10 Things to leave out of your wedding vows

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant ©
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                      Cram, The Vows Magician with the text Vows that
                      will make your partner fall in love with you all
                      over againYour vows are the centrepiece of your marriage ceremony. In many ways they are the reason for getting married, because they are a statement of your commitment.

There is so much advice about writing vows out in internet land that you might not know where to start. Ironically, it is often easier to start by getting clear in your mind what won't fly, the message you want to avoid sending, and work back from there to what you do want to say.

Here are the things that should never be included in vows.

1. Anything that sends a negative message

  • Snide jabs at your at your partner
    You might think it is a lighthearted joke, but a jab will embarrass your partner, and come across as mean to others.
  • Any mention of your partner's weaknesses or vulnerabilities
    There is a very fine line between making fun of someone in a bantering way that is understood by you both, and going too far. Even is something is acceptable to joke about in private, mentioning it in public, and particularly on a day when everyone's emotions are heightened, crosses the line and could cause lasting damage to your relationship.
  • Snide jabs at or jokes about friends or family
    It is never cool to single anyone out in a crowd. Taking a detour in your vows will make you not only come across as mean, but also as not totally committed to your partner.
  • Any mention of break-ups or rough patches in your relationship
    As they say, Never complain, Never explain. Mentioning that time when you had a fight and broke up for a while, or where you hit a rough patch and didn't know whether you would or you wouldn't, would be both a little whinge and an explanation. You've drawn a line under it. You've moved on. Don't give it air time.
  • Anything Heteropessimisistic
    We've all heard them. Those negative views of marriage and relationships. The husband who introduces his wife as his first wife. The wife who refers to her husband as her current husband. All of those marriage is ... jokey definitions. Frankly, it drives me dilly when I hear celebrants express such views in guise of a joke, because it reveals disappointment about being in a relationship and suggests an attitude of disappointment. Don't go there.

2. Anything that implies an unequal power balance between you


A bride having to promise to obey is long past its use by date. But there are other ways of signally or implying that one of you is subservient to the other. They should be avoided.

I will encourage you,
or because you encourage me is fine. I will let you or because you let me is not.

3. Anything secret or private - unless you have both agreed to do a reveal

We all have secrets or things we are sensitive about and prefer not to share with the world at large. Do break a confidence. Do not out your partner, or yourself.

On the other hand, if you have a secret you are dying to share (eg a pregnancy), and you both agree to reveal, your vows can be an appropriate place. For example, you could both make promises to the child we are expecting. But think very carefully if a reveal will take the attention away from the rest of your vows, your promises to one another.

4. Anything X-rated

If it would warrant a TV/Movie rating or advisory warning, leave it out, including
  • Coarse or foul language
    You might be f****** stoked to be getting married, but best not to say so in those exact terms
  • Anything sexually explicit. That includes raunchy stories or steamy promises. - a subtle double entendre may pass muster or it may not. That will depend on who your guests are. If in doubt, leave it out. At worst it could offend. At best it could come across as cliche or go over their heads and fall flat
  • Any allusion to specific body parts - however vague
    Everyone assumes you are physically attracted to one another. You don't have to hit them over the head with it.

Vows should be PG at most. If you want to say something steamy, either write your partner a note to be read before the ceremony, or, whisper in their ear during your first look or photos after the ceremony. That will pay dividends without anyone knowing what you said!

5. Jokes of any sort

Vows are not an open mic night opportunity. While a touch of playful humour could be fine, keep it to just a touch (think in terms of adding salt to a dish, you don't want to overwhelm the flavour of all the other ingredients)/

So don't be telling jokes, and that includes reference to insider or private jokes, Your guests want to understand what you are promising. If they don't know what you are talking about, you will lose them.

6. Your murky backstory

This day is about you and your partner. Your vows are statements about your commitment to shared future. You past may have contributed to who you are now, or it may have played a part in how you but your vows are not the place to mention your ex, your divorce, or what you learned in previous relationships.

7. Anything that puts conditions on your commitment

Don't sink the ship before it sets sail!

From the legal point of view, both of you must be committing to your marriage, unconditionally. The words that create the marriage are simply I take you to be my lawful wedded husband/wife/spouse/partner-in-marriage. Full stop. No conditions.

Before you say those words,  your celebrant must recite the legal definition of marriage in Australia ...  the union of two people, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into, for life. So anything that can be taken to be conditional, can also be taken to be less that fully voluntary. And that will raise doubts as to the validity of your marriage.

8. Something borrowed

We all know that rhyme. But here's the thing. It is about an object. Something you carry, not something you say. Your own words are the most powerful words you can use to frame your commitment to your partner. If a quote, line of poetry, or sentiment from a song, speaks volumes to you, think about what it says and how you would express it if you had to share that thought with someone else but were not allowed to use the words of the quote. Then do just that.

9. Excruciating detail

What What you might see as essential detail, those listening will hear as noise that obscures the essential core of your commitment. Vows should be a distillation of your commitment, not the longest novel ever written.  Your vows are not the place to ramble, to beat around the bush, or tell long-winded stories

10. Ad libs

Adding a spontaneous ad lib can change the whole tone of your vows and turn them into a clowning around look at me experience for your guests. Don't be tempted.

Feeling overwhelmed?

Nobody expects you to have all the skills and knowledge to personally create every element of your wedding from scratch. So if you would rather be doing something else than sweating over turning your thoughts, emotions, and commitment into words there is no shame, or harm, in getting professional help to write your vows. And I'd love to use my seventeen years of experience and expertise as a marriage celebrant to do that for you. 

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                        Jennifer Cram
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