In my work as a marriage celebrant, I take great joy in the process of writing a wedding ceremony. There is teamwork involved as I listen to each couple and find ways to reflect their personalities, their love for each other and the mood that they want to create on their wedding day. Sometimes we decide to tell some of the love-story of their relationship. Sometimes it is important to honour the wider family or the cultural heritage of the bride and groom. Always, I am seeking to create a ceremony that is just right for each couple.
But the truth is, I could write a thousand elegant, warm or witty words … but the guests are all longing to hear the vows. These are the words that will resonate most with your family and friends, gathered together to support and love you.
It’s not easy to declare your love publicly, and on such an emotionally-charged day. So here are some tips and ideas that might make the process of selecting and speaking your vows a little easier.
Covering your legal requirements
On your wedding day, your celebrant and witnesses fulfil the legal requirement of hearing and understanding you declare your vows. You must include a sentence that clearly portrays the meaning of, “I take you to be my wife / husband”. (Unless you have a bi-lingual celebrant and witnesses, you will likely need to say this sentence in English. However, you could choose to include other words in your first languages if that is meaningful for you and your partner).
At some point during the ceremony, your guests need to hear your full names. You might choose to fulfil this obligation during your vows, as in:
“I, James Alexander Smith, take you, Daisy Jane Brown, to be my wife.”
Choosing what to say:
You are welcome to repeat the same vows to each other, or for each partner to choose different words to say.
A quick google search will show you a huge range of options, and your celebrant will have plenty of ideas and samples too. Many couples love the traditional, elegant words:
“_______, I take you to be my wife / husband, to have and to hold, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to honour you, from this day forward for as long as we both shall live.”
Alternatively, couples are welcome to write their own vows. In the midst of dealing with all the to-do lists that come when planning a wedding, taking time to write your own vows is a romantic way of re-focussing on what really matters; your relationship.
In that wonderful way that opposites attract and complement each other, you might find that blending your vows leads to a beautiful balance of ideas. Try writing separately and you could discover that one partner chooses poetic and lovely words, while the other writes solid, lifelong promises. Combine the two and you could make magic!
You could choose to keep your vows secret from each other so that the words are a surprise on your wedding day.
Sometimes couples with ready-made families follow their vows to each other with promises to their children.
Printed and framed up, your vows might look beautiful in your home.
Choosing how to say it:
There are basically three options to choose from. Each of these works well, so it is a matter of selecting the option that will make you feel most confident and reassured.
You could decide to memorise your vows. This option allows your celebrant to step right away, creating a really special moment between the two of you. It means that you can focus entirely on each other, making full eye contact and holding hands. It does require some courage! Best to give your celebrant a copy of your intended vows, so that they are ready to quietly prompt you if needed.
You might choose to read your vows, either from a little card the groom might carry in his pocket, or from your celebrant’s folder. This option also allows your celebrant to step back, and the couple can take the vows at their own pace. It is a good option if you have selected lengthy vows. Holding a printed version does restrict your ability to hold each other’s hands during the vows and you may need to take vision / glasses issues into account.
A third option is to ask your celebrant to quietly say your vows phrase by phrase, for you to repeat. This style is “hands-free” and reassuring for a couple feeling a little daunted about giving their vows. It works best for shorter vows.
One more thought. I have, on occasion, worked with couples who felt quite overwhelmed at the whole idea of giving their vows. They found that sharing their vows, taking turns to speak a line at a time, was a lovely way to support each other and give each other confidence. Words like these work perfectly spoken in alternate voices:
Today I marry my best friend
The one I have laughed with and cried with
The one I have learned from and shared with
The one I have chosen to support, encourage and give myself to
I will cherish you through all the days given us to share
Today I marry the one I love.
And a final comment about making your vows – tears, if they happen, are just fine. In my experience, that welling up of emotion simply reminds your guests of the great love you are feeling. We will wait patiently as you take a deep breath until you are ready to continue. And in that moment, perhaps the heartfelt vows that you have chosen will remind us of our own love for others.
[ Written by Lynley Keightley ]
Lynley Keightley is a registered independent marriage celebrant of 7 years’ experience. She is also a wife, Mum, teacher and all-round good lady to know.