Many couples are moved to write their own wedding ceremony: either because they
aren’t comfortable with the traditional ones, or they don’t belong to a
tradition that has a ceremony, or they just want to create something unique that
expresses their love and commitment. To help you create a design of your own,
I’m presenting the basics of wedding/commitment celebrations here, to use as a

Because this is the beginning of a tradition that can be very important in your
lives, I encourage you to think and talk it through carefully, with
consideration for both of your wants.

Of course, if you have a strong religious affiliation, you’ll have a minister,
who will most likely have a favorite ceremony to use. Still, whenever you’re
using the services of a professional, it’s good to be informed, and know what
your options are. Many clergy welcome your participation in designing your own

Legal issues vary from state to state, so check out what’s required for a
marriage license if you want legal sanction. If that’s not important to you, you
can have a wedding without a license. If you have a church tradition, it’s
possible to have the wedding sanctioned by the religion without being sanctioned
by the state. If you choose to go the legal route, understand that you’ll need
some form of witnessing of the license and registering the signed license after
the ceremony is done, before the state will recognize that you’re

Parts of the Ceremony

The details of marriage ceremonies vary widely from tradition to tradition.
However, most include the same basic parts: Salutation, Declaration of Consent,
Giving Away, Exchange of Vows, Exchange of Tokens, Communion, Charge, Prayer or
Affirmation, Kiss, Blessing, Presentation

Music can be added anywhere, and of course there are many decisions to be made
about how to enter and leave the celebration.

• Salutation: Traditionally, this is the “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here
today...” part. It begins the formal ceremony with a statement of purpose,
explaining your commitment, your decision to formalize it, and the importance of
having friends present.

It’s a very brief history of your commitment, and what led you here. A few
sentences are enough. It usually is done by the minister, but you can choose to
say it yourself, or ask a friend. To design it yourself, choose a favorite poem
or quote that expresses your feelings about the day, and recite it together, or
invite a friend to do it. Or you might choose to have someone sing an
appropriate song.

• Giving Away: Traditionally, the giving away includes the question, “Who gives
this woman?” Obviously sexist and outmoded, it nevertheless has great potential.
I think the true purpose of this part is to acknowledge that a new family unit
is being formed, and to establish its relationship to the extended family. You
can have one person act as spokesperson for each family, and welcome the new
member in. Or, have the extended family rise at this point, and pledge (with a
chorus of “I will”) to support and encourage the pledging couple. The Presider
can ask the question, “Will you welcome the creation of this new unit within
your family?” Or you can write a simple “repeat after me...” pledge for the
family to recite.

• The Declaration of Consent: Traditionally, this is the question, “Will you
take this person to be...” and the “forsaking all others” part to which the
couple traditionally answers “I will.”
It is the formal agreement to go on with the ceremony. Here is an important
place to make sure what you promise feels right to you.

Today, many couples incorporate this part into the vows, and omit it here. If
you leave it here, your Presider asks the question.

• Exchange of Vows: I consider this the heart of the ritual, and believe that
most of your attention needs to be focused here. Either your presider can ask
each of you “Will you promise to:” or you can just say “I promise to...” to
each other.

A note about vows: Most of us, faced with making vows or promises about
important life issues, immediately get nervous and doubt whether we can live up
to the promises. As soon as we contemplate promising to be monogamous, we begin
to notice every attractive person around. If we promise to love, honor and
cherish; all our hateful, irritable and thoughtless behavior surfaces
immediately. The reason many people feel “trapped” in commitment is that it is
difficult to back out of vows such as this. If you have done the ceremony
without proper preparation and discussion, you can feel “trapped” in something
you don’t like. However, with forethought and discussion, you can build a mutual
definition of your commitment, and your celebration can help you stay focused,
successful and motivated within it.

Every commitment has difficult implications that must be handled in order to
experience its benefits. When you’re contemplating your vows, and fear comes up,
recognize that it’s right and appropriate. Don’t panic; just discuss it with
each other. Make sure your vows are within your reach. Don’t overwhelm yourself
with promises to be super-human.

Here are some steps for creating marriage vows together. Hopefully, you have
already discussed the purpose of your relationship, and reasons for a ceremony,
so you are well on your way to creating your own vows.

1. Separately, search through your Facebook pages, Pinterest, Instagram, love
letters and greeting cards, and the Internet for quotes, prayers, poems and/or
song lyrics that seem to express how you feel about your relationship, love in
general, your commitment, and the importance of the ceremony. Take a few days or
even a couple of weeks to do this. If you are familiar with church liturgy, or
love to read, this will be fairly easy. If not, it may take longer. Or, you can
simply write a short statement, (a few sentences) about your feelings.

2. Together, sort and sift through your findings. Edit it down until you have a
few sentences you can agree on (or two separate short statements, one from each
of you.) Consider creating a shared vow that can become an affirmation you’ll repeat to each other throughout your lives together.

3. Review your completed vows with your Presider or minister, to see if she or
he is comfortable helping you make them. If not, discuss the differences, and
revise the vows, or arrange for a different Presider.

• Exchange of Tokens: Most of us think weddings are synonymous with wedding
Although they are traditional, rings aren’t legally necessary in marriage. For your ceremony, you may want to exchange rings, or you may prefer tokens, such as a two-part pendant with each person wearing half, or watches, bracelets, or any other item that can be worn constantly, will last, and represents the nature of your pledge.

Some people have the tokens inscribed with date, initials and perhaps a message.
When tokens are exchanged, a separate vow usually accompanies the exchange of
tokens. This is the traditional “With this ring, I thee wed” part, but you can
use “As I give you this token, I pledge....” Here’s a sample: I give you this ring as I give you myself, with affection and hope. I offer you love, I offer you strength, I offer you my support and understanding, as long as we both shall love.

• Communion: Here the couple can take traditional Communion as prescribed by their faith, or simply share a sip of wine or fruit juice, along with prose or poetry they composed, or want to quote. This part of the ceremony is a symbolic sharing of the necessities of
life, the abundance of the planet, as well as blessing from a Higher Power. In
the Jewish faith, after the wine is shared, there is a ceremonial smashing of a
glass, (today it’s normally a light bulb wrapped in cloth for safety and ease of
breaking) symbolic of the one-time, unique nature of the event.

• Charge: The charge is an empowering statement made by the Presider, usually
beginning “I charge you both...” The Charge is more often found in ceremonies
ordaining ministers, but my clients and I like the feeling of being empowered
and consecrated to an intent.

A sample charge: “I charge you both with the responsibility to keep alive and
grow, to maintain your capacity for wonder, spontaneity and humor. I charge you
to remain pliant, warm and sensitive, to speak your minds with gentleness and
your hearts with openness. I charge you to see the meaning of life through the
changing prism of your love for one another, to live responsibly and creatively.
I charge you to live in full awareness of the abundance that has been provided
for you, receiving it with respect and gratitude.”

• Prayer or affirmation: Traditionally given by the minister, the prayer asks
for guidance and help for the couple, and for the congregation, whose
responsibility it is to support the union. If your orientation is not religious,
you can simply ask everyone to join hands, symbolizing the solidarity of the
community and the Presider can recite a poem or quote that expresses your hopes
for the future.

• Kiss: Need I explain? Symbolic of the shared love, and replacing old royal
customs where the closest retainers retired to the bedroom with the couple to
witness the consummation.

• Blessing: Traditionally the Presider gives the blessing. Here’s a lovely one
written by a minister I know:

“And now, may you have love--a love that is new and fresh each hour; as new as
the rising of the evening star, as fresh as the coming of each new dawn.

“And may you have peace--not the peace of the stagnant pool, but of deep waters

“And may you have poise--not the poise of the sheltered tree, but of the oak--deep
rooted, storm strengthened, and free.

“And may you have the power--not the power of fisted might, but of the
seed--quickened, growing toward and infinite and eternal Light. Amen. Go in

If you’re not connected to a religion, you can ask your Presider to express good
wishes for you, or you can write a blessing for yourself.

• Presentation: This can be either at the very end of the ceremony, or as you
enter the reception.

The Presider says:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you .........”, filling in your new
names, if you’ve chosen some, or just saying your full names, followed by
“partners in life”. This “introduces you to society” in your new status, and,
since many couples keep their own names, hyphenate their surnames (Smith-Jones),
or even adopt an entirely new name, this announcement solves everyone’s
confusion of how to address your mail.


Traditional marriage etiquette dictates that the wedding is paid for by the
bride’s family. Today’s couples, however, may be having a second marriage, or be
old enough that they’re not expecting this financial windfall from the family.
Since most of us cannot afford to pay for everything to be professionally
provided, this provides an excellent opportunity to involve friends, and give
them an opportunity to feel they are an integral part of your celebration. Even
if you can afford to “go first class” I advise against that cold formality, and
suggest that you have a do-it-yourself project with friends. Many young couples
try to match the weddings they see on TV, in celebrities’ lives, or in
magazines. This can present financial problems, and lead to Bridezilla meltdowns
or temper tantrums. Don’t let your fantasies get out of hand. Spend the money on
a lovely trip or use it as the down payment on a house instead.

Get Your Friends Involved

Friends and family are an extension of your relationship, and they can either
support or obstruct you. To make sure they’re supportive, especially when you’ve
reached this important step, get them involved in your celebration. Of course,
there will be people you want involved, and those you’re not so close to.
Involving as many friends in the ceremony as possible creates a community
feeling, a shared interest in the success of the relationship. Shared events,
ceremonies and accomplishments provide an opportunity for bonding. Consider
offering that opportunity to your friends.

Involving as many friends in the ceremony as possible intensifies the feeling of
celebration and sharing. It also increases your abundance. Clothes can be
handmade, a friend who specializes in gourmet desserts may be delighted to
contribute a wonderful cake, good cooks will be happy to make a feast, and
invitations can be printed on a friend’s computer or by a talented friend in
beautiful calligraphy. Wedding suppers can be pot-lucked, music can be
performed/written by friends, the ceremony can be a composite of others, or
include original writings. Friends can read original or classic poetry, or just
state their feelings at the moment.

The more you include friends and family, the more love and joy can be generated,
and the more everyone will feel personally responsible for supporting your

Author's Bio: 

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Dr. Tessina, is CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for, a website designed to strengthen relationships and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship with personalized tips, courses, and online couples counseling. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC News.