Many modern couples choose to include wedding rings as part of their marriage ceremonies and to act as a daily reminder of their commitment post I dos. If you’re deciding whether to include (or nix) this tradition, there’s a lot to consider. And, while selecting a band’s style and price point is important, you might be wondering if rings are really worth it. Do wedding rings actually make you feel married? Here’s what the experts have to say about the long-loved tradition of exchanging wedding rings.
Symbolic rings have been used all throughout history, but most experts agree that the general notion began about 5,000 years ago. At that time, Egyptians would exchange rings made out of leather or woven grass to showcase their love. Additionally, pharaohs would wear ouroboros rings—which looked like a serpent swallowing a tail—to represent the eternal cycle of all things. These rings are considered one of the oldest symbols in the world.
In fact, it was the ancient Egyptians who started the tradition of wearing the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand, as they believed it contained a vein that led directly to the heart. Though we now know that’s not anatomically correct, placing a wedding band on the “ring finger” lives on today. As for the more modern notion of a ring exchanged in a wedding ceremony, many scholars believed it was the Romans who linked rings to marriage with a "fede" ring—a symbol with two hands clasping in love.
Experts agree: There’s something about rings that bond you. “I do believe wedding rings help make couples feel married. It is the first thing to change for a couple right from the day of the wedding,” says Licensed Clinical Social Worker Sarah Cooper. “Marriage is a process and you’re (hopefully) growing and evolving with your partner, so marriage may change over time, but the tradition of wearing a wedding ring is a constant.”
Not only is the act of exchanging rings symbolic, but according to Licensed Psychologist and Adjunct Professor Christina Kirsch, the totem acts as a tangible reminder of the promise for some couples. “For many, a wedding ring is more of a token that serves as a physical and concrete manifestation of this new phase in their life and identity,” Kirsch explains. “A ring may help ground them in their transition from their identity as a single entity to one that is now merged with another as a single unit.”
So, we know wedding bands help some couples feel married, but how does a simple ring carry such weight? According to both experts, it has a lot to do with what the ring symbolizes to the rest of the world. “A wedding ring is a visual of the commitment and is a way to show society what your marital status is. While I choose to focus more on how it impacts the couple versus the outside world, it does lead others to make an initial judgment if wearing a wedding band,” says Cooper.
Kirsch adds that it can help those who have experienced, or are healing from, an unstable commitment. “For some who, perhaps, have a history of trauma within relationships (infidelity and so on) this external communication to the world of their commitment and assumed monogamy is very valued as a means of coping as they navigate relinquishing some of the maladaptive cognitive/behavioral ways they’ve learned to preserve their emotional well-being in relationships,” she says. By having something physical that you (and the rest of the world) can look at, the brain understands the level of commitment that you—or someone else—is involved in.
Deciding whether to include wedding bands as part of your ceremony and/or relationship is a very personal choice, and can only be decided between the couple themselves. “We all have different values and beliefs of what marriage can be that is shaped from how we grew up, past relationships we have had, the religion we believe or don't believe in, and our ethnicity/culture,” explains Cooper, and deciding to wear a ring isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision for couples.
“A ring is nothing more than a physical representation of a commitment, shared bond, and a transition from one identity to another,” notes Kirsch. Some people may need that tangible object to help them feel grounded/emotionally safe through that transition, whereas others don’t. “If the couple is on the same page about how they will navigate this process (with or without a wedding ring), then that’s really what matters most,” she explains.
While there’s no rule that says you need a wedding band or any sort of alternative, some couples find a physical reminder to be an important part of the bonding ritual. If rings aren’t your style, “any token that helps the couple feel connected to one another” can work, explains Kirsch. In addition to a different type of jewelry (think necklaces, bracelets, or even earrings), some couples utilize matching tattoos to commemorate the day.
That being said, some people choose to forgo the act of something tangible all together. “Other couples may perceive the traditions and ceremonies associated with a wedding as a sufficient shared experience to help mark this process of the change in their identities,” Kirsch says. A ritualistic accompaniment to their ceremony, such as planting a tree or having a handfasting can serve as a spiritual bonding, as opposed to a ring exchange.
In addition to tattoos, jewelry, and ceremony additions, another great way to honor your bond and mark the occasion is to opt for a shared experience. “I know some couples who have chosen to invest the money they would’ve spent on rings on another experience like a vacation or a down payment on a home that they will share together,” says Cooper. “I think any large decision that a couple decides on together early in their marriage can help them feel married.”
While experts agree wedding rings can make a couple feel married, that doesn’t mean that they make every couple feel married. Choosing to exchange bands is a personal choice that may or may not be right for your relationship, so chat together to come up with a ritual that feels right for you. As long as it represents your love, you can ensure that it’ll help you feel the bond.