The Newly Widowed and Their Wedding Ring

When a spouse is suddenly killed it seems odd to think of ourselves as “unmarried.”  This is especially so if the marriage was a good one, or an effort was being made by both partners to improve it.

The “ring quandary” is present with every widow or widower, regardless of the cause of death.

When do we remove our wedding ring?  Stop checking the “married” box on forms?  How much time passes before we learn to say “late husband” or “we were married” instead of using present-tense terms?

Many External Factors

Cultural norms, spiritual beliefs, values, circumstances of the death, whether the couple discussed the idea of remarriage after the death of the other, and other variables influence the decision to remove a wedding band – or not. But regardless of when or if it happens, the abruptly-single person can feel disloyal or guilty for turning the page in their book of life.

Some spouses remove their ring after the funeral, as an act of acceptance and finality.  Others do so months or years later as their grief softens.  Some never do. For this last group, it’s a statement of faithfulness to their late spouse.

Remarriage among widows and widowers is most common between 2 – 10 years after death.

Interestingly, research tells us that a desire for remarriage is weakest in widows and widowers with strong, lasting, and available friendships.  That is, people with numerous and supportive friends express less desire for remarriage.

Younger widows and widowers more frequently express a desire to never re-marry. In other words, older un-partnered people, remarry (not cohabitate) more frequently than those under age 34.  But this doesn’t mean that younger people aren’t romantically involved.

And gender is a factor, too. Men tend to remarry in higher numbers, and earlier, than women.  I once knew a widow, age 55, who confessed to me she was suspicious of remarriage. She “didn’t want a man looking for a nurse and a purse.”

Health is another variable, especially in older couples.  If we accept our new partner “in sickness and in health” and they have brittle diabetes, two heart stents, and a history of stroke, it’s a reality that needs to be discussed.

Practical Issues

Practical issues need to be put on the table, too.  If there are children from the initial marriage, what about the inheritance?  Would a pre-nuptial agreement help?  If one has never had children and the other has just launched their youngest, will the desire for children be a stumbling block?  Is talk of the murdered spouse acceptable within the new relationship?  What about keeping their photo on display?  Are there age, religious, or cultural differences to address in the re-partnership?  Are the children of the deceased parent ready to accept a step-parent?  Will the remarriage require a big geographic move or just a local one?  As for the new residence, will one sell their home and move in with the other, or will they pool their resources and purchase a new place? These and other considerations are a necessary reality check on readiness to move ahead.

Can We Agree on This?

Two things we can probably agree on are these:  Rebound relationships are fragile.  Grief must be addressed before readiness for a new partner.  The odds of success increase if a happy, single lifestyle is first established.  Second, it’s a big step in the grieving process when we can protect and cherish the past without remaining stuck in it.  That is, it’s a big deal to understand we’re entitled to feel joy and loss.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Experiencing both is not a sign of disloyalty or disrespect.

The desire to date and remarry after the death of a partner is a highly personal and important one.

Someone once told me that being a widow is somewhat like folding a fitted sheet. No one really is an expert at it. 

This I know.  There are no shortcuts.  The only way to move ahead is to trudge right through it one day at a time.  And it takes as long as it takes.

For more detailed information and for other resources, please refer to my book What Now? Navigating the Aftermath of Homicide and Suicide, available now on Amazon.

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I’m Jan Canty. Psychologist, author, podcast host, speaker…  and homicide survivor.

I am passionate about finding ways to support and help other so-called “homicide or suicide survivors.”

No one should have to go through this kind of loss… but if you do, I want you to know… YOU ARE NOT ALONE! 

You aren’t crazy. It’s not your imagination! Society does not know how to comfort us. Fortunately, we know how to comfort one another.

Check out my books and get tools and resources to help you or someone you love!