Why You Should Consider Exchanging Vows Before Your Wedding

Experts weigh in on the wedding idea that's trending thanks to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

Photo by Getty; Art by Cristina Cianci

Vows are the most intimate part of a wedding ceremony—a contradiction considering they’re traditionally exchanged in front of dozens, if not hundreds, of guests. But, not all brides and grooms want an audience during an extremely personal moment. Take Meghan Markle and Prince Harry: during their tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey, the couple shared that they exchanged vows privately in their backyard three days prior to their official May 19, 2018 wedding in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. 

"We called the archbishop and just said, look, 'this thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us,'” Meghan told Oprah. Harry added that it was “just the three of us.” Royal wedding aside, they’re hardly the first couple to opt for a private moment to pledge their love. 

Pre-Wedding Vows Are Nothing New

Sara Bauleke, a wedding planner and designer at Bella Notte in D.C. and Virginia, often works with couples who want their vows to be a special moment. “While the wedding is a single day, the vows a couple make to each other are for a lifetime, so taking time to offer and receive them in an intimate space can be incredibly special,” she tells Brides. “If a couple has planned a larger wedding, but doesn't love being in the spotlight, a private vow exchange is often appealing and can allow for the couple to connect in a way that they aren't comfortable doing in front of a larger group.”

Instead of traditional vows at her ceremony, Alexandra Piscitelli and her husband wrote long, heartfelt letters to each other, which they read after the frenzy of wedding prep subsided. “With a few hours remaining before our ceremony, we took first-look photographs, and having just read my soon-to-be husband's beautiful words, it made that moment even more special,” she tells Brides.

While many couples choose to share personal vows before their wedding, others plan it after the ceremony on a honeymoon, mini-moon, or even just at home after things have calmed down. “Taking some time in the days following the wedding to sit down and share your vows with each other is another way to continue your wedding celebration,” says Jamie Chang, owner and destination wedding planner at Mango Muse Events in Los Altos, California. “It's also a nice way to remember what you shared at the wedding, reminisce, and look forward to the future and your marriage.”  

Why You Should Consider Private Wedding Vows

It’s Intimate

“There is no better time or place than in a private, intimate setting to share one's most profound words of love to each other,” says Valerie Gernhauser, wedding planner and owner of Sapphire Events and Ruby & Pearl Events in New Orleans. “It’s an important moment for the couple to share exactly what they want to say to each other—words they will surely remember for a lifetime—without hundreds of eyes watching such a personal and emotional exchange.”

It Can Help with Vow Anxiety

Camille Ross, an Austin-based wedding planner and owner of Elsie Event Co., notes that reciting vows in front of guests is not for everyone—or, perhaps, even for most. “The large groups, the people staring, the pressure of spending enough time with everyone who came can be too much for even the most social creatures. Let alone those who prefer a quieter, more introverted lifestyle,” she says. “Taking time to share one's vows prior to the larger celebration can help couples keep their center and quietly focus on what the day is all about.”

You Don’t Have to Break with Tradition

Saying vows before the wedding day also allows couples to share a more personal statement they may not want the public to hear. This way, they don't have to feel as though they’re breaking with tradition. “Reciting vows prior to the ceremony itself allows the couple to share personal goals and promises planned within their marriage,” Ross adds.

There's Room for Personalization

Inside jokes and private moments work well for a private ceremony. It’s also an opportunity to test drive your vows for the big day and make sure you and your partner are on the same page. According Lynne Reznick, an Adirondack-based wedding photographer, “you don’t need to say the same thing or sound the same, but it can be helpful to ensure that you’re each approaching your vows with similar amounts of gravitas and levity.”

Tips for a Pre-Ceremony Vow Exchange

Thinking about exchanging your vows ahead of your actual wedding? Here's some expert advice for pulling it off seamlessly. 

Start Early

Even though you’re exchanging vows in private, don’t wait until the last minute. “Writing them down and organizing them in a coherent way before you share them is important, as it gives you time to really think about your relationship, your partner, and through what you feel and what you want to say,” says Chang. “This process can take awhile, especially if you don't think you're a good writer. Starting early is important so you don't feel stressed out about writing them at the last minute.”

Don't Overthink It

While planning ahead is key, there’s no reason your vows have to be a well-crafted thesis. “Incomplete sentences are OK, bullet points are fine, and the more authentic you can be with your words, the better,” Gernhauser adds.

Check in with Your Fiancé

An early vow ceremony should not add undo stress. “If your partner is really averse to or stressed out by having to write and exchange vows early, then the intimate and emotional memories you’re hoping to create in the exchange may fall flat and leave you disappointed,” says Reznick.

Make Pre-Wedding Vows Your Own

“While you want time to treasure the vows, you don’t want to feel that your actual wedding ceremony becomes a repeat of your private exchange,” says Bauleke. “Having elements of your ceremony that are specific to your wedding will ensure that it still feels incredibly significant and special in its own way.” 

Choose the Right Setting

Sarah Blessinger, owner and designer at Kindred Weddings and Events in Los Angeles, urges couples to pick a location that is comfortable both physically and mentally—ideally a quiet spot tucked away from busy streets and loud noise. You’ll want to focus on your partner and the meaning of the words you are sharing (not the barking dog across the street). “Some couples may prefer a location that isn’t too difficult to access, and others may want a specific location that holds significant meaning to them no matter the journey to get there,” she says.

Like Meghan and Harry, couples should feel empowered to choose where and when they say their vows. A pre-wedding ceremony may not be traditional, but its growing in popularity for brides and grooms looking for an intimate moment to share their love. After all, it’s your wedding day—do what’s right for you.

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