Why I Stopped Wearing My Wedding Ring
Taking off jewelry doesn't mean giving up on the commitment
If you believe the movies then you know that a wedding day is surrounded by pure bliss, fireworks of love and happiness. Rose petals line the church aisle and lead you to a fairy-ish day that blossoms into a lifetime of being cherished more than a fox cherishes its morning kill. If you believe the movies that is…
My “fairy tale” is more similar to the Brothers Grimm The Little Mermaid than Disney’s Cinderella. I had the career, the house-in-renovation-mode, and more friends than digits. My aging eggs, however, ganged up with my arms who desperately wanted my own babies to cuddle and stay up all night with. A slight mental shift had me wanting more permanence in life with a partner. It started shrieking at me to find them a sperm donor.
And on that happy note, I sought something different than my usual, passion-filled relationships. I sought a Nice Guy. At the local curling club, I found one. I dragged him from his abode in his parents’ basement into a marriage that shocked both of us.
Him — quiet, unassuming and lazy. Me — overly demanding, confident and adventurous. Together we developed somewhat of a rhythm. Though the happy times are outweighed by the uncomfortable, frustrating ones, our 16 years have been “interesting”. I call him my friend. We have two incredible children. We have traveled to places my husband never knew existed. And he has helped calm my home-life existence into a less-hyped-up version of a cobra-waiting-to-strike.
[Author’s note: This is the simplified version, of course. Before the “next part” occurred I was going to leave him. I had given him the wonderfully ridiculous ultimatum of a year to straighten up and start actually being an active part of parenthood and of our relationship. Sharing this may make later emotions more understandable. I missed out on pure bliss, passionate love, and happiness. I don’t know what being cherished, let alone appreciated, is. And so, the very idea of suddenly being a caregiver for someone I don’t even like adds a whole different palette of complex and vibrantly hued sentiments.]
Then, Alzheimer’s wandered into our lives. Of course, it had visited before: his grandma, great uncle, and great uncle’s daughter (second cousin? cousin first removed? I never remember?). As well as his quiet, unassuming mother who had only died less than a year before my husband’s diagnosis. This time it was our home it chose to move into. Dragging in its boxes brimming with irritating attitudes and actions and suitcases filled with annoying costumes — who will I make your husband into today?
Fast forward a few years. Here sits an ever-frustrated and often-angry wife, bitter that her previous role of doing absolutely everything around the house is now a necessity. And one that now includes a non-teachable toddler/ husband.
It’s both baffling and depressing when you can’t even ask your spouse to take the recycling to the shed. The journey may be only 50 feet, but before he gets the 10 feet inside the house to the recycling box he has already forgotten. He is looking out the window or grabbing something from his section on the shoe rack.
Even if I do follow him to the blue boxes and he does pick them up, he is likely to set them down outside the door when he bends to pet the cat. Even if I follow him, his angry scowl spitting at me to trust him to do this one job, all the way to the shed he will dump the cans into the paper and vice versa. I then will then have to disgustingly empty out and sort — when he isn’t present so he doesn’t get offended and angry.
Wedding and engagement rings are symbols of excitement and commitment to a partner. When I stare at mine, bitter bile wells up…I have a husband who is not a husband.
What does a husband mean? That, of course, depends on whom you ask as well as cultural and religious expectations. According to Oxford, that definition is simple:
“a married man considered in relation to his spouse”.
Webster’s answer is a much more sexist, outdated one which claims “Husband(noun) the male head of a household; one who orders the economy of a family. Husband(noun) a cultivator; a tiller; a husbandman”.
In North American culture where many women “supplement” household earnings or, like in my case, earn a significant amount more than our spouses, definitions based on “ordering the economy of a family” seem ridiculous.
In the USA, Canada and the UK, women work an average of 90 minutes more in the home than men do, with men’s daily leisure time averaging about 45 minutes more per day. Julie Mahfood, 10 Countries Where Women Do The Most Housework
So, putting income and household economy aside, let’s investigate what a husband is/does and my own reality — both in the past and currently, with Alzheimer’s involved.
This will convoluted and lengthy explanation will link to my reasons for not wearing a wedding band, I promise.
[Side note: I realize that “shoulds” can be dangerous — “When we use the word “should,” we’re not accepting reality. We’re talking about things that we wish were so, but aren’t (or vice versa)” (Hannah Braime). And I also realize that these “shoulds” are certainly personal. But I am using them here.]
A husband should be involved in an intimate, sexual relationship with his wife. For me, and my understanding of my marital commitment, this is the one thing I am allowed with my spouse that I am prohibited from doing with anyone else. Whether you agree with the Bible or not, here is what it says:
the husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Corinthians 7:3–4 ESV)
Notice that oft-forgotten or left out bit about how both spouses are to have authority over one another’s bodies? So what happens when the spouse no longer (or even rarely did, ever) has sex with his wife? What happens when physically intimate acts such as hugs, arm brushes as walking past, and ultimately intercourse are no longer a part of your marriage? And never will be again.
A husband should be involved in the raising of children. My husband was always the “Fun Daddy”. You know: the one who, while he was supposed to be tucking kids into bed and saying prayers was, instead, wrestling them into awake-ness and hooting loud enough for neighbors to post noise complaints. Even then, though, we could discuss our opinions on parenting techniques. This is no longer the case. When “conversations” include asking about the weather 18 times within 12 minutes and discussions that look like this…
Me: What are you doing?
Husband (sending picture of our kids to a relative): I’m sending a picture. I wrote “Guess what they’re doing? It doesn’t involve a butterfly.”
Me (looking at picture that has nothing to do with butterflies, or anything remotely to do with winged creatures, or even with being in nature): What? What do you mean?
Husband: I mean, it doesn’t involve butterflies…you know…
Me: No, I don’t. Why did you mention butterflies?
Husband: I don’t know. I’m just making her guess.
You can understand that we aren’t able to discuss expectations or consequences for our children. You can understand that when your children are suddenly parenting their father. My husband must be accompanied now on every “mission” and needs assistance with almost every task. There is no longer an involvement on his behalf in the raising of our children.
A husband and wife should have some sort of “common ground”. Zosia Bielski, in her article “Spouses of Those With Dementia Face Radically Altered Marriages”, refers to this as “mutuality”. What happens when there is no connection? It’s extremely lonely when partners no longer — and never will again — have that exchange, that reciprocity? Larry, on WellSpouse.org explains it like this:
“Spousal caregivers face a different paradigm than most others. If you’re caring for an ill child or a parent, you can still go home to your spouse and support network and feel comfortable there. A spousal caregiver doesn’t have that option”
Yes, sure, I have committed to this man — “in sickness and in health”. I understand that commitment and yet I wonder.
Boss also shares that many caregiving partners “feel both married and not married”. My husband may still know me, but he is not a husband anymore.
So instead of painfully staring at my wedding and engagement ring, wishing for a caring spouse to emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually interact with me, I am going to take them off. I am going to let go of the marital expectations I have — the ones that surface and suffocate when I glance at my bejeweled finger.
I can keep the commitment without keeping the diamonds. I can commit to taking care of another human, albeit one I don’t particularly like anymore, because I am a compassionate, kind, and strong woman. I can do this without committing to wearing my rings.
People don’t have to understand. They don’t have to “get it”.
“Don’t judge until you walk a mile in my shoes” Barry Peterson
My life hasn’t looked like a movie and, unless Still Alice is in the lineup, likely isn’t ever to resemble the big screen misinterpretations of life, love, and marriage.
Forget the fireworks. Forget the rose petals. Forget the rings.
© Jennifer J. McDougall 2021