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Ultimate Guide to Renewing Your Wedding Vows

If you’ve been together long enough that you’re considering marriage vow renewal, congratulations! We expect the guest list to be smaller for this milestone anniversary, though, you never know. Whether you want a full ceremony with the original vows from the original wedding and new rings or something small as a reaffirmation of your love for one another, vow renewals are a beautiful way to commemorate and honor all your years of marriage — one that’s stood the test of time.

There are as many reasons to renew wedding vows as there are marital milestones. In fact, reaching those milestones usually requires persevering through hardship. So a vow renewal ceremony can be a combination of both celebration and restoration that is unique to the couple. It doesn’t even have to have a ceremony. It can be as intimate as a dinner party or a date that gives a nod to your wedding day.

However, if you do decide to plan something out, there are plenty of vow renewal ideas to consider. A vow renewal can pay tribute to the original ceremony. Or it can make up for a missed opportunity if the couple eloped without even a chance to look at halo style engagement rings. Being able to pick and choose what to keep or change can be liberating, but striking the right balance can be difficult, so here’s an affirming guide to renewing your wedding vows.

What’s the Official Status of Vow Renewals?

Vow renewals are ceremonial rather than official. In the eyes of the state, for example, you don’t need to apply for a new marriage license. That doesn’t make the ritual any less meaningful for you, but that meaning is personal rather than legal. If anything, that might make a renewal of vows more appealing to you — less paperwork! The same holds true for the marriage’s status in terms of most faith traditions — a vow renewal doesn’t make you more married. 

vow renewal legal status

If you are seeking an I-do-over because something was improperly done or an official document was misfiled, then that is something you should follow up on within the appropriate legal channels. If you have questions or concerns about an aspect of the original religious ceremony, you should consult an authority within that faith tradition. 

However, just because the ceremony isn’t official doesn’t mean this special day can’t be formal. If you headed out to your honeymoon with a string wrapped around your finger, this might be your chance for the kind of ring exchange that involves men’s wedding bands.

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How to Decide the Time Is Right for a Vow Renewal

That’s up to you. The personal context of your ceremony is essential. It might be addressing something in the couple's past. You might be doing this because you didn’t have the time, resources or structure to have a dream wedding. Or because you felt pressured into someone else’s vision of a dream wedding. Or maybe your original plans for both the wedding and the honeymoon phase of your marriage were altered by military leave, a global pandemic or a family event. Even if you had the wedding you hoped for, you can still have a unique vow renewal ceremony. There’s no reason to think vow renewals are only for those trying to make up for some lack in their original wedding.

reasons to renew your vows

A vow renewal can also support the couple as they contemplate future uncertainty or change. If one partner is gravely ill or they are approaching a prolonged time apart, a vow renewal ceremony can be a way to solidify those bonds and reiterate how important they are to each other. Vow renewals are certainly what you make of them. Unlike traditional weddings, there aren’t nearly as many expectations or defined norms, so you have some freedom to adjust the relevant particulars as necessary.

Can a Couple Have More Than One Vow Renewal?

Sure. There is no set number of times that a couple can recommit. Again, this isn’t a second wedding (or a third, fourth, etc.). Some couples like to do it every five years as a way of recentering their marriage and reaffirming their commitment to each other. For others, each vow renewal is the product of unique circumstances. Theoretically, you could even do one if you eloped. In some ways, couples who opted for elopement might appreciate this recommitment even more than those who had a traditional wedding ceremony.

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How Do You Prepare for Vow Renewal?

The nice thing about a vow renewal is that it can dispense with the pressure that often surrounds wedding planning. The only requirements are each other and a clear line of communication about why you are doing this. Having a plan doesn’t hurt, but we won’t get in the way of gestures that are spontaneous and heartfelt.

The Hammer - The Chelsea - The Sadie Rings

Featured: The HammerThe Chelsea and The Sadie  

That means the ceremony can be as public or private and as simple or elaborate as you want it to be in terms of officiant, witnesses and script. You can cut out the things that were stressful the first time around. There isn’t necessarily a set template, which means that you can set any expectations for what the ritual will be.

That goes for the wedding jewelry as well. Maybe you always planned on upgrading or adding to your his and hers wedding sets. That doesn’t necessarily mean something more fancy. You might want a piece that is more functional or a closer fit to your style now that you have a sense of what the day-to-day of your married life looks like. 

Or you can get the old rings engraved. Popular choices include a special commemorative message, a significant date (like that of the vow renewal ceremony) or even two halves of an inside joke.

Are There Any Useful Precedents? Helpful Pieces of Etiquette?

Even if the nature of the vow renewal ceremony is extremely personal, that doesn’t mean there aren’t helpful guideposts from other married couples who have been down this path before. The kind of professionals who regularly plan and officiate weddings can offer valuable advice, but there are also resources available online that include sample renewal scripts and customizable invitations.

vow renewal advice

The lack of pressure should cut both ways for the couple and the guests. The couple isn’t bound to a set procedure, but they also aren’t in a position to make any demands of their guests. Even if her wedding wasn’t what the bride hoped it would be, there’s no excuse or place for a vow renewalzilla. 

It can be helpful to think of vow renewal ceremonies not in terms of “What do we have to do” but “What can we do.”

Because of the relatively informal nature, the couple may want to set some ground rules for dress code and overall expectations. This isn’t so much to control the ceremony or have some sort of perfect re-wedding where you have the “big day” you always wanted, but more so the guests have an idea of what they should wear and expect when at the ceremony.

Helpful Pieces of Etiquette Regarding Guests

For example, you are free to wear whatever you please. Women who are renewing their vows often wear white. Just as often they don’t. They rarely wear a wedding dress, although people love to wear beautiful wedding jewelry. But they also shouldn’t ask anyone to wear a bridesmaid dress. Even if friends and family are just as closely involved in the renewal as they were in the wedding, they shouldn’t be expected to engage in the traditional “extras” like a wedding registry or a shower. 

You can certainly have your friends stand with you, but you probably shouldn’t insist they spend money on wedding party apparel. Similarly, parents typically play a different role in a vow renewal, in terms of escorting you down the aisle or performing a special father/daughter dance or financial contribution. The vow renewal is something that springs from the couple, though occasionally grown children will host a vow renewal ceremony for their parents' 25th or 50th wedding anniversary.

Generally, vow renewals are smaller events with close family members and other loved ones. Unlike the original wedding, vow renewals are much more lowkey, so don’t expect gifts. Sorry. At this point, you should have a dining set anyway.

vow renewal location

Where Should a Vow Renewal Take Place and How Does It Work?

From New York to a quaint farm or anywhere in between! Wherever is most meaningful to the couple’s love story would be a good location. They can return to the site of the original ceremony, though, if there is a ritual, it is usually simpler and doesn’t involve elements like processing down the aisle. It can be at the kinds of places that serve as traditional reception venues, but it doesn’t have to. 

If you are wondering which wedding ideas you can break out at a vow renewal, here’s a quick checklist:

  • Wedding Cake: Heck yes, you can still have cake.
  • Flowers: Centerpieces and bouquets? Absolutely. Probably not a bouquet toss, though.
  • Dancing: Celebrating the love of your life is always a valid reason to take to the dance floor. So, yes, please. However, as we previously mentioned, father/daughter or mother/son dances are usually not a part of the program.
  • Toasts: Especially appropriate.

cutting into white cake during ceremony

Part of renewing wedding vows is having the benefit of experience. You don’t have everything figured out, but you might have a firmer grasp of what you like and don’t like — and of who‘s going to be around for the long haul, as opposed to just making sure that one random roommate was a bridesmaid because all the other roommates were, too. A vow renewal ceremony allows you to be with the special people who enriched your life and your marriage — a group that might now include your children.

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