You have decided to do away with tradition and elope, or have an intimate wedding. But what about the vows?  

While eloping doesn’t require the composition of personal wedding vows, many couples who decide to elope are doing so because they want a more intentional and authentic way to wed. A way that is completely true to them and incredibly meaningful. Just as a traditional wedding day didn’t feel right, traditional vows may not either.  

Writing your own vows gives you the chance to imbue your wedding day with more meaning. And, perhaps most importantly, gives you the opportunity to make promises to your partner that actually matter to you and your relationship. You could even include some recognition of your children in your vows. After all, this is a very important day for them, too. Some couples write a set of vows specifically to their kiddos that are attending. It’s a super sweet way to show the commitment that you are making not only to your partner, but to your little family. Your personal wedding vows will likely be the most significant and most difficult accumulation of words you ever write, because these are the words you will be uttering in the very moments before you take that leap into married life (talk about pressure!). The good news is that there are ways to make the process easier, and maybe even enjoyable.    

Composing your own real vows is a beautiful, intentional way of commencing life with your best friend. Use the tips below to write vows that are poetic, profound, and above all else, representative of your relationship and the future you plan to build.

Wedding vow book for holding your personal wedding vows.

Tips for Writing Your Personal Wedding Vows

Should You Incorporate Traditional Elements?

One thing to consider when thinking about vows has to do with the type of ceremony you are planning. Certain religious ceremonies require you to recite specific traditional vows. Some will allow you to complement the traditional portion with your own personal and more modern vows, but it is important to check with your officiant in advance. Even if you are not having a religious ceremony per se, you may choose to incorporate elements of traditional vows into your own for cultural or personal reasons. 

An open book.

Together or a Surprise? 

The first step of actually writing your own personal wedding vows is deciding whether or not it will be a team effort. Will you and your partner be sitting down to write them together? Or will each of you write them as a surprise for the other on your wedding day? Both methods yield heartfelt moments, so it really is a matter of what feels best for your relationship.  

If you opt to write them together, the process of formulating them becomes an opportunity to gain more understanding and deepen your love. You can decide together what promises are most important for the longevity and happiness of your relationship. Doing this can sometimes cause differences of opinion, or even values, to surface. Just remember, you won’t always be perfectly in sync with your partner (nor should you be, you are unique individuals after all!), but acknowledging where there may be gaps in your understanding can bring you that much closer to respecting and appreciating each other for who you are. And this ability to appreciate each other’s differences is a characteristic of an enduring relationship.

A groom hand writing his vows before the wedding ceremony.

Romantic Wedding Vows

Vows are by their very nature romantic. Even if you’re not typically the lovey dovey type, when tackling the vow writing process, you may find that romantic bone that you didn’t think you had.  

Start by paying attention to your partner’s little quirks (the cute ones, not the annoying ones 😉 ). 

  • What tiny, seemingly insignificant behaviors and characteristics does your partner possess that you just love?  
  • Think about when you first met. What was it that caught your eye, and when did you decide that you loved this person?  
  • Why are you still in love with this person?  
  • If you could have only one character trait of your partner’s, what would it be and why?
  • When do you feel most loved by your partner?  
  • Recall one of the times you were proud of your partner.  
  • What is one of the wildest, most adventurous things you have ever done with your partner? Talk about it.  
  • Think about the promises (both broad and specific) that you want to make to your partner, your relationship, and your family, but make sure you can keep them.
Groom reading his personal wedding vows to bride during an outdoor intimate wedding.

These prompts can provide the raw material for some really heartfelt and authentic personal wedding vows. And don’t forget to take inspiration from everywhere. From your favorite poet (mine just happens to be Neruda), to classical literature, to a favorite movie, inspiration is all around. To get you started, here are some of my very favorite sites for vow inspiration:  

Literary passages wedding vows 

Bookish wedding quotes

Most romantic lines from literature

A poetry excerpt from Pablo Neruda's Captains Verses

Evidence-based Wedding Vows

I’m a sucker for science and evidence-based anything, including personal wedding vows. Luckily there is a whole field dedicated to the study of romantic relationships. So if you love science as much as I do, you may want to take these research-based wedding vows to heart.  

In an article written for Psychology Today, Samantha Joel, Ph.D. lays out a number of real wedding vows that she composed with her partner in hopes of achieving long-term marital bliss. These promises are based on decades of research into the practices, values, and beliefs that lead to a happy and successful union. Their promises address behaviors such as:  striving to see your partner in a positive light (and not dwelling on imperfections), recognizing and protecting your partner’s autonomy, vowing to sensitively meet your partner’s needs, serving as a secure attachment figure, as well as being committed and expressing gratitude.  

I encourage you to go take a look, and if they speak to you and your relationship, consider adding them in some shape or form into your own ceremony.  

Couple saying their wedding vows during an elopement ceremony in the Superstition Mountain foothills of Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

How to Write Your Vows & What to Do If You Get Stuck

Writer’s block isn’t unusual. These are important words, and it only follows that some of them may take longer to come than others. Thankfully, there are certain things you can do to help get (and keep) those creative juices flowing.  

Choosing a quiet and relaxing environment where you can truly focus helps. So go ahead and grab a cup of tea or coffee, a glass of wine, or a dram of whiskey, any beverage that helps you feel warm, fuzzy, and RELAXED. Yes, you will use your brain to compose your vows, but this is the stuff that comes from your heart, and for that you’ll have to do some feeling as well.  

Begin by jotting down notes. These don’t have to be perfectly formulated ideas from the start. It’s more than okay to scribble down phrases, or even just words, to get the gears turning. Lists work especially well at this point. You might consider starting with a list of things you absolutely love about your partner (the kind of stuff you just couldn’t do without), as well as a list of promises you want to make to both your partner and your relationship. Getting it all outlined this way gives you a framework for the more complete thoughts and phrases that will follow.  

This doesn’t all have to happen in one session. Just writing down ideas and then giving yourself some time to walk away from it for a while will provide your brain with the downtime it needs to boost creativity. Research suggests that breakthrough thinking occurs most often when you let your mind wander and your imagination roam. So give yourself (and your subconscious) time to dig deep and experience the process.    

Handwritten vows sitting on a bench under a wedding bouquet.

Of course this doesn’t mean that you should procrastinate! The beauty of starting on your vows early is that there will still be plenty of time to take breaks and let your creative juices ebb and flow, without the added pressure of an impending deadline (unless you’re particularly good at working under pressure!). You can take your time and give your vows the attention they deserve. One of my favorite things about elopements and intimate weddings is that you can really let loose and make these vows true to you as a couple, without fear of what others will think. Remember, you’re writing for your partner and your relationship, not anyone else.

And if you truly have a difficult time coming up with anything and have kids, ask them to brainstorm with you! It’s amazing how perceptive those little people can be. Seriously, ask them what they love about your partner and you’ll likely hear your own thoughts echoed, but in a beautifully simple way.

You Don’t Have to Memorize Them

Shelley's Defense of Poetry Book
Vows handwritten in the cover of a favorite book can serve as a keepsake for after the wedding day.

You don’t have to memorize your wedding vows! I mean, you can if you want, but you certainly don’t have to.  

I love the idea of writing them down in the cover of a cherished book, maybe something with some significance to your relationship. You can then gift it to your partner after the ceremony. Likewise, little love notes can be scribbled into your childrens’ favorite books for a special keepsake for them, as well. There are also beautiful vow books that are made to serve as momentos. There are so many out there, you’re sure to find something that feels like you and your relationship. Searching for handmade leather journal turns up some really lovely ones, like this one. If you and your partner love travel and adventure, this one may perfectly embody the current of wanderlust that runs through your relationship. Seriously, there’s something out there for everyone. 

   

A leather journal is perfect for holding  your handwritten personal wedding vows.

The Anatomy of a Wedding Vow

The anatomy of a personal wedding vow includes a declaration of love, promises that you will make to each other and for your future, and your own personal and meaningful touches. If done right, you are left with the very essence of your relationship, that is, what is most important to you as a couple, and how you both tick together. Your vows then become a roadmap for how you will live life as a married couple. They are reminders of what matters most when life gets complicated, and they serve as a guide for keeping your marriage on track when things get tough.

P.S. – Did you know that when dogs get married the promises they make to one another are called bow vows? If not, there’s so much more information I can also impart, so feel free to reach out 😉  

9 replies on “How to Write Personal Wedding Vows that are Modern & Meaningful”

Oh my gosh this is so great. This will help so many couples who might have a bit of writers block or don’t know where to begin when writing their vows. Incredible post!

Jackie, this is, hands down, amazing! With so many helpful tips and inspiration you’ve given us here, I feel anyone would be able to write them! I always love hearing some personal vows at a wedding, I consider them one of the highlights of the day and I think they just add so much to the whole experience, for the couple and for the guests (if they are present) as well.

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