Each segment of the ceremony plays an important role in making a wedding memorable, but it's when the couple faces each other and pledges their love in front of family and friends that's the most emotional. Usually followed by a kiss, the marriage vows represent the bond between two people that is meant never to be broken.
It used to be that couples simply would recite the traditional wedding vows that were given to them by the officiant. But starting in the 1950s, couples began to disregard tradition and compose their own vows. Sometimes they ditch the traditional vows altogether and choose their own words, or they stick with the script and add a little at the end. Because each couple is unique, as is their relationship, it is understandable that they would want to express in their own words what they mean to each other.
Some churches and officiants only allow traditional vows, but many officiants allow couples to write their own. Either way, couples should go over the vows with the officiant so there are no surprises on the big day, advises Diane Warner, author of "Complete Book of Wedding Vows" (Career Press).
"If the officiant is open to your writing your own vows, it's important to meet with him or her to go over the wording," Warner says. "The officiant may have suggestions as to the flow of the wording, plus it's important to practice the vows with the officiant ahead of time."
Warner says that there are three formats that usually are followed when couples compose their own vows: question-and-answer, monologue and dialogue. With the question-and-answer format, the officiant does most of the talking. This format is a good choice if the bride or groom is petrified of public speaking. The monologue format is perfect for a couple who wish to keep their vows a secret from each other.
"If you have agreed to do the traditional vows and add your personalized part at the end, that is the surprise, the gift," says Sharon Naylor, author of "Your Special Wedding Vows" (Sourcebooks Trade). "A lot of grooms don't have the money to give the diamond earrings or diamond necklace they were giving in the '80s. The gift is: 'Here are my words.'"
It is important for the couple to rehearse their vows, but Naylor advises against memorizing them verbatim. The words should come from your heart, not from a notecard. If you stumble, the officiant can help you get back on track so you can get your point across without rambling. The marriage should last a lifetime, but the vows shouldn't last more than two minutes.
"The first thing they need to do is not put too much pressure on themselves to speak for too long," Naylor says. "It literally is a two-minute, if that, section of what to say."
When the time comes to sit down and write, you should ask yourself some questions.
"What do you want to promise each other? What out of the traditional vows rings true for you? What is a strong priority," Naylor says. "It could be the forsaking of all others. Do you want that in there?"
Keeping in mind what makes your relationship special will give the vows a personal touch.
"There's a lot more assessing these days about what the relationship is built on. 'We have a lot of fun together. I promise to always make you laugh,'" Naylor says. "They're really looking at the top-five building blocks of their relationship."
There is one word that Naylor says has largely disappeared from marriage vows altogether: "'Obey' is gone."