When I first meet with a couple to discuss their wedding ceremony, we spend significant time talking about the VOWS.
There are four main options you have for saying your vows:
- Answer “I Do” to the officiant’s question, “Do you take. . .”
- Repeat after me a version of the traditional vows
- Write your own personal vows
- Do a combination of personal sentiments + traditional vows
Here are some simple tips to keep in mind as you decide
how to offer your vows to each other
If you’re going to use traditional vows
There is a host of variations on the wording of the vows, depending on religion and denomination. You can choose one of the versions or take snippets from a couple of versions and create your own new “traditional” vows.
You should decide if you will both say the same version of the traditional vows or if you’ll each say a different version.
If you’re going to repeat your vows after an officiant, you’ll want to keep the vows to no more than five sentences. After five sentences, it begins to sound long-winded and monotonous.
If you’re going to write personal vows or sentiments
Make sure you give yourself the luxury of time to reflect on your partner, your affection and commitment.
Go someplace where you can focus without distraction. Put your cell on airplane mode!
For inspiration, couples often turn to music, movies, poetry, and literature – any source that speaks of love and commitment.
At some point you’ll have to start writing. Write – don’t edit!
Just pour your sentiments onto the paper. When you’re done, put it aside – for an hour, a day, a week, so you can clear your head and get distance. Then, go back to what you’ve written and begin to edit and give shape to your words.
There’s no “right” way or “wrong” way. No one is going to judge you. And if someone does, then why did you invite them to your wedding?!
Let the tone of your vows reflect the tone of your own relationship.
Your vows or personal sentiments MUST be written out!
I’ve had grooms and brides tell me before the ceremony that they couldn’t put words to paper, but that they know what they want to say. Inevitably, when it came time to say their vows, each and every one froze like the proverbial deer in a headlight.
If you’re writing your own vows, at some point you’ll want to have the phrase, “and so I take you to be my wife / husband” as this is the phrase that makes a vow a “vow.”
Length of Personal Vows
The longest personal vows I ever heard were offered by a bride and groom each of whom was an attorney. I never critique vows, but I remember wondering when they’d get to the end of their respective vows because they seemed to just go on and on!
I ran into the bride six months later and sadly, she revealed that she was filing for divorce.
So, my rule of thumb is: the shorter the vows, the longer the marriage!
Jaded humor aside – I can’t tell you a specific length since these are your vows.
Write Your Vows On ??
You can write your vows in a good-looking journal book, on nice stationary (perhaps the same as your invites), or on a scrap of crumpled paper you found the night before! A couple that works in Silicon Valley had their vows on an i-Pad.
Where to Keep Your Vows In The Ceremony
If the vows are on loose paper, then the groom usually keeps his in his jacket pocket. The bride can give her vows to the officiant.
People Want to Hear Your Vows
The emotional core of the ceremony is the Exchange of Vows.
Guests WANT to hear your vows, so make sure you have a microphone (that works). I always prefer a hand-held mic because I can point it in the direction of the groom and bride.
I don’t like lapel mics because even if both the groom and I have a lapel mic, it’s still hard for the bride to be heard as she’s got to lean in close to the groom for the mic to pick-up her voice.
What to Do with Your Vows After the Wedding
Because your vows are priceless, consider where you’ll preserve them when you return to “normal” life.
If you’ve written personal vows or sentiments you might keep them in a special box or container that’s readily displayed.
You might frame a copy of the traditional vows.
Be creative and don’t let the powerful, life-giving words of your vows simply disappear into thin air!
No matter what vows you offer to your partner
they are but an echo of what’s in your heart.
Have fun and don’t let your nerves silence you!
I am a Los Angeles-based non-denominational wedding officiant. During the last twenty years, I’ve officiated over one thousand non-denominational, inter-faith and cross-cultural weddings.
This post is an excerpt from my book