With the words you write, you are pledging to put your life into the hands of the one you love. So, sitting at your computer, cursor blinking, maybe your brain stops. You knew what you wanted to say a moment ago, and now, it’s gone.
In the words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t Panic!” That’s a natural response, and perfectly normal for most of us. Even experienced writers may face a block when it comes to writing what is in their hearts. That’s why I’ve written this short article.
Now, you don’t have to do all of the exercises and prompts in the section below. If you complete all that work – about five hours spread over seven to ten days – not only will you knock you pledges out of the park, you will have material to write in letters and cards to you beloved for months and years to come, just by doing a little work now.
I get that I’m asking you to give up two movies over the next couple of weeks. And when you do that, you will have the perfect pledge for your wedding ceremony. Plus, you won’t panic about what to write in her birthday card. You’ll know exactly what to tell him when your anniversary rolls around. You will be more than a little prepared to do your part in upholding the marriage partnership.
There is a spectrum of reasons to compel you to jump directly into writing your vows before you complete all the exercises. On one end, you are ready to create with just a nudge. At the other end, you really are overwhelmed, and this seems like too much. Wherever you are on that range, that’s perfectly fine.
What I most hope for is that your imagination catches fire from reading the opening section and doing a couple of drills. Your brain lights up like Christmas, and words flow from your hand like an Artesian spring. When you get that first draft, jump right into consulting with me! We’ll refine it for your big day.
Maybe you’re at the other end of the spectrum. Work, and life, consume all of your time. The preparations for the wedding kept you from getting the half-hour or so of quiet time you need to read and write your vows. Boy, do I understand that! Let me know, and we will work together to get your vows ready. We may borrow from poets, singers, authors, or cinema to find the words that fit your meaning.
Before we start writing, let’s review your goals and my guidelines for Personal Pledges. Your vows are statements about now and a promise for the future. They are your “solemn promise to love, honor, and support” each other for the rest of your lives. Those are action words!
It’s tempting to write a love letter and call it your vows. Sometimes that is a perfect place to start the process. But the goal of a love letter is different than that of a pledge. The objective of a love letter is to spend a couple of pages recounting your love for your partner. While the missive sometimes contains a promise, honestly, isn’t it about describing your feelings? And, about describing your partner in glowing, effervescent terms?
See the difference? On the one hand, you are declaring your future performance to your partner in front of your tribe. On the other, you’re unfolding your innermost thoughts and feelings.
A Story About Expectations
I often tell couples about one of the first weddings I officiated. The pair had chosen to write their vows, and I invited the groom to go first. He pulled three rumpled, handwritten sheets from his pocket. He read five pages of smudged, cramped script to his best beloved. A few minutes later, it was the bride’s turn. She drew a folded, damp three-by-five from her bodice and read the few lines she’d penned. She felt guilty for having said so little. He felt awkward for having rambled on so much. I was a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t helped them reach an equitable solution before they were in front of their friends and family.
My Guidelines – My Promises
From that experience, I made up these guidelines:
- Foremost, your personal vows are action statements.
- And so, your vows should be no more than three to five paragraphs.
- And, each paragraph should be from three to five sentences long.
- The final version fits inside an 8.5 x 5.5 booklet that I print for the wedding.
- I promise to help with content when you’re stuck.
- Secondly, I promise to suggest edits for length consistent with your style.
- Finally, I edit for spelling, grammar, and clarity while retaining your style.
A Vows Overview
“Three to five paragraphs. Wow! That seems short!” Well, remember, we’re thinking in terms of actions now. And the last paragraph is mainly about what you intend to do to make your marriage a working partnership. If you look at a traditional ceremony, that part is one paragraph each person affirms to the other.
That leaves two paragraphs to speak to your memories and feelings. And, it’s possible to do that if you follow one of these models:
- Past, present, and future; or
- Feelings, thoughts, and actions.
Past, Present, and Future
This model is probably my favorite since it works with my brain. You’ll spend a paragraph summing up how you met, and what made you want to marry this person. In the second paragraph, talk about the weeks leading to your marriage, and what makes this the right decision. And, for the final article, tell your partner how you help create a beautiful life together.
Feelings, Thoughts, and Actions
An alternate approach is to go from emotions to actions. This route is more challenging for some of us. Often, we are only vaguely aware of our feelings. So, why go this route?
The first answer is that maybe you are in touch with what you feel. It might be the most direct way for you to get to your point. Fantastic!
Another answer is how this approach puts you in touch with those messy sentiments. You might ultimately go with the “past, present, future” presentation, and that right for you. However, you can use the “Feelings, Thoughts, Actions” approach as an exercise to make things clear.
Take the first part to talk about what you felt when you first saw your partner, and how you feel when you see them at the end of the day, or when you glimpse them in some mundane action.
Secondly, translate those feelings into thoughts. “When I see them and feel __________, I think __________.” For example, the joy I feel whenever my beloved greets me, makes me think of long summer days and warm, glowing sunsets.
Finally, turn those feelings and thoughts into promises of action. “I will do what I must to spend my days loving you.” “I love the warmth and peace in our lives, and I will work with to make our home a safe and loving place.”
Putting It Together
These are two ways among many that you can structure your vows. If neither resonates with you, that’s perfectly okay. What is most important is that your words are an accurate reflection of your intentions.
That’s an overview of writing your vows. We talked about the difference between writing a love letter and your pledges. We’ve discussed how to bring your history and your promise into action. I gave you a couple of frames to use as you organize your thoughts into words.
In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at exercises to make your writing flow.