The exchange of vows is undoubtedly the most important part of the ceremony and often the most meaningful and moving. It's important to think carefully about the promises you want to make to each other on your wedding day, so that the words are sincere and heartfelt. One couple who gave a lot of thought to their vows were Alan and Fiona:
"Alan and I have written our own vows, and we have tried to include promises which are important to us and our relationship. We decided to write these together, as we were keen to make the same promises as each other. However, while we will each say more or less the same thing, there are a couple of lines which are different – and which represent sort of “mirror image” promises, rather than the exact same one.
We had some fun writing them, and it’s fair to say, some disagreements – we can each be quite strong-willed, so there were some passionate debates over the choice each and every word, as well as the sequence of the promises... But, I think we have finally come up with a version which we are both really happy with... We had a bit of a practice the other night, and I had goosebumps (and tears in my eyes!). I think they are all promises which we already try to live by – but somehow the idea of saying them out loud, in front of other people, brings a whole new significance..."
Fiona and Alan were well prepared and said their vows beautifully on the day, but this is often the part of the ceremony that couples worry most about - What should we say to one another? How nervous will I be? Will I get a fit of the giggles? Will I get all emotional? Will I get through them?
Please don't worry - we're here to help and the following tips might be useful:
- If you've no idea at this stage what you might want to say to each other, that's no problem. When I meet couples, I always talk through this aspect of the ceremony with them, in order to allay any fears. I have examples for you too and you can take these away to help you to put your own together - they will give you some idea of what you might say and how you might phrase your promises. Most couples use the examples as a way to inspire them to write their own, but you could simply pick one off the list if you particularly liked one of them. You don't have to say the same words to each other (though many couples do) and you might even want to keep your vows a secret from one another until the day. Whatever you decide, discuss any concerns you might have with your Celebrant, who will be able to help and advise you.
- Please don't worry about getting the giggles! Humanist ceremonies often have a relaxed and informal feel to them, though they can obviously be formal and traditional if that is what you want. And if you do giggle, it's not like getting getting caught in assembly at school (so you did that too then?!). Nor is the Celebrant going to be disapproving in any way - in fact, I'm much more likely to laugh along with you! I hope that you enjoy your wedding ceremony and feel comfortable with whatever emotions you're feeling at the time.
(Lisa and Jonas, photo by Neil Fordyce)
- Don't worry about getting emotional either. I'm always on hand with tissues to pass to you if you need them - or just an encouraging little word to help you to carry on. I can even quickly re-phrase your vows if they are in the form of a statement (and turn them into a question with an 'I do' response) if you really dry up - but you won't, so relax!
- Nerves can sometimes get to you, but again, I'll be there to reassure you and I'll whisper things like 'take a deep breath' and 'you'll be OK'.....
- There are different ways to express your vows to each other:
- You can phrase your vows as a question (you decide what the question is obviously) that I, as your Marriage Celebrant, will ask you each in turn. You then simply respond, 'I do' or if it's a joint question, 'we will'. This is a good option if you're feeling nervous and would prefer not to say too much during the ceremony.
- You can make a short statement to each other. I usually advise that you read from a card rather than putting yourself under pressure by trying to memorise the words. I'll pass you the card at the appropriate time and that in itself will give you confidence.
(Pictured here are Lynne and Adam, now Mr and Mrs Higgins at their wedding at Monachyle Mhor. Aren't Lynne's flowers lovely? This is called a wedding flower bracelet or wrist corsage)
- One thing that I find helps with your nerves is to hold hands and I'll always invite you to do this as you exchange your vows.
(picture by Ali Cleary)
- Look at each other when you exchange your vows, rather than looking at me. As I often remind couples, you're marrying each other and not me! And it doesn't matter if you speak quietly either - the vows are between you as bride and groom...
- There's something very reassuring about holding each others' hands if you're feeling a bit wobbly! And if you have children, it's a nice idea to include them too, by making promises to them as well as to each other during your vows. You can also have them standing with you while you exchange your vows on the day, as Jay and Ian did at Monachyle Mhor
- Make your vows short and sweet too. You can almost certainly say what you want to say in a few sentences and there's less chance of breaking down.
- Don't forget that your vows can be light hearted if you want them to be. Most couples chose serious words during this part of the ceremony, but if you want to promise to "disobey" each other or to "have and to hold, to tickle and to squeeze", then that's fine! One of you (let's face it girls, this means you!) might want to promise to curb your shopping habit and the other one (no prizes for guessing who!) to watch a bit less footy on the TV. You can of course say "Aye" rather than "I do" too! Pretty much whatever feels right for you is fine by me!
- In addition to your personal vows, you are also required to make a legal declaration to each other (see my posting about the legal procedures) and I usually do this in a 'repeat after me' format. Many couples find this format very reassuring because you can't really go wrong - there's no pressure on you to remember anything. And by the way, I usually use the words "solemnly and sincerely declare" at this point, but if you'd prefer, you can also use "proudly and without hesitation", "joyfully and sincerely" or "happily and with an open heart"..... What is required under the Marriage Act is that you make a declaration to accept each other as husband and wife and slight variations in the wording are usually allowable.
Whatever worries and concerns you have about your vows, discuss them with your Celebrant and you'll find that they will give you all sorts of advice and help!
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