Penning your own wedding vows is no easy task -- it’s like writing poetry, public speaking and having the deepest conversation of your life all at once. Putting your promises on paper is an emotional, eye-opening and often extremely memorable experience. Up for the challenge? Here's the homework you need to do (and the questions you should ask) to make your vows perfect.
Make sure your ceremony officiant will actually allow personalized vows. Certain celebrants and houses of worship may require you to recite a specific set of traditional vows. And remember: Even some of the most accommodating officiants will want to review your words in advance.
We can't say this enough: Don't leave writing your vows until the day before the wedding! You'll be too nervous, excited and rattled to give them the time and thought they deserve. Give yourselves at least a month, or work on your vows in that pocket of time after you've set up all your major vendors and before you have to start thinking about the details. Vow writing should be done in a relaxed, not rushed, frame of mind. Some loose deadlines to aim for: Try to get a first draft together about three weeks before the wedding and have your final version completed at least two days out.
Look to Tradition
To get inspired, start by reading traditional, by-the-book vows -- from your own religion, if you practice a certain faith, but others, as well -- to see what strikes a chord with you. You can incorporate these into the original words you write, or simply use them as a jumping-off point to base your personalized vows on.
Set the Tone
Before putting pen to paper, decide what overall tone you want to achieve. Humorous but touching? Poetic and romantic? It's your call -- the most important thing is that your vows ring true and sound like they're from your heart. One word of advice: While your vows can be lighthearted (or even hilarious), they should, in some way, acknowledge the seriousness of the commitment you're about to make. One way to do that is to weave little jokes into traditional vows (for example: "I promise to love you, cherish you and always watch Monday Night Football with you").
Figure Out the Logistics
Make sure you and your fiance are both on the same page. Are you each going to write your own vows, or will you write them together? If you're writing them separately, will you want to run them by each other before the wedding? If you're writing them together, will they be completely different for each of you, or will you recite some of the same words and make the same promises to each other, as you would with traditional vows? If you want them to be a surprise on your wedding day, make sure you both send a copy of what you've written to your officiant or to one friend or family member so they can check that your vows are about the same length and similar in tone.
Make a Vow Date
When it's time to come up with the actual content of your vows, go out to dinner or set aside an evening at home to brainstorm. Talk about your relationship and what marriage means to each of you. Discuss what you expect from each other and the relationship. What are you most looking forward to about married life? Why did you decide to get married? What hard times have you gone through together? What have you supported each other through? What challenges do you envision in your future? What do you want to accomplish together? What makes your relationship tick? Answering these questions will help you make and keep your promises, and talking about your bond may expose your inner Wordsworth and help you come up with phrases and stories you can incorporate into your vows.
Schedule Some Alone Time
After chatting with your future spouse, take some self-reflection time to think about how you feel about your partner. What did you think when you first saw them? When did you realize you were in love? What do you most respect about your partner? How has your life gotten better since meeting your mate? What about them inspires you? What do you miss most about them when you're apart? What qualities do you most admire in each other? What do you have now that you didn't have before you met? You may be surprised how these answers may lead you to the perfect words.
Borrow freely from poetry, books, religious and spiritual texts -- even from romantic movies. Jot down words and phrases that capture your feelings. Widely recognized works ring true for a reason.
Create an Outline
An outline can get you started by helping to establish a structure. For example, plan to first talk about how great your fiance is and then about how you work together as a couple; pause to quote your favorite writer and then go into your promises to each other.
Remember Your Audience
Don't make your vows so personal that they're cryptic -- or embarrassing! You've invited your family and friends to witness your vows in order to make your bond public, so be sure everyone feels included in the moment. That means putting a limit on inside jokes, deeply personal anecdotes and obscure nicknames or code words.
Time It Right
Don't make them too long -- aim for about one minute or so (it's longer than it sounds!). Your vows are the most important element of your ceremony, but that doesn't mean they should go on for hours. Get at the heart of what marrying this person means to you with your vows; pick the most important points and make them well. Save some thoughts for the reception toasts -- and for the wedding night.
Practice Out Loud (Seriously!)
These are words meant to be heard by a live audience, so check that they sound good when spoken. Read your vows out loud to make sure they flow easily. Watch out for tongue twisters and super-long sentences -- you don't want to get out of breath or stumble.
-- Special thanks to Alisa Tongg, a wedding celebrant
See More: Wedding Ceremony + Wedding Vow Ideas