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Renewing Marriage Vows

Saying “I do” all over again.

Key points

  • People may wonder why some couples choose to renew their wedding vows.
  • Vow renewal can bring together a couple's past, present, and future.
  • Vow renewal can also be meaningful to those in attendance.

Have you ever been invited to a ceremony where a couple is going to renew their marriage vows and wondered what it is all about? Or perhaps you've considered renewing your own vows? When I first heard about vow renewal ceremonies, I asked myself why would couples choose to renew their vows. What do couples believe this ritual communicates and accomplishes? Why do couples invite others to witness or take part in their vow renewal ceremony?

Family routines and traditions are important family communication events that celebrate the role and value of our relationships. Wedding anniversaries are important opportunities to celebrate family across the years.

I studied vow renewal ceremonies by interviewing couples who held or were planning this ritual, often at landmark anniversaries such as 25, 40, or 50 years. Most couples were white, and a handful of partners were Hispanic. I visited people in their homes, and they shared how and why they experienced the vow renewal as meaningful. Couples showed me photos, invitations, videos, clothing, menus, music, and the script of vows exchanged, among other things. Most of these interviews were quite joyful.

What Is Included in Vow Renewals?

Like original weddings, vow renewals differed in terms of size and format. Some were large wedding-like events, while others were small and intimate. Locations included churches, in nature, or at home. All had someone officiating, such as clergy. A few couples planned the dream wedding that was not possible when they started out, usually due to limited finances at the time. Most couples designed the ceremony and the reception to follow themselves and stressed that the planning process was important to them.

Couples discussed involving participants and guests in the ceremony, which highlights that marriage is not a private partnership of two. Rather, couples live their lives embedded in families, friendship groups, churches, and communities. One couple explained:

Our friends and our family have been so significant in our lives, and we had spent 24 anniversaries celebrating just the two of us. So, it seemed on our 25th kind of selfish just to keep it all to ourselves… But we wanted to honor our families… to give back and say we want to share this time.

Most of the couples celebrated strong marriages, and a few celebrated having made it through tough times. One couple explained they hoped planning together would help them overcome a very troubled relationship. Several couples stressed that they now understood what their original marriage vows meant, which they could not truly comprehend back with they were first married.

Tying Together Past, Present, and Future

The vow renewal helped couples appreciate their past in the present moment and leave future memories for themselves and others. For example, couples included people from the original wedding, some revisited the original wedding site, and/or included similar flowers, their original bride and groom cake topper, menu, or music.

At the same time, many couples also added in “new” people; for example, their children, current relations, and friends. They also started new traditions, such as contemporary music, poetry, food, or wine, that represented their life in the present. The vow renewal ceremony was also an opportunity to leave memories for future generations via photos, videos, glassware, or scrapbooks.

Many couples expressed that the vow renewal helped strengthen their relationship:

[The renewal] strengthened our marriage; it jelled it. I mean, the official wedding was very small and really didn't mean much except, “Oh, we're, now we're legally married.” But this one tied us emotionally…it was a very romantic, joyful experience.

Through the vow renewal, couples were able to tell others about what it took to have a marriage that lasted. In the interview and often in the ceremony itself, couples stressed they were not claiming to have perfect marriages. Couples expressed this message was especially important for others attending, especially their children and other young people.

For couples who had significant relational challenges, the vow renewal was a way to mark a new beginning. One couple chose to have a vow renewal after being separated. They had new rings made with both the wedding and vow renewal dates engraved inside. The wife explained, “We talked about it and decided we wanted a ritual about coming back and reaffirming this commitment.”

Vow Renewal Tips

If you are attending or planning a vow renewal, pay attention to these questions:

  • What do couples want to highlight and communicate about their experiences and values?
  • What do couples want to celebrate about their past and present lives, and what do they want to leave for the future?
  • What will couples say and do to communicate what is special, honest, and insightful for those who come and celebrate with them?

One caveat to consider is who might feel included and who might feel left out of this vow renewal ritual. This includes people who are widowed or divorced, or couples who were not able to marry until much later into their relationship, which would be the case for many LGBTQ couples. For couples planning vow renewal events, it is helpful to consider what aspects of the ritual might be welcoming and what might be excluding to those in attendance.


Braithwaite, D. O. (2003). Renewal of wedding vows. In J. J. Ponzetti (Ed.), The international encyclopedia of marriage and the family relationships (2nd. ed.).

Braithwaite, D. O. & Baxter, L. A. (1995). "I do" again: The relational dialectics of renewing marriage vows. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

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