The Wedding Series – The Wedding Bands

With this ring I thee wed and with all that I am
and with all that I have I honor you.

The exchange of wedding bands during the marriage ceremony is another highlight that is at once joyful and solemn, and much anticipated by all, especially the bride and groom. The ring having no beginning and no end symbolizes the continuous and endless commitment that the bride and groom are making to each other. The rings are meant to be worn forever as a symbol of that commitment and to make known to the world that such a commitment has been made.

And, as with all thing connected to the wedding ceremony, there is etiquette to observe in the ceremonial exchange of wedding bands. 

The Words

The officiant introduces the exchange of the wedding bands. The officiant may use traditional wording, compose his or her own words, or collaborate on the introduction with the bride and groom. There are many examples of wording to use, and thought should be put into them by both the officiant and the couple.

Likewise, it’s usual for the bride and groom to speak the appropriate words to each other as they exchange wedding bands. The most recognized are the words used in the caption under the graphic above, i.e., “With this ring I thee wed and with all that I am and with all that I have I honor you.” However, there are many variations on these words; as well, some couples might wish to compose their own words as they exchange rings following their wedding vows. And it’s always more meaningful when the bride and groom use each other’s names, both when saying their vows and exchanging wedding bands.

Closest to the Heart

An ancient belief that the finger on the left hand next to the pinkie contains a vein that leads directly to the heart prompted the tradition of placing the engagement ring and later the wedding band on this finger; we even refer to this digit as the “ring finger.” Medical science, however, has disproved this belief; apparently, the structure of all the fingers is essentially the same. But while we have been enlightened scientifically this romantic tradition has largely prevailed, and we continue to place engagement rings and wedding bands on this particular finger.

Therefore, first the engagement ring is worn on the ring finger but removed temporarily prior to the wedding ceremony to make room for the wedding band, which traditionally is worn closest to the heart. After the ceremony the engagement ring may be replaced on the finger, on top of the wedding band.

The exchange of wedding bands during the marriage ceremony typically follows the exchange of vows and is the last ritual before the officiant pronounces the couple husband and wife, followed by the couple sealing the deal with a kiss.

The Engagement Ring Vis-a-Vis the Wedding Band

The engagement ring symbolizes the promise of marriage and the wedding band represents the fulfillment of that promise. But how do you juggle them on your wedding day?

A bride might opt to leave her engagement ring on her left hand during the wedding ceremony as her groom slips her wedding band on top of it. She would then reverse them after the ceremony or later. However, I do not recommend this option. In my view, the following suggestions deal with the issue more gracefully:

  • Leave the Engagement Ring at Home – You don’t need it on your wedding day, you know it is safe and you can slip it on over the wedding band when you arrive home.
  • Wear the Engagement Ring On the Right Hand – This is an easy solution, one in which either the bride or groom can slip it back on the ring finger over the wedding band following the ceremony.
  • The MOH May Hold Both Rings – The Maid of Honor can simply hand both rings to the groom and he can slip them on in the proper order, i.e., first the wedding band and then the engagement ring.
  • Engagement Ring-Wedding Band Combo – Some brides choose to combine their engagement ring and wedding band into one beautiful piece. An engagement ring is not necessary to an engagement — only the commitment of the couple to each other is required. Thus, the combination ring is placed on the bride’s ring finger during the wedding ceremony.

The Groom’s Wedding Band

A bit of controversy exists over the issue of men wearing wedding bands. Some are proud to wear one and others prefer not to adorn themselves, thank you very much. Speaking from a woman’s point of view, I have always found married men who wear wedding bands to be more endearing, charming, confident and supremely trustworthy. Especially in my single days, when I did not wear the wedding band that has adorned my finger for the past 36 years, every married man who “hit” on me was missing a wedding ring. Some of my female friends also experienced this occurrence. As a result, my experience has been to trust and admire a man who displays his marital commitment in such a straightforward manner. My husband of 36 years always has worn his wedding band.

Upper class British men, such as Prince William, tend not to wear wedding bands. Some American men, who tend not to observe issues of social class as a matter of principle, might not wear wedding bands based on a variety of more practical reasons, including allergies to metals; a danger in certain lines of work (such as electrician, plumber, mechanic, surgeon — although these men might wear their wedding bands in social situations); weight gain or loss in which the ring no longer fits well; or an injury to or disease of the hand that makes it uncomfortable to wear a ring. Just try not to lose your wedding ring when you remove it! It is my belief that whether she is a new bride or celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary, a woman appreciates it when her spouse wears a wedding band.

But even for American men, wearing a wedding band is a recent social phenomenon. It was pretty rare before WWII; after WWII the economic boom made it possible for couples to purchase two wedding bands, and so a trend began. But even then it was more common for a woman to wear a wedding band because of the double standard set for women and men; women wore wedding bands as a status symbol (she got her man!) and to demonstrate that she was not an unwed mother if she was seen with tots in tow.

Today men have the option of wearing one or not; but I believe both members of the marriage should wear them, to get the marriage off on the right foot as well as on equal footing.

Of course, as with any wedding details there can be hiccups, and that includes the ring exchange. How many times have we seen movies or sketches in which the hapless best man discovers that he does not have the wedding bands, or the ring bearer somehow manages to drop them? In times like these we often have to let go of the original plans, best practices and even proper etiquette in favor of making a quick recovery. If this occurs, keep your sense of humor and your eye on the happily-ever-after part!

Until next time,


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