Write, Repeat, or Just Say "I Do"



by Mark Allan Groleau in Wedding Vows
October 23, 2017

When I sit down with my couple to plan our ceremony and it gets to the part where we brainstorm their wedding vows, the first thing I ask them is, “How do you want to say your vows?”

They almost always look at me a bit perplexed, so I have to immediately continue: “There are three ways you can say your vows.”

(The two things to consider when it comes to wedding vows: what to say, and how to say them. For more on what to say, check out my companion post about vows right here: Wedding Vows: What to Say. You’ll find a list of my favourite sample vows that I use in all my wedding scripts.)

Here are the three ways to say wedding vows.

Style #1: Write and Read Your Own Vows

Some couples just know: they’ve always wanted to write their own heartfelt vows and say them in the ceremony. Okay, maybe one half of the couple does and the other needs some significant convincing. Anyway – however they get to the decision, some couples opt to write their own vows.

A) Reading the Vows

When a couple want to write and read their own vows, the first thing I tell them is that they should probably read them in the ceremony, not try to recite them from memory.

Unless they’re some kind of freakish trained actors who are used to memorizing the five acts of Shakespeare and regurgitating them in front of hundreds of people while simultaneously realizing that this juncture is one of the most significant of their whole lives… they just won’t be used to the pressure of the moment.

So, with that established – that they’ll be reading the vows they wrote – we have two options. Because ‘ain’t no way they’re extracting a sweaty wad of crumpled paper from their clothing when it comes time to say their vows.

  1. One option: the couple will email me their vows ahead of time (each separately if they don’t want to see each other’s). I’ll format them to each fit on a single sheet of paper, print them out, put them each in a plastic sleeve, and tuck them into my binder. When it’s time for them to read their vows in their ceremony, I’ll hand them their sheet. (If the vows are different, make sure you don’t mix them up!)
  2. A second option: some couples opt for wedding vow booklets that are kept close at hand during the ceremony and they each read from their book. Have the wedding vow booklets ready either in your binder, on a nearby table, or with a member of the wedding party.

B) Writing the Vows

The very next question that comes up is “What do we actually say? How do we write the wedding vows?”My answer: don’t overthink this. Wedding vows are promises. We know how to make promises. So I literally tell my couple: when you sit down to write your vows, fill in the blanks on any or all of the following sentences, and repeat as many times as possible. Make them as funny and personal and heavy as you like and as you can.

  • “I promise to ______________.”
  • “I vow to ______________.”
  • “I commit to ______________.”
  • “I will always ______________.”

“Gee, Mark, isn’t that overly simplistic and cryptic? Where’s the flowery stuff?”

Well, in my case, one of the parts I include in my officiant speech at the top of the ceremony is what each member of the couple loves about the other. (That’s a pro-tip post for another day.) So by the time we get to the vows, that’s already out of the way. (There’s probably a softer way to phrase that.)

But if the couple would like to say things they love about each other and they know it won’t repeat what they’ve told me to say, they can preamble their variations on the above sentences with some things they love about the other.

C) Word Count

The final important piece to consider when it comes to your couple writing their own vows is making sure the vows are approximately the same length.

We don’t want his to be a full page and hers to be just two sentences.

If they’ve opted not to see each other’s vows beforehand, tell them to discuss and agree on a word count before they start writing.

And even when they’ve told you they agreed on a word count, double-check that the vows are approximately the same length ahead of time. That’s obviously easy if they’re emailing you their vows, but if they’re writing them in a vow booklet, take a peek before the ceremony starts or at the wedding rehearsal.

Okay, on to Style Two.

Style #2: Repeat Line-by-Line

In terms of how much work the couple have to do, this is a much “lighter” version than write-and-read-your-own vows. It’s a bit more work for you. Theoretically, they could still write their own and repeat after you, but typically the officiant provides the vows for this style.

“Repeat line-by-line” is the favourite option for most couples I marry.

There are a few reasons for this. First, a lot of couples don’t like the idea of having their face down on a page when they’re saying their vows. When you “feed” them their lines, they get to look right into each other’s eyes.

Second, couples also feel less pressure with this style because they don’t have to write the actual vows. They depend on you to bring the heat as their officiant. And you can step up to the plate because you’ve got this.

Finally, repeating vows line-by-line tends to be a more popular option because the couple don’t have to write them or read them, but they still get to say the actual words of the vows. That’s where this style differs from the most conventional style of saying wedding vows: just saying “I do.”

Style #3: Just Say “I Do”

For this style, I tell my couple in our planning session, “I’m gonna read you a ‘big long question,’ and you wait for me to finish talking. And then you simply say two words: ‘I do.'” This is the lightest in terms of work for the couple. All the work is on you, Captain Officiant.

What’s the single most common reason most couples choose this style? In a word: crying.

While the thought of getting weepy at a wedding makes us smile, it’s a real factor we need to think about. If the bride or groom or both don’t think they can get through talking in the ceremony because they’ll just be too emotional, offer to take that worry off their plate with the “I do” style. This is a nice way to say vows because the couple get to look each other in the eye while you ask them the “big long question.”

Again, it’s on you to write the vows. But anything in my vow menu here can be adapted and rewritten in the form of a question.

(Bonus!) Style #4: Hybrid

In a more recent ceremony I officiated, the couple read their own vows they’d written and then repeated line-by-line another set of vows I provided.

Some couples like to mix it up and combine more than one style.

You’re not limited to only one style of vows in the ceremony! If a couple are torn between one style or another, offer to do two or three styles.

When it comes to ceremonies, we’re really limited only by our imagination. When it comes to vows, we’re limited to three styles.

  1. Sharon Lucier says:

    I am going to officiate a wedding next month on 8/4/2018. I never done a wedding where the bride and groom are writing their own vows. So, my question is, after they read their vows, do I, as the officiant still ask the Bride, do you take Groom to be your husband part of the ceremony or do I go right to the “Will there be an exchanging of rings?” part of the ceremony? Any help would be helpful. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your question! You may want to check the legal requirements where you live if you’re concerned about being “100% by the book” and making sure your couple says everything they may be required to say. But for me, I just let them read their own vows, and then move right into the ring exchange.

      That said, some couples choose a hybrid simply for the romance of saying “I do,” and if they want that, then we can ask them a basic “Do you…?” question after they read their personal vows. Remember my mantra: there’s no RIGHT way of doing a wedding element (only a traditional one), so consult the couple and choose something that works!

  2. Mike says:

    I’m officiating a wedding on 10/20/18. I’ve been reading and watching all your material. It’s been very helpful. I am trying to determine though, who goes first for the vows and who goes first for the exchange of rings?!

    1. Great question, Mike! Traditionally, the groom goes first. But sometimes I’ll have a bride say, “I want to get it out of the way and go first!” And that’s fine with me. 🙂

  3. Patti says:

    Hi Mark, I’m so grateful for your videos! thank you for putting them out! I am also officiating a wedding this upcoming weekend and I just received the vows from the bride and groom they will be reading them themselves and the style of each of them is very different. My question is, should I bring that up to them? One is more story like with a little personal history, and the other one is more formal- I promise.. Etc. with no peronalization. I don’t want to change a thing about what they want but I don’t know if they know their styles of vows are so different I think they’re surprising each other. thanks for any feed back!!

  4. Hey Patti,
    Good instinct! In your position, I’d do exactly what you thought you should do there. When the tone of each of the vows is very different, I think you should gently flag that for the couple. I doubt they know how different they are, and I’d reiterate the “fill in the blank” guideline for them that I wrote in #1 above. All the best this weekend!

  5. Nay says:

    I am officiating my first wedding on Saturday, 10/20/18 also. When it is time for the “I do” vows, after I have the couple turn and face each other, do I have them join hands at that point?

    1. Hi Nay – good question. For me, I always tell the couple (ahead of time at the rehearsal) that I’d like them to face each other and hold hands as soon as the bride gets down the aisle and they’re in front of me – yes, for the whole ceremony. It’s way more intimate than having their back to their friends and family or being widely separated. I recommend doing it that way!

  6. Robin Ballou says:

    Mark — when reading their vows who typically goes first? The bride or the groom?

    1. Great question! Traditionally, the groom goes first for vows and rings!

  7. Paula Lanehart says:

    Do you exchange wedding rings right after the vows?

    1. Great question, Paula! I exchange wedding rings right after vows IF the couple have not added a ritual of some sort. I find that if they want to do a sand mixing or unity candle lighting, that goes best between the vows and the rings. Handfasting goes best before the vows, and a blessing goes best after vows and rings. So I guess what I’m saying is: I do the rings right after the vows MOST of the time. Make sense?

  8. Carolyn Mann Llanas says:

    I’m officiating a wedding this weekend and the couple is saying theor own vows. When they are done do I start with my part?

    1. Thanks for your question, Carolyn! Does the couple want you to do the traditional vows as well? Or: are you mandated by your state to have them say specifically-worded vows? I ask because often I don’t do traditional vows when the couple says their own. UNLESS: the couple also want traditional. Also: if it’s legally required, then you must. (There is no such requirement in my province.)

      To answer your question: if your couple has decided to or they must say traditional vows, then the best place to do it is after their personal vows – yes. Then you can move on to either a ritual they’ve chosen (handfasting, sand mixing, etc.) or the ring exchange. ‘Make sense?

  9. Bethany says:

    My fiance’s father is the one who is going to marry us. My fiance and I have decided to write out own vows, but what should my minister say?

    1. A lot of my couples opt to write and read their own vows, but they also want to say “I do.” So after they read their vows to each other, then I read one of the vow selections in the form of a question, and they just reply, “I do.” 🙂

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