While we will never get tired of those age-old traditional vows (seriously, how romantic is it to marry with words people have been saying for centuries?), there is something so special about taking the time to write your own. Your love story is unique, and your wedding is a chance to give your loved ones insight into what makes yours one worth celebrating. But sitting down to put all those feelings and memories into words is hard work. Just like every detail of a wedding, though, there’s a pro who can help. Alexis Dent, founder of vow- and toast-writing company XO Juliet has six tips to take your vows to the next level.
Meet the Expert
Alexis Dent is the founder XO Juliet, a custom vow writing and public speaking concierge. She is also the author of Everything I Left Behind.
1. Share the Highs and the Lows
“Many people make the mistake of thinking that vows are only about the highs in your relationship,” says Dent. “But guests (and your SO) want to hear vows that are real. If you've been through bumpy spots, spots where you thought you wouldn't make it as a couple, or spots where one or both of you had physical or emotional hardships, you should express that.” Your guests know that no relationship is perfect, and you and your partner know it, too, because you’ve been there. “Perfect relationships don’t even exist in fairytales. Look at Cinderella: That relationship was two steps away from not happening.” Dent emphasizes. So while positive vibes are a must-have on your wedding day, skipping the trying parts—you know, the moments that made you realize your partner would be there for you through it all—could create a lack of realism that alienates your guests. “Of course, it shouldn’t be to the point where people are wondering why you’re getting married. But sprinkling the lows amongst the highs will confirm what everyone wants to hear and feel at a wedding: that love is not simply a feeling but a choice, and that you and your partner are choosing to love one another.”
2. Actually Make Promises
“A common hiccup when people write their own vows is that they only tell cute anecdotes, turning the vows into glorified love letters,” Dent describes. But a vow is so much more than that: It’s a promise, and a serious commitment that you’re making in front of a whole lot of witnesses. That doesn’t mean they have to be heavy, though. “You can vow to not only stick by their side forever, but to also be the one to kill spiders whenever they creep their way into your home,” suggests Dent. And if you really want to express your feelings to your partner, consider writing separate love letters to one another to share before the ceremony.
3. Practice Reading Out Loud
You’ve got it all down, but the only way to make sure everything sounds perfect is to hear how it sounds. “Reading your vows out loud will help you catch spots where the grammar might be iffy or where you’re missing a word, as well as figure out if the structure is cohesive,” Dent explains. “It might sound great in your head, but hearing your voice saying the words will highlight anything that might be off. There's a reason we learn in grade school that if we read our writing aloud, we can better edit it properly and ensure that it will make sense.” So while your SO is at work or the gym, read your vows out loud...and then do it again.
4. Indicate Pauses and Intonation
Unlike writing a letter, vows are a speech and require moments to pause, breathe, or emphasize words and phrases differently. “Not every line will be the same. In one line you might be talking about a funny moment when your partner laughed so hard they peed their pants, and in the next you might be referring to a struggle the two of you overcame to end up at the altar—which require very different emphasis and tones,” says Dent. Other moments also deserve a pause, allowing your guests to process the emotions you’re conveying. Dent continues, “You’ll want to allow them time to laugh or tear up without interrupting your flow. You don't want to rush through your vows, and your guests don't want you to either."
Dent advises, "For the best comprehension and emotional reactions, take it slow and focus on breaks, pauses, and intonation.”
5. Ask a Trusted Friend to Listen and Edit
“Many couples want to keep their vows secret before their wedding day, but that’s not always a good idea—particularly if you’re uneasy in the writing and public speaking department,” says Dent. “Once you’ve rehearsed out loud and made notes about where to take a breath, it’s time to practice with an audience.” You might know exactly what you’re trying to say, but that doesn’t mean your guests (or your partner) will hear the same thing or really get it. A close friend who is a great sounding board (and a pro at keeping secrets) is an important ally to have. “They can give you constructive criticism and help you improve your vows to make sure you really get that meaning across.”
6. Dress Up Your Vows
Whether you typed your vows up or wrote them on a napkin at a bar, you might think having them down on paper is enough, but think how they’ll look when they come out of the best man’s jacket pocket at the ceremony. “Yes, the focus will be on the words themselves, but the aesthetics matter, too,” says Dent. “Do you really want to watch your wedding video and see yourself holding a crumpled and stained piece of paper?” Instead, copy your vows neatly into a notebook or onto a clean piece of paper (that’s neatly folded) to use during the ceremony. “Plus, this way you’ll be able to frame them and hang them in your home when your wedding is done.”
7. Bonus: Hire a Pro
If the thought of writing and perfecting your vows is totally overwhelming, you don’t have to do it yourself. Instead, hire Dent to help you. XO Juliet offers a series of packages, from a basic questionnaire and single draft to one-on-one consultations and personal vows for you both. There’s also public speaking coaching, if you’ve got the words but need help getting them out in front of an audience, speech-writing for your maid of honor or best man, and even custom wedding hashtags.