“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband / wife, 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 do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith [or] pledge myself to you.”
One single sentence pledging a lifetime of of love and devotion. What could be simpler!
Your wedding vows are your promises to each other of how you will comport yourself as a marital partner. The vows are generally composed of two or three parts: an expression of your unconditional love, your intention to honor these promises as long you both are alive, and an invocation of your spiritual source to support you in your promises.
The wedding vows used by most of the world’s organized religions contain these core elements. Their origin is in the 16th century, about the same time that the church decreed that weddings be performed in public and by a priest and before witnesses. Prior to that, a marriage ceremony was simply a contract between families. Romantic marriage didn’t take off for another hundred years or so, A marriage that upholds equal rights for both partners is a 20th century innovation.
Interestingly, male bonding ceremonies were performed in churches all over the Mediterranean up into the 1200s, sanctified by priests with many of the same prayers and rituals used to join men and women in marriage.
But I digress.
Here’s how to write great wedding vows and how to offer them to your beloved on your wedding day.
1) Be forward-looking, focusing on the love and devotion you will bring to your partner in your marriage.
2) Traditional vows include a list of conditions under which you will continue to love and support your partner. In essence, they say, “No matter what happens, I will be there.” This is your opportunity to say the same, in ways that are specific to your relationship with your sweetheart.
3) Don’t get hung up on making it the best prose or poetry ever, or on entertaining your guests. What everyone wants to hear, and especially your beloved, is your authentic desire to be present, to care, and to be your best possible self. That will make it great.
4) Give yourself some time to craft what could be the most important few sentences you’ll ever write. Start three or four months ahead of your wedding, and have it completely finished a month ahead.
5) Write from the heart. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy. A few good sentences that express your love and intentions are all that you need. A writer’s tip: if you’re having trouble getting started, start in the middle. The beginning will reveal itself as you write.
6) Read it to yourself as you edit, polishing it until it says what you want, in your own voice. Then practice saying it out loud. You want to be able to speak those words to your about-to-be spouse clearly and with ease, with every bit of the love you feel for them coming through in your voice.
7) Write it all down. Make a pretty presentation copy to hold in your hand. Have it with you, even if you plan to memorize your vows. Your officiant will be happy to hold it for you to keep it safe and looking good.
8) Don’t worry about being heard by your guests. Speak to your sweetheart. You can always repeat your vows during the reception or put them on the web. Conversely, using a lapel microphone or a wireless, handheld one will allow you to be heard while keeping your attention on your partner.
Heartfelt vows, presented well, will be remembered and held dear. They are words that you will live by every day. Give them the loving thought, feeling, and attention that your marriage deserves.
- David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a wedding and event venue in downtown Baltimore. Visit Chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook.