Whether you're a bride, a groom, or a guest, wedding vows are important. In just a few minutes, while surrounded by family and friends, a couple is expected to unveil something deeply personal—the groundwork for their future together—including sentiment, sometimes humor, and memories. That's why more couples are leaning toward writing their own vows, or altering the traditional ones, to kick off a lifetime together as equal partners.
In 1981, Princess Diana made headlines when she chose not to include the word "obey" in her vows to Prince Charles. Instead, she promised to ''love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health," giving way to an ongoing, international discussion about the language used during a wedding ceremony. And in 2011, Kate Middleton took the same approach when she married the late royal's son, Prince William.
Twenty-six years later, modern-day brides are still poring over how to pen wedding vows that are rooted in both reflection and equality. So was the case for Chloe Pinkerton as she prepared to marry Ross Kennedy-Shaffer on a sweltering July day last summer. As their wedding date approached, Pinkerton realized how important the language used in their vows would be.
"We wanted there to be balance in the opening lines; we didn't want [our vows] to be identical because we're different people working on different things, but we wanted to make sure each person's promise was met with a similar one," Pinkerton explains. "The word 'partner' (rather than 'husband,' 'wife,' or 'spouse') was important to us because it involves the idea of equality and doesn't have any of the possession connotations that some of the other partnership words involve. We also wanted to steer clear of the idea that men and women have defined, gendered roles in a relationship."
The couple also chose not to use some of the more common phrases, like "to have and to hold" and to "take [your partner]" because, as Pinkerton explained, "the language felt very ownership-centric, and as a result, dehumanizing."
Ultimately, they decided on five simple statements that embodied the life they hoped to create together:
I promise to love and support you as you continue to grow and learn.
I promise to make time to play your favorite games and mine.
I promise to try to make the world a better place with you.
I promise to laugh with you and cry with you through good times and bad.
Most of all, I promise to be your equal partner forever.
While some couples opt to write their own vows to ensure a balanced exchange, others choose to revise the familiar, giving new meaning to the familiar phrase "to love, honor, and obey."
When Peter Rocco and Marie-Ellen Ehounou tied the knot last May, the couple modified traditional vows so that "honor and obey" would be excluded.
"Our attitude was kind of: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" Rocco explains. "I think the traditional vows end up capturing most of what people try to say when they write their own anyway—with some minor tweaks in our case."
Despite using traditional vows as guidelines, the couple did make it clear they were entering an "equal loving partnership."
"I felt pretty strongly that it was important to have something about partnership even if we didn't call each other partners," Ehounou says.
But for Abigail Myers, a forward-thinking approach to marriage was built into her ceremony via her officiant and church. When writing her vows, Myers says she "didn't have to think too hard about shedding the patriarchal elements of a traditional Christian wedding because our church is famously, wildly progressive, and our (female) pastor is a fierce feminist, so we trusted her implicitly and absolutely to use egalitarian wording."
If you're looking to pen your own—or modify the traditional—writer Fiona Tapp suggests some key concepts to use as inspiration:
- I promise to support your ambitions and dreams.
- I will comfort you when you can't be strong, and I will lean on you when you can.
- And, most simply of all…I will love you.