When Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner announced in June that their 10-year marriage had ended, their split followed the traditional post-separation script: Affleck moved out, and the two entered mediation to hammer out custody and financial arrangements.
Yet there’s one breakup step they skipped: Neither Affleck nor Garner has removed the wedding ring. Though they haven’t discussed it publicly, photos of the two taken after they officially broke up reveal their still-banded fingers.
Divorcing duos who continue to keep a ring on it appears to be a new trend. Newly single dads Patrick Dempsey and Lamar Odom reportedly still wear their wedding bands. And noncelebrity moms and dads who have dissolved their marriages also seem to be in no hurry to reveal a bare ring finger.
True, there’s no official moment when a separated spouse has to stash the wedding rock in a drawer. But once a split is in the works, it stands to reason that the ring should come off, in part because not wearing it can help a person accept that it’s time to move on.
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So why would an ex, in particular a parent, have a hard time doing just that? It might be about making kids feel secure. By all accounts, Garner and Affleck are devoted to their three children; in their joint statement announcing their breakup, they made it clear that they shared a “commitment to coparenting.”
Keeping wedding rings on signals to kids that the end of their parents’ marriage doesn’t mean the entire family has broken up, or that Mom and Dad don’t still love each other.
“Wearing the wedding ring helps children manage the fear they have when their parents divorce,” Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Yahoo Parenting. “It is a visual sign that security and safety remain in the family.” This is especially important for very young children who don’t have the language skills to fully process the enormity of a split, he says.
Another reason it’s so hard to go ringless has to do with the status that wedding rings have in just about every culture. “For centuries, a simple band of gold has symbolized acceptance into one of the world’s most venerated institutions: the institution of marriage,” says Hokemeyer.
Having a bare ring finger, then, can make a divorcing spouse feel she’s lost her place in a society that puts a premium on official coupledom.
“Marriage represents validation and passage from a state of vulnerability and dependence into adulthood and strength,” says Hokemeyer. “It’s a privilege that is earned and therefore incredibly valuable to our self-concept and self-esteem.”
Also, even the most amicable divorce — as Garner and Affleck maintain theirs is — can be a destabilizing, traumatic life change. Holding on to the ring can help a former spouse feel grounded, and weather the transition from coupled to solo.
“When the person going through a divorce feels like their world is spinning out of control due to the dissolution of their marriage, they can reground themselves by glancing down at their ring and be flooded by memories and reflections of better, more solid and affirming times,” says Hokemeyer.
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