What To Do With Your Wedding Ring After A Spouse’s Death

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As a widow, wedding rings are something you aren't sure how to deal with after the loss of your spouse. You love your partner, and now, you have to know how to live without them.

It's not an easy situation to be in, and you're likely experiencing a lot of emotions wondering what to do with that wedding band.

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Deciding what to do with your wedding ring as a widow or widower can feel like a loss.

I always loved the wedding ring Ralph gave me. It has lots of little diamonds in a setting that I thought looked great on my hand.

We picked the ring out together in New York City, and the jeweler we dealt with accepted Ralph’s out-of-state check without even looking at his ID. He seemed confident that Ralph would make good on the check. 

His amazing faith in him was embedded into the story we liked to tell about the ring.

On our 35th anniversary, Ralph bought me another ring. Even as he started to get frail in his 90s, I never thought about there being a day I would take the rings off.

After he died, I still wore the rings. Partially because I still felt married to him, and partially because I loved wearing them.

I left them at home during a trip to a third-world country with my sister about eight months after Ralph died. I wore a cheap travel watch and “wedding ring” during this vacation. But after rushing to return the rings to my hand, I had an unexpected reaction: They didn’t feel right.

Unexpectedly, I heard in the back of my head: "You were married then, but you aren’t now." That thought came through loud and clear, shaking what had been my plan to wear the rings for at least a year after Ralph’s death.

I ignored this voice and wore the rings anyway for a while, but I could never make them feel right again. Somehow, during the trip, I had crossed over into a new place.

I still grieved Ralph’s death every day, but I no longer felt married to him. And it didn’t feel right to wear the wedding ring anymore.

I didn’t like this development! I felt naked without the rings. I loved wearing them. Having them on my hand gave me a strong connection to Ralph.

Taking them off was a painful loss. Yet, it seemed like the time had come to put them into my jewelry box. So I did, reminding myself that I could wear them again whenever I wanted. I still do from time to time, although it’s more of a nostalgic experience now.

If you're not sure what do with your wedding rings as a widow, that's OK. It's a very personal decision.

Here are 4 things you must consider if you're uncertain of how to wear your wedding rings after the death of your spouse.

1. Do widows remove their wedding rings?

Letting go of your wedding ring is a unique kind of loss beyond the actual death of your spouse, I discovered. It’s painful in and of itself. It vividly signals that your marriage is behind you.

If yours was a meaningful marriage, it’s another layer of pain to take off this symbol of what you had together. And if you happened to like the ring as a piece of jewelry, that’s another loss.

Some widows and widowers don’t ever take them off, wearing them for years after their spouse’s death. I understand this completely. Wearing the wedding ring gives you a sense of closeness to your partner that feels good, and maybe even feels necessary.

You look down on your hand and see this ring you were given at a happy time in your life, given with a vow of love while surrounded by loved ones wishing you well. Why would you ever want to lose that memory?

I certainly didn’t, and I still don’t.

2. How long should a widow wear their wedding ring?

I remember well the day that Ralph and I got married. It's filled with wonderful and important memories, including how Ralph surprised me by singing, "The Way You Look Tonight" — probably the most romantic three minutes of my life, and it brought down the house!

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You don’t need to be wearing your wedding ring to hold on to these precious memories. Yet, I found it to be a kick in the gut to take the ring off.

This may not be a kick in the gut that others want to experience for a long time after their spouse’s death, and perhaps never.

3. There are other ways you can display your wedding ring if you choose to take it off.

I felt “naked” without my wedding ring. There was a physical sensation of nakedness from taking off a ring I’d worn for several decades. My hand felt strange and empty not to have it on anymore.

The second kind of nakedness was a psychological one. When I took off my wedding ring, it altered the identity I'd had for four decades: The ring signaled to me and to others that I was married. Not wearing a wedding ring gives a different signal, that I’m single, unattached.

This shift is profound. Even though your spouse may have died, if you’re still wearing the ring. It’s like you’re wearing a protective garment that insulates you from the nakedness of being alone.

I found this psychological nakedness to be long-lasting. It was an unexpected vulnerability that took some strength to accept.

If you take off your ring, you can still choose to keep it close if that psychological "nakedness" is too much for you. This includes wearing it on a neecklace, or even putting it on your right hand, which is the traditional place to move your wedding band after becoming a widow.

You can also have a jeweler "redesign" the ring to make it something special.

4. How long should you wait before dating after becoming a widow?

This can be a tricky question, because you're dealing with such a huge loss. How long you should wait to start dating again after losing your spouse depends entirely on you and your comfort level.

You're mourning the loss of someone you loved, but if it feels right to wait a few months or a few years, you should ask yourself what feels right for your happiness.

Becoming a widow is not a situation anyone wants to find themselves in, and learning how to navigate it can be painful. After losing your spouse, focus on healing. Both from your loss and from your heartache, and you will have a better way to decide what's right for you.

The only reasons I see for no longer wearing your wedding ring are:

  • If and when it no longer feels “right” to do so. This is what happened to me. It wasn’t a planned decision to take off the rings, nor was it that I’d reached a certain milestone after my spouse’s death that triggered the action. It was simply that I got an internal sense that it no longer seemed right to wear them.
  • You’re interested in dating and want to signal that you’re available. Most of us are conditioned to check out the ring finger on someone we’re potentially interested in, and if you find a ring there, you back off. If you reach a point in your widowhood when you don’t want potential dates to back away, it’s likely time to go ring-less.

Ultimately, it’s every widow and widower’s choice whether to continue wearing your wedding ring or not, and for how long. It is a personal matter for which society doesn’t specify an expected standard.

I had one expectation and ended up taking my ring off sooner than planned, because I’d unexpectedly reached a point when it felt right to do so. In this sensitive matter, as with many other personal decisions in life, you have to listen to your inner voice and do what feels right.

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Patty Howell, Ed.M., A.G.C., is a prolific author, developer of psychosocial education programs, and president of Healthy Relationships California, a non-profit that has taught relationship skills programs to more than 200,000 participants. She co-authored World Class Marriage: How to Create the Relationship You Always Wanted with the Partner You Already Have with her late husband, Ralph Jones.