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Returning the Wedding Ring

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The Superpower Lottery has no defense against heartbreak.

Donna: Are you breaking up with me?
Eric: Are you giving me back the ring?
Donna: Yes.
That '70s Show, "The Promise Ring"

The ultimate sign that a relationship is over is when the ring is given back in some manner. It's usually the woman returning it to the man as an inverse of the man offering it during the initial proposal, and despite the name can just as easily be an engagement ring instead of a wedding ring.

The symbolism of this trope is readily apparent to the point it's not necessary to verbally state a relationship has ended when it's used, making it a good example of Show, Don't Tell. Depending on the characters involved and the level of sympathy the audience is expected to feel for them, the one doing the returning may be portrayed as either trying to be gentle or rubbing salt in the wound, particularly if the ring is simply left for their partner to find, often accompanied by a Wham Shot with or without a "Dear John" Letter left with it to explain their reasoning for the breakup. In person versions may either be handed back gently, dropped on the ground or physically thrown at their partner.

Compare Wedding Ring Removal, Wedding Ring Defense and Lost Wedding Ring, which all involve using the ring in other contexts. Related to Take Back Your Gift, which may include a ring but can cover other types of presents as well.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Fly Me to the Moon, this briefly occurs in the storyline where Tsukasa disappears when she loses faith in Nasa's promise to her, given that he forgot he made it due to blood loss. After Tsukasa leaves it atop a bench in the church, Nasa tells her to stop and is able to remember again. The marriage is kept in tact when he reaffirms the promise to her.
  • In Future GPX Cyber Formula ZERO, Asuka throws her engagement ring at Hayato after he decides to return to racing, thereby breaking his promise to not to race again after a near-fatal crash. They reconcile their relationship later.
  • In Monster, Eva callously drops her engagement ring at Tenma's feet before walking inside to start flirting with the guy who got Tenma's promotion instead of him.
  • Marmalade Boy anime did similar things, but not with actual rings:
    • In the anime and the manga, Miki's Crazy Jealous Guy Kei takes a medallion (anime) or a bracelet (manga) that was very meaningful for Yuu and Miki and gives it to Yuu, claiming that Miki has told him that doesn't want to be Yuu's girlfriend any longer. Yuu is savvy enough to see through the lie and tells Miki that he didn't believe Kei's clame as he returns the trinket to her, but they still break off for a very short while.
    • The second time takes place only in the anime. When Miki visits Yuu in the USA, Yuu's Clingy Jealous Girl Ginny tells her that she is Yuu's other woman and sends Miki in an Heroic BSoD. She believes and forgives Yuu when he explains the situation to her, but tells him that she's emotionally exhausted with their Long-Distance Relationship and breaks up with him: the turning point is when she gives Yuu back a voice-recording toy that he had given her, which has the same effect as a ring return. This break up is far, far more serious, and it takes them several episodes (and several months in-story) to start dating again.
  • In one manga version of Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, Deridre is kidnapped and brainwashed by Manfroy so that she can marry Arvis. To symbolize how she's no longer married to Sigurd, he takes off her ring and throws it away.
  • In the cut beginning of Pokémon: The First Movie, Dr. Fuji's wife leaves him this way with a Match Cut.

    Comic Books 
  • In JLA: Act of God Lois Lane gives her ring back to Superman after his wangst over his depowering becomes too much for her to handle.
  • Superman: During a brief storyarc in the 90s, Lois began to question whether or not a life with Superman was what she wanted. Issue #720 of Action Comics ends with Clark returning home and finding her engagement ring on the dresser.
  • In yet another Superman story, Frankenstein wears his ex-bride's wedding ring alongside his own. He offers it to her after they have a bonding experience, and she drops it at his feet.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld redesigned by A.A. Pessimal, a married couple are contracted to assess applicants for assisted places at the Assassins' Guild School. Having whittled the applicants down to the outstanding very best, in the final assessment interview a candidate is challenged to work out whether his interviewer's rings are the Lady T'Malia sort, or not. He is invited to take his interviewer's wedding and engagement rings off her hand to study them more closely. Although only just eleven years old, the potential student Assassin wonders if a woman's wedding ring is meant to come off heer finger so easily. He looks at her husband, another member of the interview panel, and it dawns on him that she is making a point.
    Do not assume this ring will remain on my finger. I can take it off very easily and never put it back on again.

  • 10 Cloverfield Lane opens with Michelle leaving town after having a fight with her fiance, and we see her leave her house keys and engagement ring behind.
  • Several adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol have Belle do this when she ends her engagement to the young Scrooge (as shown by the Ghost of Christmas Past), although the original book never mentions it. The Albert Finney musical Scrooge (1970) offers an especially memorable variation: Scrooge is updating his ledgers when Belle enters his office, and annuls their engagement by tossing her ring onto one side of a balance scale, and dropping a gold crown onto the other. Of course, the crown weighs more, signifying that Scrooge's love of money outweighs his love for Belle.
  • In Fantastic Four (2005), Ben Grimm calls his fiancee, Debbie, and tries to talk to her about what had happened to him in space, but is too nervous to speak clearly about it. All he does is confuse and scare her. When she sees him in the light of day, despite him helping save the lives of a bunch of New Yorkers, she walks to the front of the crowd, shakes her head at him, takes off her engagement ring and leaves it on the blacktop — adding insult to injury because Ben's giant stone Thing-fingers can't even pick the ring up. Reed Richards picks it up and places it in his hand.
  • One character in the Alien Invasion movie Grey Skies removes her wedding ring after her husband is taken over by the aliens. At the end, she puts it back on after getting taken over herself.
  • 100 Feet: The protagonist finally gets the ghost of her abusive husband to pass on by throwing her wedding ring at him at the climax of the film after all of her other attempts to get rid of him failed.
  • Invoked by Claudius, against Ophelia's will, in Ophelia. He forces her to give back tokens of Hamlet's affection, his ring and the ribbon she wore it on, while he and Polonius secretly observe to determine Hamlet's reaction to her rejection. Hamlet is initially confused more than anything because they were literally married only yesterday, until Ophelia subtly tips him off as to what's really going on.
  • In Resident Evil (2002), Spence and Alice were pretending to be a married couple. Near the end of the movie Spence betrays Alice and is turned into a zombie. After she kills him, she drops her wedding ring next to his body.
  • In The Sixth Sense, Dr. Crowe's wife drops a wedding ring and lets it roll across the floor to signify the end of their marriage. In this case, the relationship is over because Crowe has been dead for over a year. The ring his wife drops is his, which he is no longer wearing because he's a ghost.
  • Venom (2018) has Anne remove her engagement ring and hand it back to Eddie after his betrayal of her trust costs her her job.
  • The Parent Trap (1998) The twins' father reveals his former fiancee returned the ring by throwing it at his head.
  • The Scent of Green Papaya: The composer's girlfriend ends her room-wrecking tantrum, after they breakup, by leaving her engagement ring on a table and walking out.
  • In Ready or Not (2019), newlyweds Grace and Alex are the last two surviving members of the LeDomas family, and Grace has had it. She takes off her ring, bounces it off his chest, and tells him she wants a divorce. He promptly explodes.
  • IQ: Implied. When Catherine informs an incredulous James that she's calling off their engagement because she's fallen in love with Ed, she noticeably is no longer wearing her engagement ring.

  • An old joke:
    Her: That's it! We're done! I can't live with such a... miser anymore! Here, take back this engagement ring of yours!
    Him: Wait wait wait, and where is the box?

  • Diana Villiers does this to Stephen in one of the Aubrey-Maturin novels; when he receives the letter in which she breaks their engagement, he can feel the ring inside the envelope before he even reads the message.
  • In the Carl Hiaasen novel Sick Puppy, the female protagonist had been engaged four times, broke the engagement four times, and returned the ring three times. The fourth she kept, not out of sentimental reasons, but because the breakup was over her fiance developing a disturbing fascination with body piercings, and she was afraid of what he'd do with it if it was returned.
    • In the case of her first fiance, whom she caught cheating with a stripper, she didn't actually return the ring to him, instead she flushed it down the toilet in front of him.
  • Discworld:
    • In Wintersmith, after Tiffany defeats the Wintersmith, he leaves behind an iron nail which she fashions into a ring. When the Morris dancers drop by for the year, she gives the ring back to a man with the Wintersmith's eyes as a way to say that it would never work out since she's a human and the Wintersmith is basically a force of nature.
    • Averted by a woman mentioned in Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, who had enough rings to make a charm bracelet. Even Nanny notes that this is "not a cultured thing to do".
  • A non-ring example occurs in the third Earth's Children novel. When she decides to call off their impending marriage, Ayla returns the mutii (a carved figurine of the Great Earth Mother) that her Promised Ranec had made for their Matrimonial (the Mamutoi traditionally make a mutii to protect the new hearth they create once they're married). He keeps it as a reminder of her for years afterwards.
  • In Blandings Castle, Fiery Redhead Sandy Callender isn't content with merely returning her fiance's ring:
    "So she gave you back the ring?"
    "She threw it at me. You may have noticed the slight abrasion on my left cheek."
  • A platonic example occurs in Speak, when Heather rejects her outcast friend Melinda in favor of the popular Martha clique and seals the deal by giving her back the necklace she received from her for Christmas.
  • In a Sweet Valley High book, a girl gives her fiancé back his engagement ring, realizing what a jerk he's become since they got engaged, that they are nowhere near ready for marriage, and that they're doing this mostly to stick it to their parents (who used to be friends, but had a falling out).
  • Vatta's War: Kylara and her boyfriend at the military academy exchanged class rings as a token of affection. Kylara later went against regs to help a classmate from a religious minority meet with a priest from his religion, assuming he was having a rough time and felt in need of spiritual guidance. Said classmate used that meeting to leak highly sensitive information that landed several august members of the faculty in the cack, and Kylara was forced to leave the academy in disgrace. As part of this, her boyfriend not only returned her ring in his extremely harsh "Dear John" Letter, but also defaced the academy seal on it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Agent Carter during a flashback to Peggy's life back in England she was engaged to be married, turning down an opportunity to take work in the field undercover, which her brother had recommended her for. After word comes that her brother has been killed in action, she packs her bags and leaves, taking the letter offering the position and leaving her engagement ring in its place.
  • The second-season premiere of Quantico has Alex returning the engagement ring Ryan gave her.
  • Played for Laughs on Seinfeld. Elaine discovers her bald boyfriend actually shaves his head. She encourages him to grow it out and he discovers that he's going bald for real. Under George's advice, he gets engaged to her. Then, he has an altercation with the police and arrested. When he tells her how long he'll be in jail and she realizes he'll lose even more hair in that time, she gives back the ring.
  • In an episode of 7th Heaven, Mary and Lucy are still holding onto the engagement rings from their ex-boyfriends, while a subplot involves Ruthie's teacher telling her about how she gave back the ring from her ex not long ago. This inspires Ruthie to convince her big sisters to mail the rings back to the guys to show they're over them.
  • In the third season finale of That '70s Show, Eric gives a promise ring to Donna, who takes it as a statement that he wants her to be a House Wife instead of having a career and seeing the world, so she gives the ring back. Taking it as she doesn't want to be with him, Eric breaks up with Donna.
  • In the second episode of Friends Rachel has to return her engagement ring to the fiance she left at the altar in the previous episode. To make matters worse, the ring goes missing before she can see him.
  • General Hospital. When Karen breaks up with Jason because she's fallen in love with Jagger, she removes the necklace he gave her only a few hours earlier and hands it back to him. She caps it off by showing up at his house the next day to return his letter jacket as well.

  • "This Diamond Ring" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys is about a young man whose girl gave him back the diamond ring. He's so heartbroken that he's trying to sell it just to get rid of it, but he hopes that the new buyer has much better luck with it than he did.
  • In the Music Video for "Let's Get Married" by Jagged Edge, Sarah is frustrated (and not for the first time) with her fiancé Trent putting friends and fun before her. The last straw is when she calls him for emotional support while wedding-dress shopping (the night before the wedding!), and he's at his Stag Party, where one of the strippers hangs up his phone on her. She calls off the engagement, and returns the ring to Trent, who is left sitting on the steps of the church contemplating What Could Have Been. The video then rewinds to that party, and Trent leaves to take the call, and the wedding goes as planned.
  • Madina Lake's music video to "One Last Kiss" starts with the ex-girlfriend giving back a ring and walking away.
  • Inversion on verse two of The Beatles' "I'm Down":
    Man buys ring, woman throws it away,
    Same old thing happens every day.

    Myth And Legend 
  • There's an old story told at Renaissance Faires that puzzle rings used to be given as engagement and/or wedding rings, and that when a bride no longer wanted to be married to her husband, she would dismantle the interlocking rings and leave the undone ring for him to find.

  • This is Older Than Radio. The final scene of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House has Nora return her wedding band to her husband Torvald and take back his, before leaving him.
  • In the opera Carmen, the last thing Carmen does before Don Jose stabs her to death is remove a ring he gave her and throw it at his feet.
  • In the opera Lucia di Lammermoor lovers Lucia and Edgardo exchange rings as they secretly pledge faith to each other. When Lucia is forced by her brother to marry another man, Edgardo disrupts the wedding in a jealous rage and throws Lucia's ring back at her. This leads to Lucia's dramatic Sanity Slippage in the following act.
  • In The Phantom of the Opera, Erik/The Phantom gives Christine a ring and makes her promise to wear it after he agrees to release her from captivity. Eventually she goes to return it when she decides to leave with Raoul, and depending on the particular production this may include Erik attempting to give it back to her again.

    Video Games 
  • In Borderlands 2, Axton's wife and CO returns her wedding ring after telling him that he is in no way to go AWOL and flee to Pandora after his Glory Hound ways get him court martialed.
  • After the opening of Fallout 4, you can recover your (murdered) spouse's ring from their corpse (your character's is still in your inventory). Neither really fulfills any purpose apart from this trope. It's even possible to later give the ring to any other character you begin a relationship with, though the game doesn't make any special note of this.
  • Near the end of Serena the protagonist finds his wife's wedding ring in her jewelry box, which tells him for certain that she's not coming back.

  • Yumi's Cells: Babi gives Yumi a ring as a gift in a Bait-and-Switch proposal. After they break up, Yumi discusses returning the ring with a friend and finds out the ring was part of an exclusive set of wedding rings. Yumi and Babi eventually get back together, and she asks him about the ring. He proposes to her, and she realizes she doesn't love him anymore, giving back the ring before they part ways for good.

    Western Animation 
  • In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Bruce Wayne's fiancée, Andrea Beaumont, breaks up with him by leaving the engagement ring and a "Dear John" Letter for him to find.
  • On The Simpsons, in the episode "Lisa's Wedding", Lisa returns her engagement ring to her wealthy English fiancé, just minutes before the wedding, upon finding out that not only does he not want to wear the "traditional" pig cufflinks Homer gave him, but that he plans to take her away from her family forever because (he feels) that they're just too dysfunctional and uncouth.
  • Subverted in Young Justice: Outsiders. In the beginning of the season, Conner asks M'gann to marry him and she agrees. By the final episode, it's been revealed that she's been secretly helping The Team and the Outsiders by acting like The Light and the two start arguing. As the episode ends, M'gann tries to return the ring back, but Conner instead apologizes for his asshattery and asks for M'gann forgive him. She does and they reconcile.