This guide will take you through a little of the history of wedding vows, and then give you some useful practical advice to help you write your own vows so that they are really heartfelt and meaningful while avoiding the cringe factor!
Put simply, vows are the promises that a couple make to each other during a wedding ceremony. They are not legally required in most jurisdictions, but are commonly accepted as an integral part of a wedding ceremony in western culture.
Marriage as a legal process was first officially recorded in the time of the Roman Empire, with documents being signed by wealthy romans to publicly declare property rights and shared assets. Previously, and in the lower classes, the bride’s father would simply deliver his daughter to her groom and the two agreed that they were wed, and would keep the vow of marriage.
The first evidence of any wedding vows as we know them today didn’t emerge until roughly 1000 years later, when the Book of Common Prayer was first compiled in the ancient medieval churches of Salisbury and York. It is still in use to this day.
Traditionally the churches of all branches of Christianity offer couples a choice of vows, but although they are instantly recognisable they’ve not aged particularly well and are less relevant to the modern couple.
It goes something like this...
“I, Groom, take you, Bride, to be my wife (or 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, according to God's holy law, in the presence of God I make this vow.”
The original vows where “to love, cherish and worship” (groom) or “to love, cherish and obey” (bride). As you might expect, many couples getting married in a church setting choose not to use the words worship and obey. For starters it’s a one sided deal from the bride’s point of view, as well as being a pretty difficult promise to keep!
In a YouGov poll, 49% of a thousand people over the age of 18 thought that it was time to drop the “obey”. Of the female participants 61% thought it should be removed and 24% wanted it to be preserved. Of the male participants, 37% thought it should be removed, as opposed to the 43% who wanted it to stay. This gender difference is hardly surprising I guess!
Increasingly, modern couples want the option to make more realistic promises to each other and make vows that are personal to them and their relationship. The average age of people getting married has risen significantly. The age of men marrying women in 1970 was 27 and it has risen to 38 in 2020 according to ONS data. For women the age has also risen, from 25 to 35 years over the same period. This means that couples are entering into marriage with more life-experience, possibly more spending power and with that higher expectations of their day. In a world of never ending choices, why put up with irrelevant or standard vows.
A celebrant-led ceremony allows couples ultimate flexibility and freedom when it comes to making their vows, and many couples are choosing a celebrant for exactly that reason.
10 TOP TIPS FOR WRITING YOUR WEDDING VOWS
When you set about writing your vows, you need to consider these key points:
1. Speak with your own voice
Don’t try to be over eloquent or flowery when you are writing your vows. It just doesn’t sound like you and people will spot it a mile off. Be yourself, don’t use language that you wouldn’t ordinarily use. If you’re not an “eternal and everlasting love” kind of a person, don’t say it. It’ll feel awkward.
2. Save the private jokes for later
Avoid referencing really personal or obscure inside jokes that nobody else will understand. It is absolutely fine to reference quirks and things that you find funny about each other because your guests will ‘get it’, but save the really intimate stuff for later.
3. Less is more
Say what you want to say, but keep it brief. Up to 3 minutes is about right.
4. Have a hard copy
Don’t try to memorise your vows because the chances are that nerves will get the better of you on the day. Take the time to make notecards and use them to read from. Reading from a phone screen or tablet just looks tacky, don’t do it.
5. Be realistic
Make your vows realistic, they are promises that you intend to keep. If you think you can worship and adore him/her in every moment until the end of your days then go ahead and promise it, but if you think that real life isn’t like that then choose your words more carefully. You might want to avoid using the words like “always” and “never”. Make promises that you have a chance of keeping.
6. Agree a format
You are going to want to say roughly the same amount, so agree a rough word count or format first. This is particularly important if you are keeping your vows secret from each other until the big day. Something like a brief introductory statement followed by 6 promises works well. There are no rules here, do your own thing but keep it balanced.
7. Agree on a tone
This is another tip that only really applies if you’re keeping your vows private, but it’s a good idea to agree a tone. If one of you makes poetic and gushing romantic vows and then the other follows it with a laugh-a-minute monologue, it is going to feel a bit clumsy or awkward.
8. Do your research
Most of us don’t write wedding vows often, but you can sound like a pro if you use the internet to research vows that others have written. Get some inspiration, change the wording to suit you and the rest will follow!
9. Rehearse in private
Get comfortable with your vows by reading them out loud a couple of times. Make sure that speak slowly and clearly. Pause between the vows, and remember to breathe!
10. Finally, relax and make eye contact
Your vows are intimate and heartfelt, and you will want to remember the moment forever. This means that you need to relax, take a breath and enjoy yourself. Lift your head up, make eye contact and remember to speak directly to your partner not into the page.
I hope these top tips help you to get started with writing your vows, and if you need any support at all please get in touch with me at www.ribblevalleycelebrant.com