How to Write Wedding Vows

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Transcript for How to Write Wedding Vows:

I don’t know how many times I’ve sat at my desk waiting for a couple to—you know—send me their vows when it’s getting really close to the line. And the fact that I have to wait so often really indicates to me that there must be something I can do to help people. By giving them a bit of an idea of how to go about doing it.

So this is my take on how to write vows.

A lot of people don’t realise, but personal vows are actually quite a new idea. They haven’t been around for as long as marriage has been around. They came along when civil celebrants came along and people decided to create ceremonies their own way, which is kind of what civil celebrants are really all about. Personal vows are not essential, but they really are a good way to make your ceremony about you, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re so important.

Historically, vows used to be set by the church or the temple or the mosque, so you just did whatever you were told and you said whatever you were told to say.

What you decide to write, though, that’s up to you. It can be a secret from your partner, or you can actually let them know what you’re what you’re going to say beforehand. There’s no reason why you have to keep them a secret, but it’s a nice thing to do as well.

So, how long should vows be?

If you’re a great writer, you could potentially write pages and pages, but that’s not necessarily a great thing.

Long vows tend to get lost. You get halfway through and everyone has forgotten what you said at the beginning, including your partner, which is the last thing you want. You get to the end and the and that whole swathe of information is just kind of gone unless you’ve been a great storyteller. If you’re just a normal storyteller like me, then you need to keep them short.

I always say three paragraphs is about right. That’s about an A6 sheet of paper. If you filled that whole thing up, that would be fine, but you really don’t want much more than that. You need to keep it short, keep it simple: I write 3 paragraphs.

This is this is the same with all kind of writing; not just vows, but I always write in threes. And I have three things that I think you should include:

  • Why this person?
  • What do you promise, and
  • When does it end?

When Does it End?

It’s especially helpful to start at the end with wedding vows because the end is almost written for you. When does the marriage end? When one of you snuffs it (that’s exactly how my husband and I entered our wedding vows).
Most of us here in Australia have heard the traditional ending of Christian wedding vows, which are usually something like “until death us do part” or “for as long as we both shall live”.

I love the ending of Buddhist wedding vows, which run along the lines of “I give you my life to keep”. And Hindu wedding vows end with a similarly eloquent “let us be true companions and remain lifelong partners by this wedlock”.
Now, there is the vague possibility that couples do not intend to stay together for life—and that seems to me to be a very important conversation to have with your fiancé—but most of you are going to want to find a nice way to say that your marriage is for life.

And because this part of your vows is pretty straightforward, start by taking a moment to think about how you want to say it, and that will mean you’re not starting the beginning of your vows with a blank piece of paper, and it will also give you a general idea to aim for with the rest of your vows.

Why this Person?

We’ve done the end. It’s time to start at the beginning, which is why this person. Now, when I started writing my vows for my husband, I was on a train in Scotland.

Scotland itself is a mystical place to me. It’s the home of many of my ancestors and it is a place where I feel deeply connected to the land. I was also about as far away from my fiancé as it was possible to get and it was so much easier to think about what’s important to you when it’s not right in front of you. I highly recommend getting away for a bit before you even think about writing your vows.

So think about why you chose to marry this person and what it is about them that makes you want to make a commitment to them in the first place and come up with a sentence or three.

Again, there’s that’s three.

You can think about things like their personality: their sense of humour; their passions; how they treat their family; their appearance; their talents and skills; that weird way they fold socks or all the fact that they like to have ice in their red wine.

The main thing is keep it to three. Pick your top three and stick with those.

What are You Promising?

And that brings us to the middle, which is actually the end of your writing challenge: what are you promising?

This is the core part of your vows, and this is the main thing that you need to actually get across. This is the most important bit, the biggest challenge in terms of writing your vows. Summarise why you’ve made the decision that you’ve made and why you’ve decided to get married on this particular day.

You should talk to your partner about those expectations anyway. When you get married, it’s a perfect opportunity to express your commitment in a way that’s memorable and full of all that importance.

Traditional vows use words like love, honour and obey. Now don’t use obey: that’s completely anachronistic! But values like trust and loyalty are certainly not going out of fashion. And it doesn’t matter how many other brides and grooms have used them in the past.

The other classic is to acknowledge that things won’t always be rosy. Promising to never leave the lid off the Vegemite; or making an effort not to leave your dirty socks on the couch always raise a laugh. And promising to be on hand with an icy Prosecco in a crisis usually elicits a nice aww. But most importantly, this is where you lay down your intentions.
Your promises should be personal, relevant, and meaningful.

And you should get to the point and say them in a single paragraph. Three sentences to sum up what kind of a husband or wife you mean to be.

And that’s it.

Finishing up

There’s one more thing to think about. There are mandatory vows that you have to include somewhere in your ceremony. The smoothest way is to put them at right at the end of your personal vows.

In Australian law, the Marriage Act of 1961 requires that you recite mandatory vows, whatever your personal vows may say. You have to say the words prescribed in this legislation. Bob married Blanche away from the cameras in the Ritz Carlton in 1995. He had to say, “I ask the persons here present to witness that I, Robert James Lee Hawke, take thee, Josephine Blanche D’Alpuget to be my lawful wedded wife”.

The statement is part of the process and your full legal names have to be used. He couldn’t be called Bob; it had to be Robert. She couldn’t be called Blanche; it had to be Josephine.

And don’t be fooled by the fact that it says “or words to that effect”. You really can’t change very much.

Just a little more help…

There are of course pages all over the web that can help you with writing vows. I don’t have a crystal ball or anything that means that my way is the best way. Absolutely use all of them.

But I’ve done one more thing to try and help you with your vow writing. I’ve gone one step further in making this process just a little bit easier.

I created a form that will help guide you through these steps. It will email your completed vows straight to your inbox.

How easy is that? Just go to tinyurl.com/writemyvows.

Even great writers get stumped sometimes, especially when it comes to something as important as writing your vows. So don’t feel bad about it. Just get in there and do it. I hope this has helped, and if it did help, share it.

See more wedding planning help here

Published by Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver

Trevar Alan Skillicorn-Chilver is an authorised celebrant, a playwright, a teacher and quite a few other things!

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