What Are Private Vows, and Should You Have Them?

Here are the pros of reading each other your promises behind closed doors.
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Jul 20, 2022

Announcing your never-ending love and admiration for your partner in front of all of your guests is one of the most common wedding traditions. But not everyone wants to make a heartfelt speech at the altar. Instead, you and your partner can enjoy private vows—where you read your vows to each other without all of your loved ones watching. You can even say standard vows at your ceremony to supplement your private vows if you would like to still make a public declaration while leaving some details private. Either way, penning private wedding vows instead of reading them aloud into a microphone definitely has its perks. So, keep reading to get all the answers to your private vow ceremony questions, learn the benefits of having one and score some helpful expert tips, plus an outline for how to write your own private vows.

In this article:

What are Private Vows?

Private vows are wedding vows that couples say in an intimate environment, which means they aren't done in front of their guests during the wedding ceremony. Couples can choose to do their private vow exchange before their wedding day, right before their ceremony or even during their honeymoon.

Common Questions About Private Wedding Vows

Even though private vow ceremonies are becoming increasingly popular, we know it can feel weird to shake up tradition by opting out of sharing your wedding vows publicly. Jemelle Wooten, wedding minister and owner of The Modern Officiant, believes this type of vow exchange carries the same weight as public vows. "Sharing private vows is a way to still honor the tradition of exchanging vows while making it a comfortable experience," Wooten says. If you want to know more about private vows, we have the answers to the most common private vow-related questions.

Do you have to say your vows publicly at a wedding?

No, you don't have to say your vows in public. Just like many other aspects of your wedding, you and your partner can decide what to include or not to include on your wedding day. Daniela VillaRamos, wedding officiant and founder of Once Upon a Vow, suggests that you involve your officiant if you want to give a nod to your private vows during your wedding ceremony. "Your officiant can also share with your loved ones that you two have chosen to exchange your vows privately. In this way, you're relaying the intimacy of this special moment during your ceremony," says VillaRamos.

Is there certain wording I have to include in my private vow ceremony?

Private vows are very similar to publicly shared wedding vows because you and your partner still customize the vows. This means there aren't any specific words that you or your partner need to put in your vows because wedding vows aren't the legally binding part of your wedding ceremony, unlike the declaration of intent. Since there is no required wording, you can stick to a traditional wedding vow template or be as creative as you want.

VillaRamos believes couples should be their authentic selves during their private vow ceremony. "Couples have the freedom to share their most intimate memories, inside jokes and heartfelt promises within their private vows. There are no rules to follow, no time limitations, no need to edit oneself or think about anything other than your love and commitment to your partner-in-adventure," says VillaRamos.

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When should I share my private vows?

When you decide to share your private vows is completely up to you and your partner. You can exchange vows on a special day before the wedding, during your first look or while chilling on the beach during your honeymoon. No matter how you choose to do it, the most important part is that you and your partner get to declare how you feel about one another in a space where you're both comfortable. If you've decided to do your private wedding vows on your wedding day, ask your photographer or videographer to capture the moment, if you desire, so you can have a sentimental keepsake. Wooten thinks that the perfect time to do the vow exchange is after the ceremony because your guests can enjoy cocktail hour while you and your spouse have a private moment.

When should couples start writing their private vows?

We recommend couples start writing their private vows at least three months before their wedding day. This allows couples enough time to write just in case one person tends to procrastinate more than the other. Because of this dynamic, VillaRamos suggests couples write their vows together. "Dedicate a date night to talking about the things you value in your relationship, what you appreciate about one another, how you've grown together and all those big and small things you want to continue into your marriage," says VillaRamos.

Why You Should Consider Exchanging Vows Privately

The thought of confessing your love to your partner in front of all of your family and friends can be overwhelming. Luckily, private vow ceremonies can ease some of that anxiety. Wooten believes "it is very likely that exchanging your vows with your love will be the highlight of your wedding day." But if you still need some convincing, here are the main reasons why some couples love having a private exchange of vows:

You don't like being in the spotlight.

Not everyone wants to pour their heart out in front of their loved ones and that's okay! So, skip the potential embarrassment and read your vows before the wedding day (or ceremony) instead. You can still express your love and create beautiful memories with your partner while opting to have only the two of you there as witnesses or you can have a photographer or videographer present to capture the special moment. (If you're similarly timid about being in the spotlight for a traditional first dance, consider some of these alternatives instead.)

You and your partner don't want to censor yourselves.

Shyness might not be your issue. Instead, you and your partner might not like the idea of making your vows tame so they can be appropriate for your parents' ears. According to The Knot 2021 Real Wedding Study, 47% of couples wrote their own vows, which shows how personal vows are a key element of many couples' weddings. If writing your own unique vows is important to you, having a private exchange of vows is a good option for you and your partner. Private vows give you the freedom to be more vulnerable and not censor your words. So go ahead, write down those inside jokes and profess anything you want to your intended. This type of vow ceremony will make the bond between you and your partner even stronger.

Your church doesn't allow custom vows.

Unfortunately, personalizing your wedding vows isn't allowed in some religions, like Catholicism. Catholic wedding vows have a rich historical background and are ratified by the Vatican, so most likely, a priest or deacon won't approve of any vow personalization for the words you exchange during the actual wedding ceremony. If you are planning on having a faith-based wedding that doesn't allow for vow customization, having a private vow exchange before the wedding ceremony is the best option for you. After your private vow ceremony, you and your partner will say the standard wedding vows required by your faith during the wedding ceremony, which means that you both will be exchanging two sets of vows.

You want a more intimate setting.

Imagine the most romantic moment of your life and multiply that by 1,000. When you hear words meant just for you by the love of your life, on one of the most important days you'll ever have, you'll probably be moved to tears. Keep the beautiful moment personal by having a private vow ceremony. If you're doing the ceremony on your wedding day, make sure to pick a quiet spot where the two of you can focus on one another. If you're exchanging vows before or after your wedding day, consider doing them at a location that's significant to you and your partner.

How to Write Your Private Vows

Now that you and your partner have decided to write private vows, you'll need to know how to structure them. Here's a basic private vow outline, created by Wooten, that you can follow:

1. Let your partner know why you are excited to marry them.

2. Describe qualities and traits that you admire about your partner.

3. Address the things that you appreciate about your relationship.

4. Verbalize promises to your fiancé that you would like to incorporate into your marriage.

To personalize your vows, VillaRamos adds that you should "tap into your memories, think back to the fulfilling moments in your relationship as well as the challenging ones, and give yourselves props for overcoming the hard moments." Let the love you have for your partner flow onto the page. Your and your partner's relationship is unique so make your vows represent your relationship. VillaRamos also suggests you use your vows as a way to "lean into all the things you feel grateful for about your partnership, what you learned from them and what you hope for your shared future together."

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