Writing Personal Vows
In most ceremonies you read your personal vows to each other either in place of or just after the repeat-after-me vows. I usually introduce them by saying "John and Mary have written personal vows that they would now pledge to one another". Then it is on to a reading or the Ring Exchange. If you send me the text of your personal vows I can print them onto note cards and hold them for you during the ceremony. The groom can also keep them in a pocket, or they can be handed to you by the best man/maid of honor.
Personal vows can take a couple of different forms. They can simply be promises that you make to each other. They can also be a brief history of how you fell in love and your feelings for each other. Or anything else you want to say to your beloved on your wedding day.
Here are some darn good tips from a wedding officiant in North Carolina.
TEN TIPS FOR PERSONALIZED WEDDING VOWS BY HAN HILLS
Your vows are the center of your ceremony. These are the words around which everything else revolves. As you speak your lines it should be that moment when your heart knows that you are now joined to the one you love in the deepest way. There is no better feeling than watching the words that came directly from your heart light up the eyes of your true love. Here are a few tips to get you ready and excited to create your own vows.
Tip 1: Keep your words secret until the big moment!
Many couples choose to keep their vows secret from each other until the day. It can be both moving and fun to watch your partner react with laughter and heart-melting surprise as they hear for the first time what you have prepared. You may be tempted to slip in a few surprises to catch them off guard and to aim your words directly at their funny bone. My advice is to “go for it”!
Tip 2: Agree on a target length for your vows.
Officiants are often asked what makes a good length for a statement of personal vows. As with every part of your ceremony, you should be guided first by your heart. Be sure you take the opportunity to say everything that you want to. If a sentence is important to you, do not cut your words simply for the sake of keeping things short. A rule of thumb would be to make your statement around one hundred and fifty words in length, give or take fifty. Any shorter and you may sound insincere and uncommitted. Any longer and you may run the risk of repetition and reducing the power of what you say. Keep your sentences short, and make each point clearly. One hundred and fifty words may sound like a lot, but it goes by very quickly. It is exactly the number of words I have used in this tip!
Tip 3: Agree on the style.
As much as having a similar length, it is important that you both use a writing style that matches. It is worth deciding on how poetic or silly you plan to be before you each put pen to paper. If one of you chooses to write serious verses in the style of Oscar Wilde, and the other makes jokes about the Netflix queue and leaving the toilet seat up, you may both end up feeling awkward. Set a few common ground rules, but don’t let these stop your personality shining through.
Tip 4: Get your thoughts down on paper.
You should start writing down your ideas for vows as early as possible. However, a blank page can be quite intimidating. Why not try this exercise. Make a list of six traits that you love about the other person, and six successes that you hope you will have together in the future. Now think of the items in your list as promises. If you have written that you love their smile, why not promise you will always do so, and that you will do all you can to keep them smiling every day. If you hope to have children, why not promise to always raise them together with love and respect. An important part of marriage vows is promising to work hard for the things you want to share together in the years to come.
Tip 5: Keep it personal, but not too personal.
Let your words come from the heart. It is easy to think of statements about love which could apply to anyone, but the best will be those which very specially and particularly apply to you. If you describe openly and honestly how you feel, your partner will feel those words far more deeply. However, I offer a small word of caution. Keep in mind that the words you use will be public. Too many private jokes or intimate suggestions could leave your guests a little confused or uncomfortable. If you have something deeply private and personal to say to your partner, why not consider smuggling them a special letter before the ceremony containing those thoughts. Knowing they have read that as you stand across from each other could be just as exciting.
Tip 6: Keep it FUN!
A wedding can never have too many smiles or too much laughter. The more fun you have throughout the day the better your memories will be and the more the experience will cement your future together. So, don’t be afraid to have a little fun with your vows. Think of what it was about your partner that you first attracted you to them. Odds are it involved something that made you chuckle or grin. Why not incorporate that into your promises? Why not also do something a little unexpected that you know will have your partner laugh out loud. Perhaps you could incorporate a long running joke you share, especially if this is also well known to family and friends. You could also try incorporating an unexpected action. Recently I watched a bride pause during her vows to take a surprise “selfie” with her groom and attendants. She even had her bridesmaids smuggle in a “selfie-stick”. It brought the house down in laughter and gave everyone something to remember for a lifetime! (Note: If you choose to do something unexpected by your partner, be sure to warn your Officiant and planner. They can keep a secret.)
Tip 7: Watch out for clichés.
Most words of love have been said before at some point, but some have been used a lot more than others. Once you have your first draft on paper read through to see if any line sounds particularly tired or unoriginal. If you find such a phrase, ask yourself two questions: What is it about that line which makes it important to you, and how can you reword it so it sounds like something you would say in everyday life? A line such as “My love for you is like the stars. It will last forever.” can be transformed with a sprinkle of personalization into something fun, such as “I’ll forever be the star that guides you home to hugs and barbecue.”
Tip 8: Practice your vows out loud.
When you have a new draft of your vows read them to yourself aloud. Perhaps use your phone to record yourself. What looks elegant and beautiful on paper can sometimes be a difficult mouthful to pronounce. Even the best public speaker has a short list of words they struggle with. If you find a line that causes you to grind to a halt, or makes you sound like you have a speech impediment, consider how you might word the same idea more simply. A thesaurus can come in very handy. Your vows should flow naturally with the way you breathe and sound similar to the types of sentences you use each day.
Tip 9: Try your vows on a friend.
A trusted friend can be perfect for feedback on your vows. They will be able to tell you if anything sounds unclear, if a line might cause unintended laughs, or if something sounds awkward. Why not invite your best friend over for a glass of wine and make a fun game out of practicing and refining your vows? Always remember, however, that the most important voice in your vows is your own. If a line you have written is particularly important to you resist pressure to drop it.
Tip 10: Print up a card to read from on the day.
Do not try to memorize your vows. The emotion of the moment would almost certainly cause you to forget a line. Instead, print up your vows on a nice piece of card. Use a large, clear font. Write the lines out phrase by phrase rather than in a paragraph. This will help you pause naturally as you read along. During the ceremony you will need your hands for many other things, so have a friend, or your Officiant, hand you your printed vows at the appropriate time. Thicker card is especially good for outdoor ceremonies as it will not flap in the wind.
Bonus Tip! Remember your vows are for each other.
When you reach the moment for your vows remember that these are first and foremost for the ears of your partner. Don’t worry whether your voice is carrying to the back of the room. If it is natural for you to speak softly that is fine. The secret of personal vows is that they are in your own voice from start to finish, and that they travel from your heart directly to the heart of the one you love. I hope you enjoy creating and speaking words you will remember and treasure for a lifetime.”