More couples are opting to eschew traditional wedding vows and personalize their "I do"s.
I not only wrote my wedding vows—I wrote the entire ceremony. I'm picky like that. Caught up in context and connotation and wanting a spiritual but not-necessarily-religious vibe, what got said that warm spring day mattered to me.
I'm not alone.
Sure, you'd expect a bride like Kyla Duffy of Boulder, Colorado, who married in a skateboard park, to say something unusual to cement her nuptials to Dylan Buli. Indecision led to not one but three wedding rings. "He said, 'With this ring, I give you my heart. With this ring, I give you my soul. With this ring, I give you another ring,'" Duffy says. "We also exchanged internet passwords instead of real vows."
But, what about more traditional couples? Engaged in May 2011, with a summer 2012 wedding in the works, Jane Couto and Brian Govednik of Bristol, Rhode Island, will write their own vows. The wedding will still feature all the usual Catholic Mass pomp and rigmarole inside the church they attend every week, but Couto says, "We will vow to love and support each other, be faithful, et cetera, but in our own way. I cannot imagine saying, 'I will forsake all others.' It just doesn't sound like me."
How popular is the practice?
A longtime bridal columnist, I attend at least 24 weddings each year. Blame it on living in Colorado where anyone can perform a marriage ceremony, but I'd estimate 20 percent of weddings feature personalized vows.
Greg Hunt, a certified marriage enrichment specialist and pastor with more than 30 years of wedding officiating to his credit, performed just one out of 100 marriages with personalized wedding vows in his Kansas City congregation, however.
While no one keeps real data on it, anecdotally speaking, couples that fall into these categories seem more likely write their own vows:
• Marrying later in life, either for the first time or again
• Coming from a background of freeform religion, "spiritualism" or general agnosticism
• Feeling a strong sense of individualism in regard to their relationship
• Holding the wedding in a secular location (ie. not a church or temple)
• Wanting a unique or memorable wedding
Priscilla Hunt, Greg's wife of 35 years and executive director of Better Marriages—an organization that offers resources and education aimed at strengthening couples' marriages—thinks writing personlized vows is a growing trend. "Kids today grow up with very unique names, unique identities, the idea that there is no one like me. I'm special," she says, "And, to me, that translates directly into writing their own vows."
Why do it?
Couples often expend tons of energy on wedding planning. Just a fraction of that thought and effort usually applies to the ceremony itself (or the relationship going forth, for that matter). Writing your own vows ensures an active involvement in the ceremony and the commitments you're choosing to make during it.
"Fundamentally, what we're doing with a vow," explains Greg Hunt, "is making a promise. By doing so, we're throwing an anchor into the unknown future and saying, 'Even though I don't know everything the future will hold, I will still be there for you.'"
When they first married in 1976, at ages 20 and 21, the Hunts drafted vows that today make them giggle. At a recommitment ceremony in 1999, they wrote new ones to reflect what they learned about real-life, long-term marriage.
How to write your own vows
Breaking from traditional vows carries a few potential hiccups.
"One of the risks, when you're creating something novel," Greg Hunt says, "is that it can feel like it lacks a root system and staying power." Peppering your wedding vows with humor or inside jokes can alienate guests, warns Elizabeth Doherty Thomas, co-founder of the wedding site TheFirstDance.com. Plus, she adds, parents or even your intended might feel wit mocks the marital rite.
Thomas also cautions couples to keep vows relevant beyond the wedding day. "The more current information you put in your vows," she says, "the less you will relate to them later in your lives."
If you and your betrothed decide penning your own vows is right for you, here are five steps that will help you deliver the perfect lines to each other on your big day:
1. Discuss the idea with your wedding officiant to ensure he/she is on-board with the idea and that the sentiments behind your vows are understood.
2. Talk about your shared values and priorities with your partner, looking for words and phrases that have power in your lives.
3. Organize those key words/phrases into a logical sequence that reflects what matters most and what you want in your relationship.
4. If you experience writer's block, research wedding vows from various religious or cultural traditions for inspiration.
5. Get feedback from your wedding officiant, family members and mentors, and revise (if you'd like) based on their advice.
If your marriage includes children, decide if the wedding vows or ceremony will somehow include the kids. Paula Bisacre, publisher of RemarriageWorks.com, recommends using words like respect, support and care, if stepchildren and stepparents exchange vows.
"I think it's wonderful that people want to include children in the vows," she says, "but I just caution to work with the kids so that the kids are saying things they are comfortable with."
The promises you make on your wedding day reflect not just who you are today but who you and your spouse hope to be for many tomorrows. Figure out what words express that, and you'll be headed in the right direction... for better or worse.