I have a collection of over 150 wedding vows that I make available to the couples I marry. These cover the whole range of styles, including traditional, religious, customized, romantic, multi-cultural, interfaith, etc. A “vow” is a solemn, unconditional promise, made in the presence of witnesses. The promise can include things that will be said or done, and/or things that will not be said or done.
There are basically three different ways to exchange wedding vows. Traditionally all of them have the Groom say his vows first, followed in turn by the Bride. In some cases the couple may choose to say them in unison to each other. Usually the couple will face each other and join hands for their vows. There are advantages and disadvantages for each kind of vow.
“Question and Answer” Vow: The first kind of vow, very traditional, is for the wedding officiant (minister, priest, judge, etc.) to ask a question of the Groom, and then the Bride, to which each responds, “I do.” The most basic form would be something like this: (Officiant) “Do you, (Name), take (Name), to be your (wife/husband)?” (Groom/Bride Response) “I do.”
The main advantage of this vow is that it is “quick and easy”, and preferred by couples who may be a bit shy or self-conscious, or are more private and not overly romantic. They don’t want to make a big deal about the vows, and they may also want to get on with the reception party. They see the vow mainly as the necessary “legal” part of their wedding day. The main disadvantage for this kind of vow is that it may not seem very serious. It is quite commonly used by judges at a courthouse wedding, and in Las Vegas-style wedding chapels.
“Responsive” Vow: The second kind of vow, also quite traditional, is for the wedding officiant to say a certain number of sentences, each of which is repeated by the Groom, and then in turn by the Bride. Here is a classic one:
Take you, (Name),
To be my (wife/husband);
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.” (or, “As long as we both shall live.”)
This style of vow has a romantic elegance to it, and is my personal preference. It also seems more solemn and serious than the “question and answer vow.” This is because the Groom and Bride are repeating the words of their vows, not just saying a quick, “I do” to what someone else says. The main criticism of this style of vow is that it can “sound like everyone else’s.” However, additional words and sentences can be added or inserted into this kind of vow to make it more personal and customized. But it will still “sound” traditional, more or less. Here is just one example out of the hundreds (or even thousands) of possibilities:
Take you, (Name),
To be none other than yourself.
I promise to stand by your side;
To encourage you, and be open and honest with you;
To laugh with you, and cry with you;
To always love and honor you;
Both freed and bound by our love,
For as long as we both shall live.”
“Custom” Vow: The third kind of vow is actually a verbal “love letter” from one person to the other. A Groom and Bride usually express their feelings for the other, along with promises to do (and/or not to do) certain things. Most couples write them out and read them to the other during the ceremony. A few brave souls have tried to memorize them, usually needing to sneak a look at their written vows at some point.
One variation on custom vows is that these words can also be a “personal statement of love and commitment” that the Groom and Bride read to each other prior to the formal exchange of wedding vows.
Here is one example: “(Name), our miracle lies in the path we have chosen together. I enter into this marriage with you, knowing that the true magic of love is not to avoid changes, but to navigate them successfully. Let us commit to the miracle of making each day work together. Respecting each other, we commit to live our lives together for all the days to come. I ask you to share this world with me, for good and ill. Be my partner, and I will be yours.”
Here is a second example: “(Name), you have filled my world with meaning. You have made me so happy and more fulfilled as a person. Thank you for taking me as I am; loving me, and welcoming me into your heart. I promise to always love you, respect you as an individual, and to be faithful to you forever. Today I choose you to be my partner, and commit myself to you for the rest of my life.”
Here is a third example, which I personally believe is too long and overdone, but you may want to consider revising for your own: “From this day on, I choose you, my beloved (Name), to be my (husband/wife). To live with you and laugh with you; to stand by your side, and sleep in your arms; to be joy to your heart, and food for your soul; to bring out the best in you always, and, for you, to be the most that I can. I promise to laugh with you in good times, to struggle with you in bad; to solace you when you are downhearted; to wipe your tears with my hands; to comfort you with my body; to mirror you with my soul; to share with you all my riches and honors; to play with you as much as I can until we grow old; and, still loving each other sweetly and gladly, our lives shall come to an end.”
Many couples get inspired to write their own custom vows from watching the movies, or from TV “soap operas.” Also, some people naturally “wear their heart on their sleeve”, and this style of vow appeals to them. The main advantage, and challenge, of this type of vow is the opportunity for the Groom and Bride to put their deepest thoughts and feelings for each other into words.
For couples who are more private, or not as romantically inclined, this kind of vow will seem inappropriate or uncomfortable to them, and too self-revealing of personal feelings. Some couples have made the mistake of promising the impossible, such as “to always be there to catch you when you fall”, or “to always listen to you.” Those are nice sentiments and good intentions, but that’s not going to happen all the time. There is also the tendency for the Groom and Bride to promise different things to the other person in their custom vow, whereas a true wedding vow will be the same promise made by each person to the other.