Writing your vows doesn't have to be hard

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (07/04/2019) 
Categories: | Vows | Wedding Ceremony |
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Personal VowsWriting your own vows is a wonderful way to make your ceremony truly unique because it allows you to make personal promises that express, in your own words, your intentions for your marriage (think performance targets!), together with your commitment to one another.

But many couples are put off even trying because sitcoms, together with uncountable numbers of websites, give the impression that writing vows is  time-consuming and hard to do.

Traditionally vows include topics of love, life, partnership, and individuality. That would seem simple enough. So why is there an almost universal belief that writing your own vows is difficult?

Well, it just might be (actually it is very likely) that the model of personal vows we have firmly imprinted on our minds comes from what movies, TV, and the bridal press has fed us about the American way of marrying.
Which entrenches the idea that personal vows need to tell the story of your relationship.

Let's look at that for a moment.

The notion of personal vows developed in the US in the 1970s as more and more couples wanted to put their personal stamp on their wedding ceremonies. Back then, most people either married in church, where the liturgy was laid down and locked in, or in a standard one-size-fits-all civil ceremony (which in the US means what we think of as a courthouse or Registry Office wedding). In those ceremonies,  saying "I Do" in answer to a question about whether you take one another for husband/wife, is the legal equivalent of the Australian statement that has to be made by each of the marrying couple.*

So, the only place where there was room for anything personal was the addition of personal vows, which quickly became the repository not just for personal promises of each to the other about how they will behave to one another during their marriage, but the vehicle for telling their story, and expressing their feelings.

Over time a formula for how to construct personal vows developed, and it goes something like this:
  1. An opening phrase
  2. A reference to first impression
  3. Something about what you appreciate/love about the other person (might include an anecdote or two)
  4. Something about how the other person has changed/enriched your life
    (might include an anecdote or two)
  5. Quotes, poetry, etc etc - what I call "channeling your inner Shakespeare, Hallmark Card, or favourite singer/band"
  6. Actual promises
  7. Closing phrase.

Quite a challenge! 

If, however, you look at the context of your vows within your Australian ceremony, you can ignore the formula above. Concentrate on Number 6, and pretty well ignore the rest.  You don't need to tell the whole story of your relationship in your vows because your story is an integral part of the ceremony. And you avoid the trap of your vows becoming focused on yourself and your feelings, rather than on your commitment to your marriage.

[HINT: talk to your celebrant about how and where to include all the delicious details of how and where you met, what you mean to one another, and the things  you love about one another
in other parts of the ceremony.]

The motive for your vows is love, but the promises you make should include more than feelings, they should be actions describing how you are going to treat one another, and what sort of person you are going to be within your marriage.

[Are you worried about how it will all go on the day?
Doing these 3 simple things before you start writing will make sure you nail your vow exchange]

Before you start writing

Discuss  with one another what you are feeling  and what you wish to promise to one another, and decide, as a couple, whether you will
  • read your vows, or repeat them after your celebrant
  • write you vows together, so that you are making the same promises to one another (highly recommended as an expression of equality in your relationship)
  • write your vows separately and
    • share them before the ceremony
    • keep them as a surprise on the day, not forgetting that you do need to share them with your celebrant well before the ceremony.  (Your celebrant will check that your vows meet the legal requirements and advise if there is a serious mismatch in length)

My easy, two-step formula for writing your vows

First step
In marrying you are making a commitment both to each other and to marriage, so you need to reflect on two important questions:
  • What is it you are committing to? (What is your idea of marriage?)
  • What are you committing to do? (How do you intend to live your definition of marriage day in and day out?)
In order that your vows are meaningful you also need to spend some time in open discussion with one another so that you are confident that you really understand
  • What do you need to hear in the vows? (What are the important issues in relationships that need to be addressed in the vows in order that you are confident that your needs within your relationship are understood and respected?)
  • What does your beloved need to hear in the vows? (What are the important issues in relationships that need to be addressed in the vows in order that your partner is confident that his or her needs within your relationship are understood and respected?)
Regardless of whether you are planning to write your vows together, intending that you will both make the same promises, or planning to each write individual vows, these four questions need to be thoroughly discussed between you before you put pen to paper. If, after this discussion you can each write down the answers to these four questions in some simple words and phrases you are half way to writing your vows. The important thing is not to worry about writing beautiful vows on the first try.

Second step
Join your dot points together, making sentences that tell the story of the kind of person you intend to be in living your marriage committed to your spouse.

While it is both traditional and common for both of you to recite the same vow, this is not a legal requirement. In addition to the legally required words, you can each make your own personal vow.

I encourage couples to work on their vows together because exploring what you are committing to, and how you both want to be within your marriage, is a relationship-strengthening activity. It is a good idea to have these conversations even if you've decided to write individual vows and keep them secret  from one another (but not from your celebrant!) until the ceremony.

How long should your vows be?

Don't worry if you "write long" to start with. As someone once commented - it takes longer to write a short vow than to write a long one!  That's because a process of distilling will add punch, and increase the power of the words, but it takes a little effort.

When you've got that first draft done is time enough to consider how long your vows will take to say
[HINT: Normal speaking speed is about 120-140 words per minute.]. So, get out your smartphone, start the stopwatch, and start reading.
  • 10 to 15 seconds: A bit too short 
  • 15 to 45 seconds: Just about perfect.
  • 1 to 2 minutes: Needs some more distilling
  • 2 to 5 minutes: Way too long - and will definitely have a lot of repetition
  • 5 or more minutes: Guests will glaze over and tune out if you ramble on. Get out your red pen!

Double that time if you're repeating after your celebrant.

* Don't forget
To make your marriage legal, each of you has to make the statement required by the Marriage Act
I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, A.B. (or C.D.), take thee, C.D. (or A.B.), to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband, or spouse)
It is those words that create your marriage.
  • You may substitute I ask everyone here for I call upon the persons here present 
  • You may say you instead of thee
  • You may say partner-in-marriage instead of wife, husband, or spouse

But those are the extent of the changes permissible. And any personal promises you make must be unconditional.

There is an alternative

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 use my sixteen years of experience and expertise as a marriage celebrant to do that for you. 

More Information

When you book your ceremony with me, I will give you a digital copy of one of my best-selling books, or, if you prefer, work closely with you to write your vows.

Cover of How to Write Vows that WOW by
                    Jennifer Cram

How to Write Vows that WOW! 

(Romantic Wedding Rituals)
More about this book ... and to purchase a copy

The Gay Groom's Guide
                    to Writing Your Vows - Book Cover

The Gay Groom's Guide to Writing Your Vows
(Romantic Wedding Rituals)
More about this book .... and to purchase a copy

The Lesbian Bride's Guide to Writing Your
                    Vows - Book Cover

The Lesbian Bride's Guide to Writing Your Vows
(Romantic Wedding Rituals) 
More about this book ... and to purchase a copy

Thanks for reading!
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                      me. Jenny
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