While my husband was getting dressed this morning, I noticed something glinting off his finger. “Hey, you’re wearing a wedding ring,” I observed. “I always do,” he nonchalantly replied. “Since when?” I prodded, wondering if he remembered that he has spent 99% of our marriage not wearing a ring. “Since a few months ago,” he replied, confirming that I wasn’t crazy for thinking this was a relatively new development.
My husband is not a jewelry person. Not long after we got married, he stopped wearing his wedding ring for various reasons: It was “bugging,” him, It was too big, It was too small, It interfered with basketball, it got in the way while exercising, it made his finger too heavy to write code on the computer (OK I made that one up, but you get my drift). I wasn’t about to engage in that power struggle with him–if he didn’t want to wear a ring, who was I to tell him he had to wear one? I didn’t want to make an issue out of it, but I have wondered about the importance of wedding rings and their relationship to marital quality.
Wedding rings are a subtle signaling device. Before I got married, my husband used to joke with me that every time he saw me on our college campus, I was surrounded by males. I protested his assumption that they were trying to move in on me, and pointed out that we were always talking about school work. “I’m a guy and I can tell you they aren’t interested in your study guide,” he admonished. “Oh, whatever,” I repeatedly dismissed. However, right after I got married, I noticed that I was completely invisible to males while walking around campus. It had never occurred to me before that when they were friendly to me, they were testing the waters to start a relationship. I just thought they were being nice. I hadn’t even realized that the change was in my ring finger until one day a few months after I got married.
I went to the library to study for a few hours and sat myself at a table in the corner when two young men sat down across from me to study. After a few minutes, one of them struck up a conversation. I remember thinking, “Oh, this feels normal, these guys are talking to me instead of totally ignoring me.” I engaged in the light conversation and realized I needed to leave. As I stood up, I said, “Well, I have to go meet my husband. Nice to talk to you.” His countenance turned ashen. “Wait—you’re married?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered, wondering why he was being so suddenly weird. “Can I give you some advice?” he continued. I haltingly said yes, still wondering what was going on. “Don’t walk around on campus without your wedding ring on,” he offered. I didn’t even know what to say; I had forgotten I wasn’t wearing it. I glanced down at my ringless finger, thinking, “You were trying to hit on me?” because I was genuinely confused. I was also annoyed. I wanted to say, “Really? Because the last time I checked, this was a library, not a singles bar, and by the way, you’re not even my type,” which he wasn’t. I finally put two and two together and realized that I had become invisible on campus because I was “taken.” The ring had power.
I’m not much of a jewelry person either, but I got into the habit of wearing my ring everywhere after that, largely because I didn’t want to be in any other awkward situations. Now, if I accidentally leave the house without it, I have an unsettling feeling and a habit of touching the place on my finger where it is supposed to be. It might as well be welded to my skin.
So, should you be concerned if your spouse doesn’t want to wear a ring?
Like most things in social science, it depends.
Research on wedding rings is sparse, but there is some interesting data. In one study by law firm Slater & Gordon, one-fifth of the 2,000 participants admitted that they took their wedding rings off after fighting with a spouse, or before going out, to attract more attention from potential alternative partners. Interestingly, males were more likely to take it off before socializing and females after a fight. Some people admitted that they didn’t want to be perceived as “boring,” so they took off their rings to shape perceptions. One-fifth of the participants also said they perceived married men without wedding rings as not taking their marriages as seriously.
While wedding ring use can be indicative of relationship problems, the correlation isn’t strong enough to be compelling. Each individual case is different. Rings can be symbolic in certain situations, however, and are commonly viewed as a symbol of commitment. Recently I asked a couple in a therapy appointment how they were doing, and in response, the wife held up her finger, displaying her wedding ring to indicate that they were going well enough that she had put her ring back on and recommitted to the relationship.
Will wearing a wedding ring keep someone from hitting on my spouse?
In the above study, one-third of participants reported that they would feel more confident about spouse fidelity if their spouses wore wedding rings. About ten years into my marriage, my husband put his ring back on (for at least 5 minutes) after he took a new job and one of the female co-workers saw his ringless finger and thought he was single, in an incident not unlike my library fiasco years earlier. He didn’t want to give the wrong impression.
However, 10% of participants in the above study also said that they perceived their own wedding rings to be a “challenge,” to members of the opposite sex. Men reported getting more attention from females after wearing a wedding ring, while women reported getting less. There is a theory that for some women, a male with a wedding ring symbolizes a family man who is capable of committing, which can be an inviting possibility. Unfortunately, in most affair cases, people aren’t considering how their actions will negatively impact the spouse and children in the family, and I can see how that theory could be true for some people. `
A wedding ring might keep some individuals away from your partner, but it’s just not enough to prevent affairs.
Questions to Ask
While there is no clear data on wedding ring adornment and relationship outcome, here are some questions to ask yourself as it applies to your marriage:
- Is it a new pattern? If your spouse has never really liked wearing a ring, or has a job or a hobby or a medical condition that doesn’t allow for a wedding ring, then it’s unlikely to mean anything if they don’t wear one. If, however, your spouse is suddenly not wearing a ring along with other unusual behavior (more trips to the gym all gussied up, increased trips to the tanning bed, long unexplained absences, hiding one’s phone), you might want to look deeper. Keep in mind that a strategic partner trying to perpetuate an affair might wear a ring in the spouse’s presence to throw them off. I can affirm that there are people in distressed marriages who will purposely take off their rings as part of testing the waters for attracting a different mate.
- Does my spouse take it off after we had a fight? This could just be a sign of reactive, immature behavior, but it’s also symbolic and could be a harbinger of more reactivity down the road.
- Does my spouse’s social media reflect marital status? People who are open to having affairs often don’t display their married status on social media. That doesn’t mean that if your spouse has posted their marital status that he/she is immune to an affair, but it is a positive indicator that he/she isn’t trying to advertise for a new partner.
Ultimately, a wedding ring is completely independent of partner infidelity. If your partner wants to have an affair, or is naively developing an extramarital relationship that becomes an affair, a ring is not going to prevent it. Many people have affairs with people they know are married, and unfortunately, for some people it can be added competition.
I’ve heard some psychologists say that not wearing a wedding ring is indicative of deeper problems in the relationship. Maybe I should be more worried that my husband only occasionally and sporadically wears his ring? No….That’s complete nonsense. There just isn’t evidence to support that assertion, and plenty of people wearing wedding rings have distressed relationships.
If you’re really worried, you can look into the “anti-cheating ring,” which was manufactured with the ability to leave an indentation of, “I’m married,” in the wearer’s skin. If that’s not enough, there are always cattle brands. If you’re thinking, “That’s not a bad idea,” please get help.
In all seriousness, if you find yourself obsessing about your spouse’s ring use, however, you might be setting up a pattern to drive your spouse right out of the relationship. People who start to get anxious and try to control the details of partner behavior mistakenly believe that they can coerce loyalty from a spouse. Most spouses will react to that kind of control by becoming more secretive or openly oppositional. You can’t make anyone loyal to you. Period.
My husband reminded me that he started wearing his ring because I said I liked it when he wore it. I didn’t recall the conversation. “Don’t you remember?” he asked, “I asked you if it bothered you that I didn’t wear my wedding ring and you said, ‘It doesn’t bother me, but I do like it when your wear it.'” I vaguely remembered it. “Plus,” he continued, “I’m basically risking my life for you because remember Jimmy Fallon had that wedding ring accident and ended up in intensive care? It’s a feat of daring.” “Wow, I actually had an impact on your behavior,” I marveled, enjoying the rare moment. Ultimately, though, it was his choice. And that’s how it should be.
Human mate choice and the wedding ring effect: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12110-003-1006-0
Photo credit: Copyright: antonioguillem / 123RF Stock Photo