Rory: He took the ring off!
Lorelai: [horrified] Oh my god.
Maybe they don't want to give away the fact that they're married (particularly to a person they intend to commit infidelity with), which would make this the opposite of the Wedding Ring Defense. Or the wedding ring is an unwelcome reminder of their ties to their spouse. Perhaps their spouse is their Morality Chain, and they need to unbind themselves from them in order to carry out some morally questionable act. Or perhaps the character is a widow(er), and their taking off their wedding ring is a sign that they've moved on from their dead spouse (or are at least trying to move on). Yet another variation is the character not wanting a villain to realize they are married and track down their loved one. Sometimes the activity about to be carried out is just messy, and they don't want to get their ring dirty...but the act of removing the ring draws stares or commentary from other characters, or someone sees the now naked ring finger and assumes the character who took his/her ring off is back in the dating pool.
Note that the character need not necessarily still be married for this trope to be used: they could be a widow(er), or even separated or divorced. Sometimes the character is only engaged, and removes their engagement ring.
Closely related to Lost Wedding Ring. Compatriots Insignia Rip-Off Ritual, when someone removes a (usually police or military) rank insignia to symbolize their resignation or that they are about to act against the organization's principles. Compare and contrast the Wedding Ring Defense, where a character wears a wedding or engagement ring to fool others into thinking they're unavailable... and can take the ring off anytime. Meanwhile, Returning the Wedding Ring signifies the end of a relationship.
In Real Life, this act rarely carries the gravity that it does in fiction, and there are plenty of legitimate reasons for removing one's wedding ring, such as when washing dishes or carrying out electrical repairs. If there is some trivial reason such as these for a character to remove their ring, it's not an example of this trope.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, while Athrun and Cagalli weren't married technically speaking, their decision to break off their relationship to focus on their missions was sealed by Cagalli removing a ring that he had given her.
- In a filler episode of the Rurouni Kenshin anime, a guy who had a fight with his girlfriend threw the engagement ring he wanted to give her into a local river. It was eaten by a carp fish, then Kenshin caught the fish and gave the ring to his girlfriend Kaoru without knowing what this action meant, and Hilarity Ensued. At the end of the episode the ring was given back to the owners, and the were seen chatting happily as the girl wears it.
- In 52, Ralph Dibney at one point sacrifices his wedding ring as part of his efforts to bring his beloved wife Sue back from the dead.
- An unconventional example used with an engagement ring in We Are the Night. Helena is nearly forced into an engagement ceremony with Damian's Evil Doppelgänger Xu'ffasch, complete with a ring. After being rescued, Helena sees she's still wearing the ring, which she rips off in disgust and crushes underfoot for good measure.
- In Phone Booth, Stu takes off his wedding ring just before calling the woman he intends to have an affair with. After going through a lengthy Trauma Conga Line, he puts it back on near the end of the film.
- In the opening scene of The Rock, Hummel takes off his wedding ring before going to visit his wife's grave, apologizing in advance for the terrorist act he is about to carry out.
- Played with in Natural Born Killers: Mallory takes off her wedding ring to wash the dishes, but Mickey is horrified by this and insists that she must never take it off.
- In Unbreakable, David removes his wedding ring before flirting with a girl on a train. After a while, she ends the conversation by telling him she's married.
- In the Bob Newhart Made-for-TV Movie Marathon, a middle-aged man going through a Hollywood Mid-Life Crisis is considering starting an affair with an aerobics instructor. At the start of the class, he takes his wedding ring off and puts it with his other personal items in the corner of the room. Then it rolls out to the middle of the room, very loudly so that everyone can hear. He makes his buddy go and collect it, claiming it to be his.
- Played with in Sherlock Holmes (2009). Holmes does a Sherlock Scan on Watson's fiancée Mary and observes that she has a lighter spot on her ring finger, leading him to the assumption that she was engaged before but left her fiancee for not having enough Gold Digger potential. Mary is outraged and splashes her wine on Holmes. Then she reveals that the cause for the removed engagement ring was that her former fiancee died.
- In Coming Home, Bob, who has just found out that his wife cheated on him while he was off fighting in Vietnam, takes off all his clothes, then takes off his wedding ring, then goes walking off the beach into the sea. The wedding ring is likely to let the audience know that he is committing Suicide by Sea instead of, say, just taking a swim.
- In Good Night, and Good Luck., two of the characters are married to each other, but remove their wedding rings every morning before work, because the TV station where they work doesn't allow married couples.
- In The Prestige, during the The Reveal that Borden's having an affair with Olivia, there's a scene where he kisses her while rolling his wedding ring across his knuckles with his free hand. Then again, Borden is secretly a pair of identical twins and only one of them, Alfred, is in love with his wife, Sarah, unlike the other twin Frederick.
- A character in the Alien Invasion movie Grey Skies removes her wedding ring after her husband is taken over by the aliens. He puts it back on her finger after she's taken over.
- True Lies:
- Inverted just after the Action Prologue. Upon returning home after the mission to Switzerland, Gib has to remind Harry to put his wedding ring back on after he'd removed it for his cover ID.
- Later, when Helen is playing a High-Class Call Girl and modifying her outfit into a Little Black Dress with Boyish Short Hair, she struggles to remove her wedding band so she can put it on a different finger as generic jewellery. After they escape from the Crimson Jihad, Harry chides her that "This is the wrong finger," and puts it back on her. Cue The Big Damn Kiss.
- In The Abyss Bud throws his titanium wedding ring down a toilet in a fit of pique when he learns his estranged wife is visiting the underwater station he is running. Thankfully he has second thoughts and fishes it out. It eventually saves his finger (and life) when a bulkhead closes on it later.
- In Suffragette Maud takes off her wedding ring after her husband threw her out of the shared flat and gave their son up for adoption without her consent. Shortly after, she writes a letter, refusing the offer to become a spy and betray her fellow suffragists in order to get her old life back. It symbolizes her commitment to the cause of voting rights for women.
- In Cries and Whispers: After a particularly chilly dinner with her husband, Karin describes her marriage as "a web of lies" and removes her wedding ring. Then she mutilates her vagina with a shard of glass.
- In The Scar of Shame, Louise does this when deciding to leave Alvin, after he confesses that he never told his mother about their marriage.
- O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Funny Background Event, as the guys encounter the singing sirens, Everett pulls his wedding ring off right before the girls come over and start getting cozy with them.
- Adrift (2018): At the very end, Tami takes off the engagement ring Richard made for her.
- One episode of Nash Bridges has Joe try to prove a point to Nash by removing his wedding ring and hitting on some girls. Unfortunately, he loses it and has to spend the rest of the episode trying to find it and keep Inger from finding out.
- The Mentalist: Protagonist Patrick Jane continues to wear his wedding ring long after his wife and daughter were murdered by the Serial Killer Red John. After tracking down and killing Red John he continues to wear the ring, only removing it in the last episode, as he's preparing to marry Theresa Lisbon.
- In the season 1 finale of CSI NY, Mac takes his wedding ring off finally. He had been unable to bring himself to remove it before then, as he was still struggling with the loss of his wife on 9/11. He continued to struggle for a while, but taking off the ring was symbolic of him starting to date again.
- In Jekyll, Tom Jackman always slips his wedding ring off just before turning into Hyde, as he doesn't want Hyde to know that he's married. When Jackman turns into Hyde in front of his wife Claire for the first time, the wedding ring falls off to mark the moment of transformation. Basically, if Jackman's ring comes off then he's either about to become Hyde or has already done so.
- In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "The Tesla Effect", as Murdoch and inventor/businessman James Pendrick are discussing how and why his wife Sally Pendrick framed Pendrick for murder and masterminded an art theft, Pendrick removes and looks at his wedding ring before placing it on a table.
- Played for Laughs in an early episode of How I Met Your Mother, in which Lily removes her engagement ring after she finds herself missing the attention of random men hitting on her.
- Agent Carter: In an episode that has flashbacks of Peggy's younger years 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.
- A variant in Lizzie Mcguire's "First Kiss", when Ronnie breaks up with Lizzie, she throws off the ring he gave her right in front of him.
- In Sherlock episode "A Study in Pink" Sherlock determines via Sherlock Scan a victim to be an unfaithful married woman, noting that her wedding ring is shiny on the inside, indicating that it is removed often.
- One Life to Live Gambling addict Max has been told by his mistress Blair that his wife and best friend are having an affair. He storms out to confront them, only to find them hugging in a classic example of Not What It Looks Like—he was comforting her over Max's infidelity. With this, he removes his ring and throws it in her face, declaring their marriage over.
- In Doctor Who, the Twelfth Doctor wore a ring at all times, mostly to disguise the actor's own wedding ring. After Twelve has regenerated, there's a shot of the ring sliding off the Thirteenth Doctor's (smaller) finger and falling to the floor.
- The Drop: George Irving takes off his wedding ring before flinging himself off the top floor of the Chateau Marmont.
- In Gravitys Rainbow, a despairing Franz Pökler emerges into the ruins of the Dora work camp and happens upon a dying Jewish woman. He removes his wedding band, places it upon her finger, and wanders out into the wastelands of the Zone.
- Kenny Rogers wrote "Lucille" about a wife and mother who'd given up on her marriage. Its first two lines are:
In a bar in Toledo across from the depot,
On a barstool, she took off her ring.
- In Seeed's song "Ding", the singer hides his wedding ring while having a night on the town.
- Arctic Monkeys' "The Bad Thing" (off Favourite Worst Nightmare), which seems to be directed at someone who's thinking about cheating, and opens with the following lyrics:
Do the bad thing
Take off your wedding ring
But it won't make it that much easier
It might make it worse
- Reba McEntire:
- Implied to have happened in "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter": a man offers to buy the narrator a drink, and she "sees the pale white circle where he wears his ring".
- Another Reba classic along these lines is "Little Rock" in which a woman in a loveless marriage decides to "slip off this little rock" in order to pursue what she isn't getting back home.
- Arthur Alexander's "Anna (Go To Him)" is more about a promisory or engagement ring than a wedding ring which he asks for back when he finds his girl is seeing someone else. (Of note, George Martin produced both the original Arthur Alexander version and the Beatles' 1962 cover of it.)
Anna, just one more thing, girl,
You give back your ring to me and I will set you free,
Go to him
- In Yakuza 5, a character subplot involves Youtarou Nakajima when Mayumi tells Kiryu that she spotted a ring mark on his hand. It's revealed that his wife died in a traffic accident many years ago and his removal of the wedding ring is a sign for him to move on from her death and reform himself since he used to be a street racer when he was young.
- At some point in Firewatch, Henry leaves his wedding ring behind in his cabin when he goes hiking. It's ambiguous whether this is because he doesn't want to see it lost or damaged, he's upset by his marriage's inevitable end due to his wife's early-onset Alzheimer's, or because of his new, ambiguously romantic relationship with fellow ranger Delilah. Interestingly, if the player chooses to have Henry put the ring back on, he never takes it off again.
- An inadvertent example in The Simpsons. Homer takes off his wedding ringnote while working at a Habitat for Humanity-esque volunteer building event, and several women flirt with him upon noticing his ring tan, marking him as a recent divorcee.
- On the morning of November 22, 1963, before going off to kill John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald left behind for his wife almost his entire life savings ($170), and his wedding ring, which he dropped in a teacup.