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How to write personal vows

I am always delighted when couples tell me they want to write their own wedding vows for their humanist ceremony: it’s such a great decision! Personal wedding vows are the best way to make sure your unique relationship is the centrepiece of your wedding ceremony.  This is probably the only time you will publicly declare exactly how much you love your partner, what you treasure most about them, and which promises you choose to make to them.

Let’s seize that opportunity with gusto…!

My Six Top Tips for Writing Personal Wedding Vows

1. The Why

Before you begin, take a moment to think about why you both decided to write personal vows, and why it is right for you both. And you know this answer, before you can even articulate it, so you can’t get it wrong! Trust in your own feelings, and know that everyone listening will hear everything you say with the same intention as you say it. Yes, this is unashamedly soppy, but this will be your wedding day: if you can’t lean into romance on your wedding day, when can you?

2. The Writing

Allow yourself a distinct chunk of time away from day-to-day life to think and write: give it space in your diary and stick to it as if it is a meeting. I usually recommend doing this c. one month before your wedding day – close enough to feel the excitement in the crescendo towards the big day (it will inform your writing and help you imagine it) but not leaving it too late, so that you feel rushed. Make preparatory notes if that bolsters you, or just go for it straight from the heart: everyone will feel differently. Once you have written down all the main things you want to include, you will have the meat of your vows, and the way forward will be clear.

3. The Symmetry

I have a thing about symmetry in my ceremonies. There are two people, two families coming together, pretty much two of everything. So when you are considering your vows, a quick chat to determine tone is a good first plan, especially if they are going to be a surprise! Imagine if one of you decides to bare their heart with profuse compliments, and the other has written 80% banter and self-deprecation. DEFINITELY to be avoided! Both are great options – IF you both match your tones. 

If you want to keep your vows a surprise for the day, send them both to your celebrant to check they have a matching tone and quality.

4. The Length

Some speech writers advise concision in vows, almost making them a poem rather than prose, and I understand why. Sometimes a simple point simply made says it all. But, I dunno about that being a hard and fast rule: it’s your wedding day, and your unique feelings! If the Muse takes you, write a longer vow. Just take care to structure that length so that you can take your guests with you with every word (and, again thinking of symmetry, do check that your partner hasn’t written a haiku in balance…!)

5. The Structure

This is the Big One! – but, actually, it’s not hard at all to structure personal vows, especially when you have already nailed the truth of what you want to say.

Again, I would advise making use of symmetry to keep your vows clear and elegant. For instance, you could both share the same final line, which wraps your vows up like a ribbon bow, and also shows that you are both on the same page. 

Repetition isn’t a common thing in art of all kinds by accident! It is a useful tool, and can be the “clothes hanger” on which you hang your feelings – “I choose you today because you are the most thoughtful person; I choose you today because you make me laugh each and every day; I choose you because your cups of tea are always just how I like them”. 

And thirdly, The Rule of Three is a great choice too (see what I did there?!) Rhetoric involving grouping thoughts in threes has been around since Roman times, and has remained popular because it just works…! Having a list of three things, whether they are descriptors, promises, or jokes, will mean that your lines develop a natural flow and structure.

Once you have a first draft that you like, it’s time to try it on for size…

6. The Trial Runs

Read your vows out loud. How does it sound? Does it mean what you want it to mean? Practise on a close friend or your celebrant, and listen to their suggestions to help you out. 

You can practise to yourself just before the ceremony so that you feel comfortable, and can enjoy the experience more fully. But I will tell you now that it doesn’t matter one fig if you stumble over a word, or laugh or cry in the middle, or a dog comes up and licks you. Whatever happens in the moment of your wedding vows is perfectly beautiful, because you will be declaring your love and commitment, in public, to the one you love. And that’s why you chose to do it in the first place. 

Enjoy – you’ve got this!

Has this got your imagination running wild, envisaging your perfect personal vows as part of a humanist ceremony with me? If so, drop me a line – I’d love to hear from you!

Everybody loved the ceremony and said how bespoke and personal it was and how brilliant you were! Laughs and tears aplenty.

A groom and bride proudly brandish their handfasting ribbons, as they have literally tied the knot with their humanist wedding celebrant Nat Raybould. They are surrounded by statement florals by My Lady Garden, London.

The whole planning process, all the way to seeing it to fruition has been wonderful & a nostalgic trip into our history. When we got engaged, we wanted to create a sentimental & fun gathering of all our closest family and friends & that’s exactly what you helped us do.

It’s been great getting to know you & you’ve been so fabulous throughout. We are so grateful to you, & proud that despite all of the crazy circumstance we managed to get a wedding into 2020 together: not just any wedding, the most perfect day that neither of us actually imagined.

– ZARA & Andrew