With the start of a new year, many people have resolutions on their minds. We think about ways to improve our lives, we make promises to ourselves and others, and we find motivation to make positive changes. The word “vow” isn’t used very often any more in regards to New Year’s resolutions, even though that’s what they are – vows to ourselves. In some ways, they’re very similar to wedding vows, although weddings vows are made to another person.
When coming up with a resolution, we typically think of what will make our lives better. Maybe you have a weight loss or career goal, or you are determined to finally clean out the junk closet and learn how to budget. Some of our personal resolutions benefit others, like when we decide to be more charitable and spend more time volunteering or donate more money. On the other hand, writing wedding vows requires us to think about making the other person’s lives better. However, wedding vows still give us the opportunity to better ourselves.
Most traditional wedding vows, from any religion, have the couple promise devotion and care under any circumstance. When we vow to stay loyal to our partner no matter what, it makes us a better person. Marriage requires patience, understanding, and communication. These may be far from your typical “I will work out once a week this year,” but working on being a better communicator can enrich your life and all of your relationships, not just your marriage.
If you want to write your own vows but are having trouble getting started, the traditional wedding vows are a great place to start. If you are religious, don’t be afraid to look at other religions’ traditional vows for inspiration as well. Below are some steps to help you write your vows.
- With your partner, decide if you want to use both traditional and personal vows or only personal vows. Also, discuss whether you want to write your vows individually, so they are different, or together, so the structure aligns more with traditional vows. You will need to talk to your officiant as well to determine if he or she or the venue requires you to use any part of the traditional vows.
- Figure out if there is anything extra you both want to incorporate. Will you light a memorial candle during your vows? Include a unity ceremony?
- Read, read, read! Read other vows. Search the internet for videos of wedding vows, read religious texts, read poetry, ask friends and family what their vows were. Pull inspiration from everywhere you can.
- Find at least one personal touch to include: a memory, a trait of your fiancé’s, a hope for the future, etc. Your vows don’t have to be all mushy or too sentimental, but they should be an accurate representation of how much you love your partner.
- Decide what you want your tone to be: serious, romantic, funny, quick and to-the-point. You may want to discuss this decision with your partner as well. This is one that’s easy to work on along the way; you may start serious but find you’ve slipped too many inside jokes in there, but you can always edit later, so don’t worry too much about this at first.
- Don’t focus too much on past or current emotions – talk about the future. Think about why you want to spend the rest of your life with this person. However, take notes on your past relationship. You’ll need these to help shape the tone.
- Your wedding vows are a promise to your future spouse about your life together. They should be full of love, hope, and potential. They should also tell your guests exactly why they’re here, witnessing your marriage ceremony.
- Your wedding vows aren’t a speech or a toast; they’re a promise. You don’t have to include personal stories if you don’t want to here. Remember these are promises for your relationship. Think about the relationships you look up to. How do they make their relationship work? Patience, commitment, loyalty, understanding – what do you admire most about their strengths? Promise your partner all of these things.
- Give yourself plenty of time to write. You will likely want to spend some time editing and re-writing, and you’ll definitely want to practice. Weddings are highly emotional, so prepare to be nervous and maybe even cry. If you end up crying while you’re practicing, that’s good! Take the opportunity to focus on both speaking clearly through your tears and calming yourself down with a deep, slow breath. Hold a picture of your fiancé while you practice or find a trusted friend to practice with.
- Be cryptic. Rather, be clear and direct. Don’t tell too many inside jokes.
- Be embarrassing. Private, intimate, or potentially embarrassing stories have no place in your vows; save those for the bachelor/bachelorette parties! Not only will you be reading these in front of loved ones, you may want to keep these vows forever, and some things won’t be funny ten years down the road.
- Pull inspiration from other sources, but don’t recite a poem or a line from a movie. Your vows should be genuine.
- Be long-winded. One or two minutes should be your max.
- Expect yourself to memorize your vows. In the moment, if you get nervous, you’ll forget them, and have to improvise, which doesn’t usually turn out well. It’s okay to take a copy with you to the altar. However, don’t use this copy as an excuse to not practice. You need to be comfortable with what you’re saying before it’s time to perform. Give an extra copy to the officiant or someone in the bridal party, just in case.
- Force the words. Give yourself enough time to write. In fact, start writing as soon as you get engaged. Keep a diary or a note in your phone, and whenever you think of something you may want to include, or remember a specific moment, or find yourself feeling especially in love, write it down! These will all be very helpful when you sit down to write your first draft. Waiting until the last minute could make your vows sound forced or ingenuine. If you have months to write, you’ll be able to edit them into a masterpiece.
Looking for a brief summary of how to write vows? Here’s a tl;dr:
- Discuss whether you want all personal vows or both personal and traditional, as well as tone.
- Take notes on your relationship to this point. What have you accomplished together? What battles have you overcome?
- Take notes on where you want your relationship to go. What do you hope to accomplish together? What are you ready to take on?
- Write the first draft, read it out loud, and then edit.
- Repeat step four until you’re happy with it, then practice reading to a friend. Edit again if you need to.
- Write your final draft neatly in a nice journal or on a nice piece of paper. You want this version to be completely legible, and it should look good because it will end up in the pictures.