For many, a wedding band is a beautiful and important symbol of a couple’s commitment. For others, it seems unnecessary, uncomfortable, and even heavy-handed. The value of the tradition is being debated in pop culture, with royalty, celebrities and ordinary folks taking varying positions: Some embrace the custom, some reject it altogether and others elect for creative alternatives. But before you slip a wedding band on (or off!), consider the meaning behind the practice…
The circular, unbroken design of a wedding ring parallels the enduring nature of love. Wedding bands are typically worn on the fourth finger of the left hand; the ancient Romans believed the vein in this finger ran straight to the heart. Wearing a ring on this finger symbolizes that your spouse should have a direct line to your affections. Additionally, the cost of a wedding band is a concrete reminder of the value of your relationship … to prize what you have in your spouse.
Rings have been exchanged for centuries as symbols of love, honor and fidelity. However, widespread use of metal wedding bands (particularly among men) isn’t as ancient a tradition as you might think. In America, it only became commonplace for men to wear wedding bands circa World War II. (Women’s engagement rings have a slightly longer history, although diamond engagement rings weren’t the norm in the West until the 1930s).
Despite the symbolism associated with wedding rings, there are a host of practical reasons why a spouse might not wear one. Certain vocations (medicine, manual labor, etc.) make it impractical to wear a band at work. Other people are allergic to metal (these individuals may be able to tolerate a titanium, wood or stone band). Some people simply dislike having anything on their hands. These individuals may prefer a different token of their commitment, such as pendants or earrings. Wedding tattoos are another popular option.|
Some reject wedding bands on the basis of personal beliefs rather than practical concerns. These people may feel that wedding bands are instruments of control—that you “belong” to another person. Others don’t see the need or don’t want their marital status broadcast to the world (possibly because they don’t feel bound to monogamy or societal expectations for marriage). If your fiance or spouse decides not to wear a wedding band, make sure you understand the underlying reasoning.
The unspoken message of a wedding band is, “I love this person and I am proud to be publicly identified with him/her.” The ring also lets the world know who is or isn’t “on the market.” Still, a wedding band isn’t a magical totem that will ward off all potential romantic rivals. Some people aren’t squeamish about hitting on married people. In fact, a wearing a wedding ring may actually make you more desirable to certain types of people. But wearing a wedding ring at least reduces the possibility that the average person would intentionally initiate a relationship with a married person.
A wedding band isn’t guaranteed to eliminate your own temptation to be unfaithful. However, the constant presence of a wedding ring is a tangible reminder of your vows. If you find yourself removing your ring for anything other than practical reasons (playing sports, changing a tire, yardwork, etc.) pause to consider your motives. That extra second or two it takes to remove your wedding ring can allow enough time to rethink your priorities and save your marriage.
Does It Really Matter?
Wedding bands provide both practical and symbolic value. They help remind a couple of their promises to each other and clarify the nature of their relationship to others. However, just as wearing a wedding band does not ensure a lasting marriage, neither does not wearing a wedding ring doom a marriage.
“Wearing a wedding ring does not protect people against divorce,” says Howard Markman, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. “Couples get married today and wear a wedding ring, but 45% of them are going to get divorced. So, the wedding ring on and off really doesn't matter. What really matters is the commitment that people have to their relationship."
It takes something more precious than gold to make a marriage work; it takes love, respect and determination. It also requires being constantly mindful of the value in your marriage—and your mate. A ring can be a profound symbol of your commitment, but ultimately, it is just a symbol. The real proof of your love is in upholding the vows you took to love, honor, cherish and keep your spouse.