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Write Your Own Vows: An Expert's How-To

Photo via Shutterstock.
Photo via Shutterstock.

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Forget hand holding, forget hugs—the exchange of vows during a wedding ceremony is the most intense form of PDA any couple will encounter, ever. Before the stage fright sets in, you must write the darn things. This is not an insignificant task. Fortunately Sarah Ritchie, who officiated Racked's wedding giveaway last weekend, has weighed in with a few tips for conquering writer's block.

"Remember that vows can be simple 'lists' of promises—but they can also include sentences and a prose-like format," says Ritchie. Read on for her expert advice.

1. Be yourself! The vows only need to be your words. Nothing that will be a romantic classic for the ages. Remember, these are your words to your beloved.

2. Don't be afraid to add in some humor. A mix of "levity" and "gravity" can be perfect.

3. Don't worry about the vows being too long or too short.

4. If the words don't come to you immediately, relax. Allow yourself time to work on them. If writer's block persists, do something relaxing that will quiet your mind….the thoughts will follow. (Take a walk, cycle, exercise. A lot of men are apparently inspired in the shower.)

5. Give yourself permission to be emotional. Your partner will be moved, and the guests will appreciate your sincerity. People very rarely "fall apart." (It has happened once in my hundreds of weddings.) In that case, we all just wait for you to collect yourself. Everyone appreciates your heartfelt emotion and sincerity.

6. Look for words of appreciation: What I appreciate about you; What you bring to my life; What I see in our future; What our marriage means to me; I'm lucky to have you because…

7. Think about promises you want to make: "Be loyal to you"; "Dream with you"; "Build a family with you"; "Be your strongest supporter"; "Forgive you"; "Express my gratitude," etc.

8. Work with a theme: Some people like "themed" vows such as "Love at first sight"; "Friendship"; "Faith"; or "Adventure."

9. If you have children or a blended family, consider making vows to your children. (This might also include a gift for the child.)

10. If you come from a bilingual family or English is not your mother tongue, consider adding some words in your other language. I've had some couples where one partner may only speak English, but he/she will also speak words in the partner's native language as an expression of commitment. And, you don't have to limit yourself to one language. I once had a couple where both bride and groom spoke vows in English, Spanish and Mandarin. Whew! (In another example, when Eva Longoria married Tony Parker, she said the words in French—his mother tongue. And, he said them in English. Maybe not a good example since their marriage ended….)

11. You can keep a portion of your vows private. Some couples feel reluctant to express their most heart-felt emotions in front of their guests. Letters may be exchanged, in advance of the ceremony or as a part of it. Alternatively, I've had once couple who took regular vows and then "secret" promises, whispering them to each other.

12. Look broadly for inspiration: traditional vows you've heard over the years or inspired by your faith tradition, contemporary lines you see online or in books, classical writings, contemporary poetry or prose, pop culture references, musical lyrics or, obviously, your person words. Certainly if you are a religious person, words from your sacred texts are great. If you have correspondence over the years, you can include that—it provides an authentic, sentimental quality. Don't be afraid to include inside references—things that the guests won't necessarily "get." They will appreciate the connection you share.

13. Don't worry about "free-styling." For instance, I had a couple who said standard vows. After that exchange, the bride surprised the groom by reading a favorite poem. This could work with one member or the couple or both adding a reading after the vows.

14. Don't pressure yourself into memorizing the vows. Practicing will inevitably commit a lot to memory, but it is good to have a copy to glance at if need be. Also, give a copy of your vows to the officiant. He or she can hand you the vows before you need to speak them. This way, you don't have to get flustered looking for them. And women don't have an obvious place to keep them. If you email a copy to the officiant, he/she can be guaranteed to bring them. I've had a few people who forget to bring the vows, over the years. In that case…..relax and speak from your heart.

· Racked's Wedding Giveaway: Inside the Dreamy Ceremony [Racked]
· All Weddings Week Content [Racked]