To love, honour and obey

Your vows and readings should reflect your excitement and your hopes and expectations for your big day and beyond, so how do you go about choosing them?

Words by Emma Langman


When it comes to the crunch and you’re standing in front of your husband-to-be at the altar, you’ll probably be nervous, happy and full of excitement. It will be the first time you’ve seen each other for at least one night and you’re about to embark on a new life together. Your vows are a significant and special part of the day – they’re the only time you’re likely to make such a public declaration of your love and make pledges for your married life together. But while vows are a serious business, it is possible to have a bit of fun with them and make them personal to you, whether you’ve opted for a religious, civil or Humanist ceremony.


The Registrar General’s Office of Scotland explains that all ceremonies (regardless of format) must include a declaration of the parties, in the presence of each other, a celebrant/registrar and two witnesses, that they accept each other as husband and wife, before the person conducting the ceremony declares the couple to be husband and wife.
If you’ve decided on a religious service, there is usually more of a set script for your vows and the order in which the celebrant will speak. For example, if you marry in the Church of Scotland, you and your husband will both say the following: “With God’s help, I promise to be your faithful husband/wife, to love you as Christ commands, to comfort you and protect you, to honour you as long as we both shall live.” The celebrant will then say, “May the rings you wear be a symbol of unending love and faithfulness to remind you of the covenant into which you have entered,” before stating the marriage blessing and declaring you to be husband and wife.
Each religion has its own customs and wording for vows, but don’t worry too much that you’ll have to follow strict rules. With the help of your celebrant, you can make some alterations to personalise the ceremony, as long as you keep on track and work with the criteria in place. Your minister or celebrant will be able to guide you in what’s possible.
The now Duchess of Cambridge famously followed the example of Princess Diana and omitted the word ‘obey’ from her vows when she married Prince William, making her vows more relevant to her own hopes and wishes for their marriage.


With a civil ceremony there is a little more freedom when it comes to the wording of your vows, but all couples must still ensure that they meet the legal guidelines. Civil ceremonies can take place in a registrar’s office or at a venue approved for civil ceremonies. Whatever location you choose for a civil ceremony, a registrar from your local authority can help you to plan the order of service, which must be of a secular nature. Many couples write their own vows using the wording of the religious examples as a template with their own creative style thrown in.
For a Humanist ceremony, couples must still declare their acceptance of one another as husband and wife but most choose to do so in a much more informal way. Humanist celebrants are often much more involved in the writing of the vows than a registrar, meeting with the couple beforehand and ensuring their own wording for the ceremony ties in with the individuality of the bride and groom. Tim Maguire, a celebrant for the Humanist Society of Scotland (, recommends that couples sit down together and spend an evening reflecting on their feelings and why they are getting married, as well as their hopes and desires for their life together. “It can be easy to get lost in the details of the wedding day and forget why you are actually doing it. I tell couples to spend some quality time thinking about what their marriage means, and then translate that into their vows,” he says. Use lyrics from songs that you both love as a starting point; or, famous love letters and poems can act as a great source of inspiration if you’re finding it difficult to get started. We’re sure that once you start writing, you’ll find it hard to stop!


Readings are an important part of any wedding ceremony, giving you the chance to involve some of your nearest and dearest while reflecting on the fact that you are now officially married.
There are several recommended readings for religious ceremonies, most of which come from passages talking of the sanctity of marriage and the importance of love. Genesis 1:27 is a popular choice (from the story of Adam and Eve), “So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘be fruitful and increase…,” but you can opt for anything that you wish, with guidance from your celebrant.
At civil and Humanist ceremonies, many couples choose poems, songs or extracts from books. Classic examples are Shakespeare’s Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day and A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns, but anything goes within reason. (Readings of poems or extracts can be used at religious ceremonies too, but often alongside a more religious passage). Celebrants for all types of ceremonies can advise couples who aren’t sure where to start, but use your own feelings for one another as inspiration. If you have a favourite song or film, don’t be scared to incorporate that into your wedding. By including elements of yourselves in the readings, your ceremony will be tailored to your personalities and there’s sure not to be a dry eye in the house.­


While the traditional song to accompany your walk down the aisle is Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s Lohengrin, why not choose something modern but romantic a-la Courtney Cox? She walked to Maybe I’m Amazed by The Wings when she married David Arquette, while Demi Moore met Ashton Kutcher at the altar after walking to At Last by Etta James. Some other popular choices are More Than Words by Extreme, Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling In Love; It Must Be Love by Madness or Blur’s Tender. Or if you want to keep it traditional but with a twist, opt for Bach’s Air in G or Pachelbel’s Canon in D.


Writer Jennifer Cegielski offers some advice on how to write your vows

DO be distinctive. If you’re making the effort to write your own vows, they should be unique to your relationship. Cite specific instances in your lives, and avoid broad turns of phrase and clichés that could apply to anyone.

DON’T make your public pronouncement for insiders only. It’s okay to mention personal moments, but make sure everyone can understand them. After all, your vows are a public declaration of your commitment, so your witnesses should be able to understand them.

DO infuse your vows with your personality, but use humour with a light hand. Remember the commitment you are making is a serious one, and consider the setting in which you are making your vows. For example, an oft-quoted celebrity vow to “always make your favourite banana milkshake” would seem out of place in a ceremony at a formal cathedral or temple, but might be appropriate following a basic civil ceremony or a ceremony in a more casual location such as a restaurant or garden.

DON’T reveal anything too intimate. While your vows are a public statement about your relationship, certain aspects – sexual matters or how you stole your partner from your best friend – are probably best kept private.

DO sound like yourself. Even though you wish to sound polished, avoid getting so wrapped up in referencing the Romantic poets that you try and imitate them in your speech patterns.

DON’T repeat yourself. Be on the lookout for words that appear over and over. If you need to, delete some instances or consult a thesaurus to make every word count and stand on its own.

DO keep it short and sweet. A vow is a declaration, not a dissertation. Use concise sentences; vows that are to-the-point are often the most powerful.

DON’T use negative language. E.g. “I’ll always be by your side” is preferable to “I’ll never leave you.”

DO address your future spouse by name. Not only are you making an on-the-record statement of whom you are marrying, but you are also giving your beloved the opportunity to hear the sound of his or her own name rolling off your tongue.

Extract taken from Wedding Words: Vows by Jennifer Cegielski, £6.95. Published by Stewart Tabori & Chang

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