Wedding Guide

Vows That Wow — and Mean Something

posted: 05/02/11
by: Natalie Kilgore
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To have and to hold -- or something a bit more personal?
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You've booked the ceremony venue and the after-party location, rented a tuxedo and purchased a white satin gown. With all the major items checked off your list, it's time to pay attention to smaller details of your wedding day -- vows included.

The most important part of your wedding day can be easily overlooked. There's a lot more to saying "I do" than just saying "I do." Some brides go with traditional vows. You certainly want to love, comfort, honor and keep your significant other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. But you might wonder if there's a more modern and personal way to promise your undying love to each other at the altar. If you and your spouse-to-be are a little more adventurous than the average couple, you can write your own vows.

There's nothing more romantic than writing your own vows to recite on your wedding day, and if you're up for the challenge, it can be a special bonding experience. However, even the most accomplished communicator can get a serious case of writer's block when tasked with vow-writing. How do you choose the words to describe the life-long commitment you're making?

We've got some tips and inspiring ideas for writing vows that wow -- and mean something.

Before you begin an intense wedding vows brainstorm session and put ink to paper, meet with an officiant to discuss your ideas for personalized vows. Some congregations require couples to recite a portion of traditional vows and may rule out any modernization altogether; this decision is often left to the officiant's discretion. If your officiant supports your desire to write personal vows, he or she can help you find the right words to describe your feelings and offer you some solid advice.

Before the wedding day, consult your officiant one last time to have your vows reviewed for a final seal of approval. Even though you and your fianc? have more than likely already agreed on the tone, subject and length of your wedding vows, it's nice to have a third party's perspective. And don't worry if you have last-minute nerves or get a little misty during the ceremony; it's completely acceptable for the officiant to read your vows to the congregation for you!

OK, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. We'll get down and dirty with the actual writing process next.

After you've gotten the green light to move forward with personalized vows, decide whether you and your fianc? want to write them together or on your own (some couples like the vows to be a surprise).

If you agree to make the vows a joint project, sit down with your fianc? and discuss what content should be included and which subjects are off-limits. Decide on the tone of your vows -- do you want to be completely serious, or are you invested in making your fianc?, friends and family laugh? No matter which direction you go, just remember that your time at the altar shouldn't be confused with stand-up comedy hour. There's nothing worse than witnessing a bride recite her touching, heartfelt vows to the groom only to have him follow with less serious remarks about joint bank accounts and a quote from his favorite movie.

As with any type of public speaking, short and simple is the rule for vows, too. Get on the same page about the length of your vows; his shouldn't be much shorter than yours or vice versa. Traditional "I dos" take only a few seconds to recite, and while personalizing your vows will undoubtedly make them a little longer, aim to speak a minute or two at most. If you're too long-winded, the congregation and your spouse-to-be are likely to lose focus. However, don't cut out any material that's really important to you. You can always save certain thoughts for a card hand-delivered to your groom on the wedding day.

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Spend a little time thinking deeply and quietly about what you mean to each other.

Need inspiration? Seek it from songs, books and poems. If Shakespeare and Hemingway are too dated for your taste, there are plenty of modern authors, lyricists and poets, like Sir Paul McCartney, Kahlil Gibran and Langston Hughes, who might speak your love language. Open your vows with a meaningful quote from a source that resonates with you, and ease your way into writing about how your significant other makes you feel, why you're in love and how you're inspired by your relationship on a daily basis.

If you've got a more serious case of writer's block, jot down a list of words that come to mind when you think of your fianc?. Try not to think too hard about it -- allow yourself to brainstorm freely. Start your vows with these words, and explain what they signify about your groom.

Maybe you just need help organizing your thoughts. Draft an outline -- start with a few notes about how your significant other makes you feel, then move on to your hopes and dreams for your life together. Write down your lifelong goals, shared values and why you're entering the bonds of marriage. When did you realize you wanted to marry your fianc?, and what have you learned in your relationship so far? What events in married life are you most looking forward to? Think beyond clich?s that everyone has heard a million times before, and focus on your personal experiences instead.

After you've finished writing your vows, read them to a trusted friend or family member to get an honest opinion. Ask for any feedback -- both positive and negative. You've read these vows 20 times; a new eye or ear will notice if you're overusing words like "love." Refer to a thesaurus (yes, you can find one online) for more specific words -- such as "passion," "appreciation" and "cherish" -- that will make an even bigger impact in your vows. Practice speaking in front of a mirror to ease your pre-wedding jitters, and remember to speak slowly and clearly so everyone can understand you.

When the big day arrives and you're standing at the altar, take a deep breath before you begin, and observe your surroundings. Remember to look your fianc? in the eye as much as possible, and even if you get a little emotional, don't go off-script! Reciting your vows to each other in front of your dearest family and friends is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so enjoy yourselves and create a special moment that you'll remember fondly for the rest of your lives.

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  • Hax, Carolyn. "How to Write Wedding Vows." Washington Post. March 17, 2011. (April 18, 2011).
  • The Editors of Publications International, Ltd. "18 Public Speaking Tips." Sept. 14, 2007. (April 14, 2011).
  • The Knot. "Wedding Vows & Readings: 20 Tips for Writing Your Own Wedding Vows." No date. (April 13, 2011).
  • The Wedding Channel. "Guide to Writing Your Own Vows." No date. (April 14, 2011).
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