A bit of advice about vows

A Celebrants guide to writing your own vows

During your ceremony the celebrant will do most of the talking (it is what you’re paying them for) however, towards the end of the ceremony you'll each make your vow to your (very, very, very) soon to be husband/wife. Right off the bat I want to get a couple of basic Q&A’s out of the way:

Q:     Do I have to write and say personal vows?
A:     No, writing your own vows is not mandatory for a legal marriage however in most cases I recommend that you do it to further personalise your ceremony.

Q:     Do I have to say anything at all?
A:     Yes, there is minimum wording that you have to say to be a legal marriage.

Q:     We’re terrified of public speaking and we just can’t face doing our own vows, is there anything we can do?
A:     I want you to enjoy your day and there are other ways for us to structure the day if public speaking is out of the question other than the minimum wording.

So what is the vow? Put simply the vow is a promise that you make to your partner. People often forget this and while it’s lovely that you articulate why and how much you love your partner (and you should as part of your vows) - make sure that your vow contains a promise. In the minimum wording you will ask your guests to witness that you have made a public promise to your partner. And we will ask your nearest and dearest to help you uphold that promise.

Vow Length:

Generally I find 3-4 paragraphs or 6-10 sentences to be about the right length; however, it’s your vow and it can be as long or as short as you like. My only advice is that you agree between the two of you if you’re going to have short, medium or long vows as it can be a little bit awkward if they’re not roughly the same length.

Structure:

The vow can take whatever structure you like, however, what works well as a starting point is to think of the vows the same way you write anything, with a beginning, a middle and an end and structure the vow in chronological order (i.e. past, present future). I’ll elaborate a bit more below, but as a general guide:

  • Begin with why you love your fiancé and how happy you have been and are today.

  • In the middle make your fiancé a promise (see below), and

  • End with what you’re looking forward to in your marriage.

Generally I’d say to spend half the time/length devoted to the middle (or the promise), a quarter focused on the past (the beginning) and a quarter on the future.

Middle (make a promise):

Many of the traditional vows are now completely irrelevant in modern society and some are just straight up offensive (i.e. “Obey”). Instead of promising to ‘honour’ or ‘cherish’ your partner like you would a parent or prize possession; make real promises that mean something to you two, for example;

  • I promise to have your back when it’s us against the world

  • I promise that I will prop you up emotionally and pick up the slack at home when you’re having a tough week, or

  • I promise to be patient and understanding and also skype with you every night when you’re away for work because I know it’s hard for you too and you’re doing it for our family.

I also encourage a small amount of humour (if that’s appropriate for your relationship) such as;

  • I promise to let you watch Hawthorn play every week during footy season without complaint (although I’ll be upstairs watching Netflix on the iPad) – My wife actually had this in her vows.

  • I promise to enjoy every day of the rest of our lives together, particularly when we’re retired and spending the kid’s inheritance gallivanting around the world, or

  • I promise to keep groaning at your terrible dad jokes – Again, another section of my wife’s vows.

Find a theme or inspiration to stay on track:

I often find that it’s not hard for my couples to come up with half a dozen things that they want to promise their partner, figuring out how to say it is generally the problem. I recommend finding a theme to base your vow around. For me it was the concept of “I will” rather than might, try, do my best, etc. as to me that was the commitment I was making that day.

Where did this inspiration come from? I quite openly admit that it came from a movie/TV show (I can’t remember which one) – the key is (just like copyright) I was inspired by the movie – I didn’t copy from it.

Editing Process:

You may or may not want to share your vow with your partner before the ceremony (I recommend keeping it a surprise) but I do encourage you both to share your vows with someone that can give a bit of a comparison. You want them to compare the two sets of vows to make sure that they’re roughly the same length and that they are on the same page in regards to expressing emotion.

Usually your celebrant will be more than happy to help out with this (I am).

Prompting or cards?

They're you're vows and your partner wants to hear you say them, not your celebrant. As such I always think it's best to have a card with your vows written on them for you to read from. I also find that it is just awkward if I have to prompt you for the wording of how much you love your partner and the “tradition” of repeating after the celebrant is another one of the ceremony elements that I’m glad to see the back of these days.

This is because as far as I’m concerned your vows are your promises to each-other (even if it’s just the legal minimum). The key part of that sentence is that it’s your promise. I had my turn saying a vow when I married my wife and now it’s your turn.

Other Options:

If you're terrified of public speaking, much of the same sentiments that would be included in your personal vows can be worked into the asking – where the celebrant will ask you if you will or promise to do a range of things and you respond with “I do” or “I will”.

If you chose to include an asking (whether or not you chose to do personalised vows) your celebrant should work with you to customise the question and in the case where you are omitting personalised vows it can be extended.

The golden rules:

DO NOT COPY YOUR VOWS FROM GOOGLE: Everyone will know if you have because they will be terrible and impersonal (and it’s also breach of copyright if you don’t have permission from the author – I bet you didn’t think about that).

Use your own words: Use words and phrases that you would use every day, the vows are about a person making a promise to the person they love; so be yourself.

Use words that are easy to pronounce: Your wedding day isn’t the day to prove to your family and friends that you have an unmatched grasp on the English language (unless you are including stories about scrabble in your vows) reduce the risk of stumbling and nervousness by keeping the language simple.

Say what you will do, not what you won’t: This one is pretty simple, keep your wording active and positive. Say things like “I will do the dishes every day to prevent a crockery landslide” rather than “I won’t let the dishes pile up”.

Peter Willington