By Alexandra Dillard | Photography by Anna Urban Photography
Beyond all the pomp and circumstance and decor, what happens at the altar is the most meaningful part of your wedding. You’ll have an officiant to guide the ceremony, but when it comes to exchanging vows, this is your time to really focus on what matters most. Guests, musicians, officiant and wedding attendants will fade into the background as you have these few minutes to share your commitments with each other. So how do you even start writing such an important collection of words? A few tips:
GET A HEAD START
As you start brainstorming, set aside a notebook or create a document on your phone or computer to begin compiling tidbits you want to include in your vows. This can be as simple as a bulleted list or as complex as full sentences. By adding ideas and nuggets all along the way, when you finally sit down to perfect it all, you’ll have a good start.
Some of the most special and unique vows include storytelling elements. While a vow template from the internet will do the trick, it’s special to personalize your vows with inside jokes, memories together and references that are uniquely “you.” In your notebook, jot down stories about your first meeting or “the moment you knew” as the memories pop into your head. Include favorite songs, TV series and any other special connection you two share. These specifics can be just lists, but they will help you start to see patterns you might want to incorporate. The most important part is that you don’t have to do all of this in one sitting. Writing one or two notes down every few days or weeks is all you need!
BE ON THE SAME PAGE
If you’re like most couples, you and your partner have different personalities, which is why you’re joining together to bring out the best parts of each other! So it wouldn’t be a surprise that your approach to writing vows would be different. However, it can be a bit awkward when one partner reads a 10-minute, heartfelt speech, followed by the other sharing only a few (just as heartfelt!) words.
To keep your vows on the same page, discuss with your partner what they are planning on writing. You don’t need to reveal specifics, but it is good to have a conversation about expectations and make sure that you see eye-to-eye. Just as important as length, make sure that you match tones. One partner might fill their vows with jokes and lighthearted fun, while the other plans a tear-jerking and poetry-ridden declaration. Both of these are great vow options, but finding a middle ground will keep the ceremony cohesive.
We are not all naturally gifted with words, and that’s okay! If you’re feeling nervous about writing, use vow templates to help you get started. By looking at examples, your mind will automatically start putting things together. There are a lot of examples out there, from videos published on YouTube to written blog posts. Note what styles you don’t like and remember the parts that make your heart skip a beat. Feel free to mix and match your favorite elements from these examples, as well as love songs or favorite poems, to create something that fits you.
SET THE SCENE
When you’ve gathered all your inspiration and are ready to write, set a cozy scene for yourself. You have the groundwork for your vows, thanks to your research and planning. Now it is time to bring it all together. As you sit down to write your final draft, find a quiet, stress-free place to be alone and really reflect on your relationship. Perhaps light a candle, throw on some serene music, find your favorite pen and get comfortable. As you write, think about what this marriage will mean to you. What do you love most about your future spouse? What kind of journeys have you experienced together to get where you are today? What makes them The One? What are you most looking forward to in your future life together? What do you want to promise to them? Thinking of these questions will put you in the mindset to write in your authentic voice and create something lovely and unique.
SECOND SET OF EYES
When you are feeling comfortable about the state of your vows, show them to someone you trust. Be open to honest feedback; it’s better to receive that now than when you’re reading the vows in front of a room full of people! While getting a second opinion is useful, keep in mind that your vows are ultimately yours. Some people might disagree with a phrase or two, but if you feel something is important to your relationship, keep it. You know your relationship best and you know what vows will be the most special.
Sharing your vows with a friend or family member is also a great way to practice reciting them. Even just saying them out loud in front of a mirror is crucial. When you’re at the altar and nerves are high, you won’t want the words to feel foreign on your tongue. Play around with your delivery, pacing and how you’ll express your emotions. Sometimes how you say something is just as important as the words themselves. As you practice, it can be helpful to make notes to yourself — “take a breath here” or “pause for laughter” — so you don’t get tripped up.
THE WRITTEN WORD
Most couples don’t memorize their vows. Emotions run high during the ceremony and adding a memorized script to the mix can be intimidating. If you’re comfortable with doing so, go for it! But it is just as special to have your vows written down so you can ensure your thoughtful words are spoken as you intended.
Some couples enlist their stationer or calligrapher to transcribe their vows into a beautifully designed memento. This can be your script for the ceremony, but also serves as an heirloom you can cherish for years to come. We’ve seen some beautifully designed vow booklets, scrolls and notecards. If you decide to have children, these keepsakes can maybe even help them write their own vows someday!
No matter what direction you decide to go with your vows, the most important thing is to be true to yourself. You’re giving your authentic self to your partner and you want your words to come out naturally. But with the right preparation, you’ll be ready to speak from the heart and focus on what really matters: promising your commitment to the love of your life.