You probably didn't know this professional service existed.

jessica ryan wedding bride and groom ceremony laughing
Credit: Laura Gordon

Here's a relatively universal pre-wedding dilemma: You sit down a few weeks before the big day, pen in hand, ready to write the vows that will serve as the basis of your marriage—except enunciating your feelings in a meaningful, authentic way is proving more difficult than you expected. Sound familiar? Tanya Pushkine, the New York City creative behind the The Vow Whisperer, knows it does—and she's here to help. The professional has made a career out of assisting couples craft their wedding vows; the key word, however, is assisting. "There are a few vow writers out there who typically interview the couple on the phone then go away, write the vows, and it's done. There might be a revision or two, but that's it. My process is quite different," Pushkine, a Juilliard-trained former actress, tells Martha Stewart Weddings. "Their words should come from their own hearts, not mine. The voice, the tone, the emotions need to come from them. I help couples (I always work individually) extract their innermost feelings."

In practice, Pushkine is a "confidante" and source of "emotional support" during a process that is—for so many brides and grooms—framed with frustration. She removes that negative element and transforms the writing experience into something "fun, relaxing, stress-free, and collaborative." Ahead, her best advice for couples writing their own vows—including how to know when it's time to seek professional assistance.

Not knowing where to start is the most common vow-writing issue.

Being unable to find an entry point—or hook to anchor those promises—is often the biggest source of couples' writing woes. "They don't know how to articulate feelings into the right words, and they don't know how to put a structure to their vows," explains Pushkine. "They don't get specific enough." Here's an example: According to Pushkine, to say "I love his generosity" is much too vague. "How does he exhibit his generosity? Did he help take care of your sick parent when you were traveling? Is he always there for people? How?" She discovers the story behind the descriptor, she says, to elevate and personalize the promise. "I have to dig deeply to get stories and anecdotes to use as nuggets in their vows,."

Don't make promises you can't keep.

"Another common mistake is making promises you cannot keep," she says. "'I will never go to bed angry.' There is no way you can promise that!" This is part of the reason why, in her opinion, that more and more couples are veering away from traditional vows and—thankfully—empty clichés. "They want to shape their own lives and be their most genuine selves. It's their story. To use 'To have and to hold 'til death do us part' is just no longer relevant or meaningful. Be original."

Nail down a draft at least eight weeks before the wedding.

Pushkine begins working with couples at least eight weeks before the wedding; she recommends a similar timeline if you're tackling your vows on your own to minimize stress. Her process starts with a phone call or FaceTime session and a few questions—after she sets the foundation (Does the couple want to include humor? Is there religion in their lives?), she sends over a questionnaire, which, when returned, is most often just a "brain dump of thoughts and ideas." She then meets or speaks with them again to ask more in-depth questions before she shapes their words into vows, adding "structure to make sure it flows." "The process goes back and forth until we have a final version (which can be tweaked up to the last minute)," she explains.

Practice, practice, practice.

Pushkine doesn't just help couples write their vows—she coaches them through delivering them, as well. "Public speaking is one of the most frightening things in someone's life. Most people are not at ease," she says, adding that this fear often precludes duos from attempting to draft their own promises. To mitigate this, she says to treat the vows like a performance: "Once we have written the vows, we start practicing. I coach in enunciation, body language, presence, projection, eye contact, intonation, and more." Since Pushkine also officiates plenty of her couple's ceremonies, she often takes them through breathing exercises right before the service begins.

Let the tears come.

"It's actually really okay to be emotional," she says. "This is the most important day of their lives. I think it's beautiful when there are tears. They are being real. And the guests are right there to support and embrace. They're probably crying themselves!"


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