Writing your own vows

Published date: 19th May 2019

Some may think of writing our own wedding vows as a rather American thing, seen in many a sitcom and romantic comedy, but there is the leeway in most ceremonies in Britain for that personal touch.

Don’t think for a moment this is easy, however: in Friends when Monica and Chandler marry we get something romantic and nervous from the former and different from what he planned form the latter. Very lovely, very touching, but they are professional actors with great timing, no nerves and brilliant writers – and doubtless several retakes.

There are basic legal requirements in any wedding ceremony here, which has to include in one form or another a declaratory statement – each party saying there is no lawful reason preventing them from marrying – and a contracting statement, each stating they take the other as husband or wife. But beyond that, if you wish to add your own words, most ceremonies are accommodating.

Church of England vicars generally are ok with it, but can you surpass the simple poetry of the wedding ceremony as it stands?

‘I (your name) take you (other party’s name)

to be my wife/husband,

to have and to hold

from this day forward;

for better, for worse,

for richer, for poorer,

in sickness and in health,

to love and to cherish,

till death us do part’

At the reception you have the opportunity to say more about your (by then) spouse: the groom traditionally does so in his speech, and these days brides often make a brief speech too. The atmosphere will be more relaxed and funny stories more in keeping if that’s what you want to include, along with some romantic promises about your future life.

If you do feel moved to include your own vows, however, then we hope these tips help.

First things first, check with your future spouse that he or she will be happy to do this, and if not, be prepared to talk it over. Marriage is about compromise and this may be one of the first.

Next, if you are going ahead with your own vows, you need to talk to your officiant to ensure they’re happy to include them. Most will be ok, but may ask to view the words beforehand to see they’re appropriate.

Then comes the writing. It is good to start with timing. Short and sweet is best – exceed 60 seconds at your peril. But to paraphrase Pascal: ‘I am sorry I have had to write you such a long letter, but I did not have time to write you a short one.’ Brevity’s tricky.

It may help to think of just two things: when you realised you wanted to marry your partner; and what you hope for in your marriage. Some experts suggest borrowing from great love poetry or songs, but that risks both sounding pretentious and losing the personal touch that’s the whole point of the thing.

As with the proposal it’s a good thing to rehearse: the written word and spoken are worlds apart – is there a tongue twister, a double entendre, or over-lengthy breath-depleting sentence in there? If you are not keeping things secret, try it out on your future spouse, otherwise a trusted, honest and bright friend. No writer ever dashes off perfection, so expect to revise your words several times.

With luck and effort you’ll avoid some of the jaw-dropping horrors that abound on the internet, or that we have all now heard in person. Three minutes of the most saccharine, improbably romantic, over enthusiastic words by each party at one wedding we attended somehow boded ill for the future – rightly so, they split up within two years.

Why do people think that just by rhyming (without the lines scanning) they are being poetic? Definitely one to avoid, though a Doctor Seuss-inspired speech we read would have been interesting had the bride allowed it! Some participants with the talent, charisma and guts to do so can pull off for example singing their vows, but ask yourself if you are one of those rare creatures, or if you tried how many in the congregation would inevitably die of embarrassment for you. And if you start thinking in terms of production numbers, ask yourself another question – is this for entertainment or to mark a solemn moment in your life?

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