can’t be serious, or that you wouldn’t think of your vows every day if you wrote them yourself, or that the BCP doesn’t already “cover perfectly” what you want to say. I’ve also seen a lot marriages that began with “time-tested” oaths end in disaster, but I understand the sentiment of “people gone before you” (personally, I’m torn between saying those traditional words to my SO someday and writing our own)….I merely don’t like “time-tested” phrasing. Just because they’ve been around for forever doesn’t mean they work any better.

  • http://bryanabennett.com Bryan Bennett

    As the “Bryan” mentioned in the article above, I’ve got one more bit to add to #9 up there. While practicing to say your vows out loud is important, it’s also important to internalize them and prepare yourself to speak them aloud. If you’re anything like us, you’re going to vocalize thoughts and feelings that you’ve never given voice to before. This gets emotional. And if you’re anything like me, you’re going to cry if you’re unprepared. (I was unprepared)

    I had looked over my vows 100 times before the ceremony. I had even come close to memorizing them (without trying). I hadn’t, however, internalized the concepts of my vows, and that made it harder than I ever would have guessed to say these words on our wedding day. The things I was saying were some of the truest words I had ever spoken, and the emotions overwhelmed me. This is hard to prepare for, but I think just understanding that it’s a possibility is tremendously important.

    I guess it’s obvious. “Your wedding day is emotional”. But I was unprepared for the vows to be the most emotional moment in that day. I suppose all I am really saying is “Be prepared” (Insert Lion King musical number)

    • Heather

      You get points for this comment, but gold stars for the Lion King reference. :)

  • Jackie

    We wrote ours on the Wednesday night before our Friday wedding. With all the fam in town, we needed an excuse to get away for a little bit and spend our last one-on-one time together before everything sprang into overdrive. So we headed to a park nearby, spread out a blanket, and got down to business writing them.

    We went over a few parts of vows that I liked, talked about what we wanted from our vows, decided what our structure would be, and then wrote them separately. Then we edited them together, read them a few times to make sure we loved them (and cried in the process) and we were done.

    By then, the sun had set in the park, no one was around and we were feeling all lovey, so we had sex right there under the stars for the last time before the wedding and sealed the deal. And that’s how vow-writing is done, folks.

    • Sarah E

      Damn, girl. You go.

    • YetAnotherMegan

      If that’s not the best endorsement for writing your own vows, I don’t know what is.

    • Meg Keene

      OMG I can’t with you guys ;)

  • Kelly

    My fiance was nervous to write our own vows from scratch, so I compiled a giant document of vows from other APW posts and elsewhere. We are planning to go through and highlight the things that spoke to us, cross out the parts that don’t, and Voila! Piece together vows that represent our relationship but we didn’t have to stress out about writing ourselves.

    • Stephanie B.

      We did that — at least, that’s what got us kick-started. Our final vows did have some passages/sentences from other vows, but a large part of our vows were things that came up naturally in response to what we read in other vows.

  • http://www.rachellerawlingsphotography.com/ Rachelle

    We ultimately could not agree on what we wanted to do re: personal vs. traditional vows so we opted to write each other letters and read them to each other privately during our first look (we called them our “private vows”) and then said traditional vows during our ceremony. It was our way of compromising between personal and traditional, public and private, elopement and wedding. Bonus points: other than our photographer, we are the only ones who know
    what was in the letters, which was weirdly important to me. Just wanted to mention this idea since I think this can be an area where couples don’t always agree on what to do.

    • JSwen

      I like this idea. Seems like a better option than ugly crying my way through a novel in front of my friends and family.

    • YetAnotherMegan

      I’m seriously considering talking to C tonight and suggesting we steal this idea. Nine days out is not the time I want to start thinking about writing full vows or getting with both ministers to adjust the ceremony, but using our first look to have an even more extra special moment sounds just right.

    • Meg Keene

      We did that, abet less formally and without reading. Who knows where the note I wrote David is (lost to the ages if I know him), but his note to me lives on my desk. Because of who he is, it’s not flowery, but it says what he means, and that’s the important thing. It’s with a stack of notes from him, on every big birthday and anniversary. All short. All true.

      And then it was really important to both of us to say traditional vows. We were getting married specifically to tie us to generations past, for whom marriage was a life saving and life supporting institution, so we wanted to say time honored vows.

      Also, funnily enough, given what I do for a living… we’re just not the kind of people that would get up in front of 100 of the people closest to us and say deeply personal stuff. That stuff is private for both of us, I think. So instead, we said what we meant, no personal writing needed. Hell, I do enough personal writing every week to mean I don’t have to do it for my wedding ;)

    • Alyssa M

      That’s exactly what I was hoping to do. We’re planning on saying a tweaked version of traditional vows, but I still really love the idea of agreeing to write out all of those personal feelings to privately share with each other. I don’t think we’ll do a first look, but we’ll have breakfast together that morning, and maybe read them over breakfast…

    • Jules

      I LOVE this idea! That….that is simply fantastic. AND that means I get to keep my “say ‘I will love and honor you all the days of my life’ to my husband” dream alive while still being able to make some private promises.

  • RH

    I think it’s so strange that anyone would presume to tell anyone how they ought or ought not to pledge themselves to the person they love. These urban legends about the use of humor in serious vows leading to divorce are preposterous. People who make “big, serious, time-tested” vows get divorced. People who write “quirky, humorous” vows get divorced. The two things are unrelated. I usually come to this site because it’s smart and respects the individual couple, but many of these comments today are the opposite of this.

    The time tested vows work for the two of you-great. The personal, in-joke laden thing works for you-fantastic. There isn’t one “right way” to make this giant commitment. I’m sure if you’re religious then making a religious commitment is strengthening to your bond, but if you’re not, then perhaps something else would better represent the promises you are sharing with this other person.

    As far as the “rules”, I think the vows are our time. If I want to whisper, or use humor, or use a traditional religious ceremony-that stuff is for us. The promises we make are for the two people that will be there at 2am when things are bad-not everyone else. This is not a stage production of “us as a couple” that they bought tickets to. I don’t care if they find it too boring, too silly, too personal, or not universal enough. That time is for us to make our lifetime pact. That meal and open bar we’re shelling out for after the ceremony-that’s for the guests.

    • JSwen

      Eh, the post is “Tips for writing your wedding vows,” not, “You must write your wedding vows using these steps, unless you want to get divorced.”

      • guest

        Which would be why this comment is directed at some of the other comments, not the writer or the post.

        • http://andshelovesyou.com/ Lucy

          The only mention of “rules” for writing vows in this comment thread is your mention. Everyone here is sharing their experiences, so I’ll ask that you please do not belittle that, even indirectly by creating your own thread rather than replying directly to other commenters.

          We encourage disagreement, but do so on your own two feet without putting down those who are writing about what they chose to do. It’s rude, and in violation of our comment policy.

  • Pingback: Best Tips for (Successfully) Writing Your Wedding Vows - Top Rated AZ DJ()

  • Mezza

    I had a couple of issues when it came to writing our ceremony. First, I am a very shy, relatively unsentimental person who is really not into being demonstrative in front of everyone I know. Second, I love poems and prose and basically fell in love with more readings than were really feasible to include.

    So the solution we found was to turn one of the readings into our vows. We used this snippet from Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” each reading the main text once and the parenthetical text once:

    I give you my hand!
    I give you my love more precious than money,
    I give you myself before preaching or law;
    Will you give me yourself? (I will)
    Will you come travel with me? (I will)
    Shall we stick by each other as long as we live? (We shall.)

    It was very short and very simple but it felt completely right for us.

  • Hope

    It is interesting that writing your own vows seems to most frequently mean that both partners write differing, individual vows. We “wrote our own vows”, but what that meant was that my English doctoral-student partner wrote them borrowing from traditional religious vows and ideas from other texts that were important to us, I approved them, and we both said them. (One of the only times he’s ever produced something I had no critique for, actually). I liked that we both used the same vows, but they were personal, specific, and classic at once.

    • Ani

      Thanks for this! Our officiant actually suggested that we say the same vows, even if we create them ourselves, and I am glad to know it worked for you. I do think there’s something equal and balanced about promising the same thing, and also I won’t have to worry about which one of us is a better writer. Not that I’d ever be competitive about that…

  • Valerie Day

    We wrote our vows, and they are very traditional. (Episcopalian wedding ceremony). We also memorized them, and were able to say them perfectly, and for all to hear. We LOVED knowing them by heart so we weren’t just following the preists’ words. We still know them. For those who like the traditional vows, we also added several intentions that summed up our shared values, and said “We do” to them in response. I liked that a lot. It was a good way of adding our personal commitments.

  • Beth R

    My husband and I had a picnic and discussed the promises we wanted to make to each other. We took notes of the things that were important to both of us and then gave each other free reign to craft our vows using those as the starting point. We also agreed that we wanted to thank each other at the end.

    Pretty much right after getting engaged, I started a document where I would write down any little phrase that came to mind about how or why I loved my husband and what promises I wanted to make. Once we had our discussion, I had a whole bunch of thoughts I could use around our shared promises. Every time I read through it, I would get teary, so I figured I was on the right path. :P

    I definitely agree with practicing them out loud. The first few times I said them I felt super awkward about hearing these very personal thoughts being spoken out loud, so it was important to get past that. My husband did not practice his out loud much and only looked up at me once while saying them!

    We shared our vows with each other a few days before the wedding because he was feeling anxious that they would be way off from each other, which they weren’t. I was initially thinking we would keep them secret until the wedding, but I’m glad we didn’t because I would have been even more of a mess. We also wrote
    fake vows to read during our rehearsal, which were more on the inappropriate/funny side of things. Highly recommended!

  • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

    My wife is absolutely not a writer and doesn’t analyze life the way I do. That is one of our differences and that’s fine. At times during the wedding planning process I would beg for opinions…but I digress. We found a set of vows that are actually pretty close to the traditional vows. We each repeated them to each other, and then I said my own statement to her. She is very introverted so she did something I asked for, she wrote me a letter and it was in my “getting ready” room. People who know M know that there’s no way she’s expressing her personal feelings in front of 200 people. People who know me know I can’t help but say my own words to the woman I am now committing my life to regardless of who’s in the room. I talked this over with our minister the week before and she said that the vows don’t have to mirror each other and that it’s fine if we do something different than each other, after all we’re very different people.

  • Eh

    Our officiant requires that you write your own vows (that said, she does give you sample vows so you could just use those if you didn’t want to write your own).

    Our officiant suggested that we structure our vows so that I say one line and my husband say the next (so it was like dialogue since we were getting married in a theatre). To decrease repetition and keep our vows shorter, we agreed that all of the lines would apply to both of us. Writing is not my husband’s strong suit so I did all of the writing while he was sitting in the living room with me so I could bounce ideas off of him and make sure that he agreed with what I was writing. It took us a weekend to write/edit our whole ceremony (not just the vows, but the vows took the longest and we did them last). That included finding examples of vows, editing those examples to fit our structure and to fit us, reading them, re-reading them, reflecting, and more editing and more reading (we took breaks and we had an “us” weekend without distractions). Our officiant had suggested that our ceremony be light-hearted but since it was important to us that our families support our marriage and since they were used to church weddings we decided to have our ceremony be more solemn with personal touches (that were on the lighter side). We were worried that if it was too light-hearted that our families would think that we were not serious about our marriage/commitment. This was especially important for my husband’s family since his parents were upset that we were not getting married in a church (we were the first couple in the family to have a civil ceremony). Since our wedding wasn’t “boring” or “dry” (people’s impressions of civil ceremonies) nor insincere/superficial/jokey (another concerns about civil ceremonies) and it was structured similar to a Christian wedding people didn’t even notice it was a civil ceremony. We had comments about how great our “minister” was. My step-mum liked how personal the ceremony was and compared it to the style used by the pastor who married her and my dad (and a couple of my step-siblings and their partners).

  • C

    We had a shared Google doc with our officiant. I was terrified to read his drafts of his words, but eventually did, talked about some revisions, and wasn’t ever really worried about what the officiant was going to say (he’s a friend). Our vows were in the same doc, M got his done (after a few drafts) a week or maybe more before the wedding. We agreed on a format (he says a line, I say a line) so I knew I just needed to fill in the blanks. I wasn’t really feeling the whole thing (for a lot of reasons) but I write best under pressure and finished around 2am the day of the wedding. And they were good vows and perfect for us/me. It helped me to put in amusing placeholder lines in the Google doc, it made me feel like I was making progress when I only a had one actual phase or so of the real vows done.

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