Sharing your promises privately can help reduce nerves and make the experience more meaningful.

By Blythe Copeland
July 09, 2020
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It may not have occurred to you to consider sharing your personalized vows privately before your wedding ceremony—the vows are, after all, the main event. But Reverend Laura C. Cannon, a professional officiant who's overseen more than 1,000 weddings in the last 15 years, is often in favor of a couple exchanging their vows with each other before, or instead of, reciting them in front of their guests. "I always encourage my couples to do this for a number of reasons," she says. First and foremost, it gives couples the chance to keep their own personal, custom-written vows just between the two of them instead of making them public, and—if a couple is sharing a religious ceremony with their guests—adds a private, personal touch by incorporating custom vows without breaking tradition.

But for Cannon, the most important reason is much simpler: "Both parties need to understand what they're agreeing to!" she says. "Your marriage vows are the entire reason you're getting married—they are the promises you make to one another that create the commitment of your marriage. If you don't discuss them beforehand, one of you may include or leave out something that's really important to the other person as part of your shared commitment."

While writing your own vows is optional, if you do choose to come up with your own promises, it's not a task you should leave until after the rehearsal dinner—quickly jotting down a few notes after a couple of drinks. "I always encourage couples to take the time to put some strong, conscious intention into the commitment they are making to one another," says Cannon, "and to write vows that reflect that commitment. Is there any part of a planning a wedding more important than agreeing on why you're getting married?"

Work toward vows that are a blend of serious—love, honor, respect—and lighthearted (cheer for her football team, fold his socks), without getting stuck in a list of memories or references your guests won't appreciate. "My general advice is to include a few fun ones to break up the heaviness of the moment," says Cannon. "After all, it's supposed to be a joyous occasion. You definitely don't want to include inside jokes or anything that your guests won't understand, and especially don't include anything you wouldn't want to say in front of your grandparents!" And yes: Write them as a team. "Your marriage will be stronger if you take the time to work on your vows together," says Cannon, "and you'll be far less likely to be surprised or blubbering through tears if you know what you're both going to say."

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