As you plan your wedding, you might be wondering how on earth you're supposed to memorize an entire set of wedding vows. Different couples deal with this in different ways, with some opting for non-traditional vows such as poetry verses or from-the-heart speeches in the moment. Others prefer to memorize their vows word for word to make for a picture-perfect ceremony that sounds beautiful to the audience.
Should You Memorize?
Not everyone should memorize their wedding vows. If you will get stressed out by forgetting even one word, consider a less stressful choice like having the officiant give you lines to repeat or saying a few simple things. If you can tolerate a bit of hard work ahead of time to memorize vows word for word, however, nothing beats the effect of pulling them off right. Memorizing your vows makes for a more poetic experience in the moment than stumbling over your words on the spot.
Play It Again
First of all, practice reading your vows from the paper until you're satisfied with the way you have read them. Consider cutting out words you frequently stumble over, as sometimes vows can look beautiful on paper and not work at all when you try to say them out loud. The process of writing out and rewriting your vows will help cement them in your memory. Once you and your partner have settled on final vows that sound beautiful out loud, use a digital voice recorder to record yourself saying the vows.
A digital recording can be listened to over and over in situations where you might not have time to sit around and read it. It will also get you familiar with the rhythms you like the most in the speech and will ensure that you remember where to pause or emphasize words. Try listening to it in the car on the way to work if you're short on time, or listen to it every morning or evening. Set aside a time to listen.
Listen and Repeat
After you're familiar with the vows both on paper and as heard through the air, the next step is to start repeating after the tape. You might re-record it with pauses after each line to give yourself time to repeat them, or you could pause after each line, say the line, and then repeat it. See if you can work your way from repeating a few words at a time to repeating entire sentences or phrases.
Don't just blindly repeat the vows word for word. Take your time to understand exactly what you're saying and wrap your head around the nuances of the sentence. Rote memorization of word after word is much harder when you don't have the spirit of the words memorized.
Use Different Types of Memory
Now that you've practiced writing, reading, listening to, and repeating the vows, it's time to engage other types of memory. One popular mnemonic technique is to visualize the words as you say them. For instance, if your vows include mentions of your life together up to this point, you could picture them playing out like a movie with your first date, the moment you realized it was love, and the engagement as you talk about each aspect of your life. The more dramatic and memorable this mental movie is, the easier it will be for you to recall in the moment.
Chain together sentences and let each sentence naturally lead you to the next one—for instance, if you're talking about the way you met, practice recalling the next sentence without listening to the tape yet. This rhythm is almost musical, and will start to come naturally as you practice listening and repeating increasingly longer sections of the vows. Get the first sentence absolutely set in stone in your mind and let your mind “chain” the rest of it one sentence at a time after that.
Even if you feel like you have your vows memorized for life, don't stop until the wedding. Nothing could be worse than relying on your long-term memory when you have so much on your mind right now. For a few weeks before the wedding, you should try to repeat your vows at least once per day from heart as soon as possible. If you make mistakes, don't beat yourself up over it—just acknowledge that you made a mistake, refresh yourself with the right lines, and start again from that line.
You only need to set aside fifteen minutes to half an hour per day where you focus completely on your vows. If you're not distracted by checking your email, phoning caterers, or collecting RSVPs, you will drastically decrease the time needed to accurately memorize your vows, so make sure you don't do anything else but focus on your vows for these few minutes each day.
This is much like the process of rehearsing for a theater production. In the week or two before opening night, a theater group will hold rehearsals daily to make sure nobody forgets their lines and correct any last-minute mistakes in memorization. Just like a wedding rehearsal, every scene will be rehearsed in a dress rehearsal the day before the show, so make sure you can say your vows easily the day before the wedding.
If It All Goes Wrong
Despite all your preparation, you may find on the day of the wedding that you just can't remember your vows. You might remember that first sentence but nothing else, or your mind might go completely blank. The most important thing to remember in the moment is that your wedding will not be spoiled if you have some less than poetic words.
Say a few words about how much you mean to each other, or arrange a signal to your officiant that means they should prompt you to just repeat the standard vows after them. You're not going to spoil your wedding! Just focus on the heart of the wedding, or say that first sentence, and you might find that either spur-of-the-moment words come to you or the vows you have put all that work into memorizing return to you with the trigger of that very first sentence.
Memorizing your wedding vows will take some time every day, but if you follow these strategies, you can have a poetic ceremony with completely memorized wedding vows. You will certainly impress your wedding guests, and your vows will probably be memorized so deeply you will never forget them. The sentimental value of memorized wedding vows is impossible to match.