When planning for a wedding, vows can either be completely overlooked until the last minute or a big source of stress. Not only do you have to listen, remember, and repeat a bunch of words in front of hundreds of people, but you’re expected to speak them flawlessly! (Side note, if you haven’t seen the video of the guy saying “waffley wedded wife” instead of “lawfully wedded wife,” do yourself a favor and go watch it here.)

I’m not sure if that video struck fear in the minds of the newlyweds to follow or what exactly happened, but it seems like recently, the traditional vow is dying a slow death. Nearly every wedding I’ve been to within the last three years (including my own) did not include the familiar words. Instead, those 3-5 minutes were filled with words directly from the bride and groom.

My husband and I chose to ditch the “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse…” etc., because it was not as meaningful to us as what we wanted to promise each other. So instead, we came up with our own list of vows we wanted to make and chose to speak those instead.

But here’s the issue… most of the weddings I mentioned earlier – to put it lightly – didn’t actually have any vows. There were no real promises made and there was no list of actions they vowed to their partner, but instead, it was basically a mushy-gushy love letter with a few jokes thrown in there. Instead of “until death do us part,” it was “even if I get tired of you” (Oh yeah, that really happened at a wedding I attended).

The definition of the word vow from the good ol’ Merriam Webster is “to promise solemnly.” That doesn’t mean wedding vows are restricted to the somewhat rigid words in the traditional vows, but it also doesn’t mean that it is the time to write a love letter to your soon-to-be spouse for all to hear! Alternatively, focus on the marriage that you are promising. Instead of writing them as if you were only going to be speaking to your partner, they should be written as words you are speaking to everyone in attendance: the close family and friends who will keep you accountable in keeping those vows.

If you do choose to let the traditional vow keep fading away and instead write your own (I’m definitely not judging, I did that too!), here are steps you can take that will help you make sure you’re making solid promises, not just serenading a love letter!

  1. First of all, write down bullet points of major moments in your relationship so far that have defined your love and the way the two of you work. It’s also a good idea to come up with a few things that make your relationship unique!
  2. Then, make a few sentences around those memories. These sentences will help you see the core values that will be in your marriage, and therefore will help you define what exactly you want (and need) to promise to your spouse.
  3. From there, start making a list of promises you want to make so that your marriage stays strong from the start. Know that some of them won’t feel comfortable or easy, and that’s actually a good thing. A vow can be something that you know you struggle with, because what good is a promise if it comes naturally? Plus, knowing the areas where you can improve will help your relationship in the long run!
  4. Look up examples of other vows for inspiration when you get stuck. Even though a lot of things won’t apply to your own relationship, it’s a good way to get ideas of areas in which you can make a promise!
  5. Finally, write from your heart. This one is kinda obvious, but it was a struggle when I was writing mine. I wanted more for them to be poetic than for them to be unique to our marriage, and for a while I was stuck. It wasn’t until I started writing down promises that I knew I needed to make to my soon-to-be husband that things started flowing naturally!

Regardless of whether you are sticking with the traditional vow or writing your own, make sure you take note of the words you are speaking. It’s not just another part of the ceremony and it’s not merely something you have to do before you’re allowed to say “I do.” They are a vital piece of a strong marriage and something you will cherish, even as the years start to fly by and until death do you part.

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