Contained within the small circle of the wedding band are vastly contradictory ideals. We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability—and we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk. We want to grow with our partner, but not in a way that infringes on our individuality. We want to cultivate intimacy, but not at the risk of losing our autonomy. We want the familiarity of family and the mystery that ignites our desire. We want everything, typically with the same person, for the rest of our lives. And, as we stand before our family and friends, taking part in our religious and cultural traditions, staring into each others’ eyes—we vow to do it all.
A gentle reminder: you can’t have your wedding cake and eat it, too. And promising the heavens and the earth is a recipe for mismanaged expectations. The most realistic wedding vows are the ones that acknowledge the contradictions of marriage. Vows that set a marriage up for success trade promises to do it all for intentions to do our best—especially in the hard times. Because there will be many hard times. And the person standing across from us at the altar is the person with whom we’re choosing to navigate life’s difficulties. A great wedding vow takes this reality into account so it doesn’t blindside us later on. Anyone who’s been married can tell you that, for all of the joy and love, there’s just as many fights and betrayals. The question is: how will we repair and grow stronger each time?
Vows are an opportunity to address this very question. And, when done well, vows can be a compass to return to every time we lose our way. This exercise is designed not just to help with wedding vow writing, but as an ongoing activity we can do throughout marriage to infuse intentionality and energy and beat back complacency. So, sit down, pull out a piece of paper and a pen (or a computer or a typewriter or a specially-made vow booklet) and complete the following exercise for writing wedding vows that can actually be kept.
When Writing Wedding Vows, Start with Yourself
- What do you think are some of the main things that you bring to your partner—that you know your partner turns to you for?
- What are some of the strengths that you bring to relationships in general? Consider your values, characteristics, and the many sides to your personality.
- What is something you struggle with in relationships?
- Who were you before you met your intended?
- Who are you now?
Then Focus on your Partner
- What do you turn to your partner for?
- What do you see as their strengths in relationships in general? Are they reliable? A generous friend? A leader at work? Someone with a close relationship to nature?
- What is something you think they struggle with in relationships?
- Which aspects of their individuality—who they are aside from being your partner—do you admire?
Now Focus on your Relationship with Each Other
- What are your strengths as a unit?
- Are you there for each other?
- Do you know when to give each other space?
- Do you value each others’ interests, opinions, and passions?
- How do you heal after a fight?
- How did you come to learn these aspects of your relationship?
Write Down Who You Are as a Couple
- Are you travelers?
- Are you builders?
- Are you comfort-seekers?
- Are you creatives?
- Are you professionals?
- Are you friends to many people or just a few core people?
- How much is extended family integral (or not) to your life together?
- What do you do better together than apart?
What Does Marriage Mean to You?
- What do you think are the core themes of marriage?
- What does marriage signify for you, individually?
- What do you think it signifies for your partner?
- Have you talked about it?
- What does it mean for you as a couple to have decided to marry?
Ezra Bookman, Founder of Ritualist, suggests people begin answering questions like these apart before coming together to answer future-focused, aspirational questions, such as:
- How would you describe the home you want to build together?
- What is the world you want to create together—the world you want to live in?
When he works with partners on their vows, Bookman encourages them to try to write their answers in 1-2 sentences, almost like a couple’s mission statement.
- How do you intend to create this world?
- How might your wedding guests be a part of this process?
Set Intentions For Your Vow-Writing
- What is the meaning of the vows?
- How would you like to convey that meaning?
- What is the binding nature of those vows for you?
- What are the main values, needs, and promises being made?
- How can you hold yourself accountable for these vows?
- How do you want to feel when you say them?
- How do you hope your partner will feel as they accept them?
- What do you hope your guests will learn about your connection to each other?
Once you’ve answered these prompts, you’re ready to start incorporating what you’ve learned into a draft. Feel free to share some of the stories that contextualize these answers for you. How did you meet? What was your first impression? Describe the day, the weather, the smells in the air. How have your lives changed since that day?
Consider making a note to encourage your partner and your guests to notice the details of this day, not just the color of the sky but the love they see before them. Ask them to remind you of these details in the years to come, especially when times are tough. This is one of the main reasons we invite witnesses in the first place. Tell your partner that you know marriage is full of contradictions, so you are prepared to create stability and room for change. Marriage is a foundation with wings. You can’t promise each other there won’t be cracks. But you can vow to show up time and time again to repair them together.