Sunday, May 6, 2012

Guarding Your Heart While Dating A Widower

Recently, a GOW on The Official WOW/GOW Message Board said that her intuition is telling her something bad is about to happen in her relationship. She can't explain it, but nevertheless, the fear seems very real despite any authenticity.

I have said before on the Board that I am not a believer in intuition. Intuition, to me, is currently defined - societally speaking - as some kind of magical force based on nothing more than a "feeling". Realistically and scientifically, I believe it makes more sense that intuition is based on past experience, coupled with the fallout insecurity that came with a particularly bad one; either a bad experience that was personally experienced, or one that was overheard, witnessed, read about, or happened to someone else.

Thus, I believe intuition is based on previously digested fear, and a new experience is tweaking and poking that stored former knowledge to the surface. Whenever someone tells me they have a "feeling" or bases a decision on "intuition", I want them to ask themselves one important question: Am I presently reacting this way based on something bad that happened to me/that I personally witnessed/that happened to someone else/that I read about? Therefore, in my opinion, intuition is nothing more than a bad experience of some sort that set roots in fear that this bad experience will either happen again (if you had the bad experience) or will happen to you (if the bad experience happened to someone else or was witnessed/read about/overheard).

That being said, I believe intuition is not always a bad thing! It is the brain's subconscious way of protecting you from a possible disaster. It is a recalling of information stored long ago that is resurfacing, giving you an "edge" over naivety. And that can really come in handy! However, more likely than not, when women speak of "intuition", it is their insecurity talking, and it is based on one or more of the following: a need that has gone unmet, a question still left unanswered, a lack of closure on a past bad experience, and/or an unresolved fear.

When a GOW believes her intuition is warning her that something bad is about to happen, I truly, without a shadow of a doubt, believe she is reacting to her fear that A.) W will hurt her like someone else did in the past (former boyfriend, perhaps), B.) that she has done or is doing something wrong; something to deserve an unforeseen bad experience (i.e, low self-esteem; feeling of unworthiness), and/or C.) her new vulnerability has given control of her emotions over to her W - and he is unpredictable at best - so she feels she is constantly standing on quicksand and never on solid ground.

So, you’re probably wondering what all this “shrink talk” has to do with you, right?

To combat the insecurity provoked by intuition, one must guard their heart. Though seemingly complicated, it’s really not. All it takes to guard your heart is to take W out of the equation and remember the woman you were before he came into your life. You were OK without him then. You were a worthwhile, responsible, level-headed, decisive, happy person. You based decisions on the knowledge and facts available to you, i.e, you didn’t rely on intuition but on solid research, trusted and tried-and-true advice, and proven information. You lived your life for YOU, not for anyone else. Even if you have children who were (and still are) your life’s priority(ies), you made time for yourself…time to enjoy life and celebrate your personhood. You had control of the reins of your life and your emotions. You didn’t allow others to treat you like dirt, and if for whatever reason you did, you didn’t keep them on your list of friends for long. You trusted yourself to make good decisions, and you executed those decisions with confidence. You believed in yourself and your abilities. And even if you allowed self-doubt to creep onto your heart once in awhile, you immediately went to work to regain lost ground, and you fought back hard to get your footing back.

When it comes to GOW/W relationships, guarding her heart is vital to a GOW’s survival, especially when a W isn’t very committed or communicative, or seems to be dragging his feet through grief recovery. In these relationships, the GOW has no other choice but to protect herself. This doesn’t mean she has to put up a wall around her heart. Doing this would keep her from experiencing a bad experience, but would also keep her from experiencing the JOYS of the relationship. Instead, guarding her heart means she must revert back to the woman she was before her W…the confident, dependable, strong, decisive woman who lived by her own set of rules, took control of her life, trusted in herself and her abilities, relied on her faith and tapped into the strength that came from solidly archived knowledge of life, knew her boundaries and executed them when needed, made herself a priority, faced her fears head-on then danced in their ashes when she burned through them, and enjoyed her life despite its occasional disappointments.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" Challenge

First of all, please forgive my absence from this blog for so long! I had battle dsome major health issues, but am happy to say that I have recently been handled a clean bill of health and am back to my duties helping Ws, GOWs and WOWs wherever and whenever I can, and more often than ever before! Thank you to those of you sent words of encouragement and those who prayed for me. Prayer WORKS! :)

Now...onto today's blog:

All GOWs struggle with grief-related issues in their relationships with Ws. Some issues are small and easy to fix, and happen early enough in the relationship to not seem so impervious. Other issues seem so hurtful and insurmountable, they can cause a GOW to feel like giving up. The challenge is to know when to hang in there and when to move on, and that’s no easy task! Sadly, when it comes to loving a W, there’s no right or wrong answer for this $64,000 question! The dynamics of every relationship differ from one couple to the next dramatically, and every individual GOW handles this challenge (call it the "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" challenge) in her own way, based on her unique character traits (strengths AND weaknesses) and background (i.e., insecurity or fear of abandonment issues). But there ARE some "rules of thumb" every GOW should remember when considering the "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" challenge.

Basically, I believe you should stay and fight if you meet these criteria:

If you believe:

~that there is still work to be done in the relationship to improve it,

~that some of that work is YOUR responsibility and you are willing to try something new, be more patient, gain a new perspective, and work a little harder,

~that you are happy and MOST of your needs are being met, even though his grief issues seem to tip the balance in his favor for now until he reaches recovery,

~that you are 100% certain that your W's occasional insensitive treatment of you is solely based on grief issues and not on "jerk behaviour" and/or a lack of character or moral fiber, and that his present treatment of you is more good than bad,

~that your W is 100% committed to the relationship and is willing to heed and use The Three C's with you,

~that you are 100% convinced that your W is a moral kind of guy who would not purposely mislead, lie to, or cheat on you,

~that your issues regarding his LW are based solely on obvious grief behaviours and not concoctions manufactured by a deep-seeded insecurity you may have always battled in your life,

~that you are in the relationship for all the right reasons, and not wrong ones like fear of being alone or fear that you may never find another man,

~that you can fully and completely embrace and respect his past, his LW, and his memory of her without losing your personhood in the process,

~that you are capable of guarding your heart as you and your W work together towards his grief recovery,

~that you can capably dismiss any assumptions & expectations - and eliminate any timelines - as far as his rate of healing and, instead, let him lead,

And, finally,

~that you can be selfless when needed, but lay your personal boundaries when warranted.

Now, I know there are "other W bloggers" (who will remain anonymous as they are not WORTHY of mention here) who feel that a GOW should cut ties and run at the first hint of grief-related struggle within a GOW/W relationship. But it is my belief that ALL relationships - not just those with a W - are hard work, and as such, jumping ship seems foolhardy if not premature. It IS possible to "hang in there" when the going gets tough, especially if you feel your W is worth the effort.

God bless, and until next time, just keep loving your W....and if you reach a point where you are considering the "Should I Stay or Should I Go" challenge, please join the over 1000 members and me at always supportive and very interactive Official WOW/GOW Message Board, found at my website:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Immobilizing Fear of Another Loss

I often hear from GOWs who say their Ws love them but cannot commit to a relationship for one reason: they are afraid of losing the GOW to death like they did their LWs.

If it were any other man, I would say this is a classic case of commitment phobia, coupled with "cold feet". But alas, we are talking about a W (widower), and therein lies the rub: many are simply scared out of their minds to lose another person they love to a tragic death. Let me reassure you that this is a VERY common side effect of grief among widowers.

When other people (the non-widowed) experience break-ups, of course they are shattered and brokenhearted...and many adopt the ol' "once burned, twice shy" motto. They are afraid of getting hurt again by falling in love once more. They don't want to risk the pain, but in doing so, they are also closing the door of opportunity when it comes to love, and the joy that comes along with it. Some even subconsciously feel that they cannot make another move in life without a guarantee that life will not once again break their hearts.

Unfortunately, life does not come with guarantees, no matter how much easier life would be if it did! Life requires us to take chances and have faith i nour life choices. Otherwise, we lose out on sooo much happiness when we give into fear.

It is hard to trust again after one has been hurt. It is immensely difficult to love again after one loses a loved one, especially a spouse. If your W says he cannot commit because the risk of losing you outweighs the joy he has with you – joy that will no doubt grow into something more beautiful as time goes on – then ask him: How much worse would you (W) feel if you DIDN'T take a leap of faith and lost me anyway?” Now that WOULD be tragic!

It may sound simplistic, but it’s really not. Taking a leap of faith and loving again after loss takes an extreme amount of courage and a positive belief in something uncertain. This is when a GOW can reinforce what IS certain by constantly reassuring her W of her love for W and her own commitment to the future of their relationship.

Taking a leap of faith means believing is all that is good, especially the love you share. When a W feels secure in his GOW’s love, more often than not, he is more willing to let the chips fall where they may when he realizes that the alternative - living life alone, in fear, and without love - is simply no way to live at all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

When a GOW Was “The Other Woman”

Recently on The Official WOW/GOW Message Board, a new member relayed how she and her W started an affair together whist his LW was dying. His reasoning was 1.) his marriage started falling apart long before his LW was diagnosed with cancer, and 2.) he had already done most of his grieving in the last days of her illness, so he was more than ready to begin a new life with GOW. GOW believed him and continued the affair up until a few months before LW passed, at which time she thought it wise to leave him alone whist he made the funeral arrangements, etc. After, they resumed their relationship. Understandably, this W experienced latent grief about one year later, and asked his GOW for a break/time/space to figure things out. Naturally, GOW was devastated, and asked why this was happening, considering how confident her W had initially seemed about moving on.

Having been a victim of spousal infidelity myself, it is difficult for me to advise, much less feel compassion for, GOWs who have been the other woman in a W/LW’s marriage. However, I know I must put on my professional’s cap and try to remain nonjudgmental as I advise this member and my blog readers in similar situations:

First of all, let’s talk about what I feel is #1 on my list of grief myths, and that is this: It is possible to “pre-grieve” the loss of a spouse.

Undoubtedly, overwhelming feelings of extreme sadness and DO occur when a spouse is terminally ill. To be told my doctors that your loved one’s life will soon end and there’s nothing more the medical profession can do, are the worst words any human being can ever hear. Depression starts creeping in, and it’s difficult to hold onto any shred of hope……difficult, but never impossible. In fact, most spouses of the terminally ill DO hang onto hope of their loved one’s recovery, no matter the odds. This is why one cannot pre-grieve. As long as there is hope, there is nothing TO grieve, as there is no loss...not of life, nor dreams. Real grief doesn’t truly begin until the flatline sounds its ominous toll….the time when hope is lost. Neither does the myth of pre-grief allow for the completion of all 5 grief stages. Simply put, there is no way the spouse of a dying wife can journey through and recover from each stage in a natural way.

A W who deludes himself into thinking most of his grief was done prior to his LW’s death is only fooling himself. Grief is like a spoiled child that does not give up its tenacious protest until a survivor finally pays it some attention. Thus, no matter how a W tries to avoid it, grief will catch up with him later in the form of latent grief. As well, although a W may surround himself with distractions (such as work, sports, vices like gambling, drinking, etc., and yes, women) from the hard work grief demands, he eventually fails when grief has its way with him. Thus, a GOW who has been her W’s “other woman” while LW was still very much alive must be prepared to deal with the fallout of her W’s latent grief. Chances are good that the guilt which naturally accompanies the normal grief journey of ANY W will be magnified in an adulterous W, and would explain his sudden withdrawal once latent grief sets in.

Secondly, I am of the belief that a bad marriage is no excuse for infidelity. It is a diversion at best. And any woman, GOW or not, who believes a man who uses this as an excuse to cheat is setting herself up for heartache. Rarely do adulterers change, and a GOW in this situation may indeed find herself on the losing end of another affair – that of her W and yet another woman. It appears obvious to me that a man who cheats not only lacks a well-defined moral code, but also lacks the courage it takes to communicate face-to-face with his spouse about his need to move on in life without her and get his needs, whatever they may be, met elsewhere.

I am at a loss as to how any woman, much less a GOW, could ever build a foundation of trust with such a man…or why she would settle for someone with such poor character traits, ethics, communication skills, and decision-making skills. Thus, I do not hold out much hope for a long-term relationship between adulterous GOWs and Ws. His latent grief/guilt, combined with her low expectations for her self and her life, are a recipe for disaster. Sooner or later, each will blame the other for past indiscretions that have led to too many present regrets and deep remorse. While they may stay together physically, each will remain emotionally unavailable to the other: the GOW, who becomes afraid to discuss her W’s grief journey for fear he will distract himself from the pain by seeking out comfort in another woman’s arms…and the W who experiences latent grief, who cannot possibly juggle his grief, guilt, and remorse with loving feelings for a GOW he may subconsciously blame for his present confusion

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Breaking Down Barriers

Recently, I was misquoted on a blog written by a W (my words were taken out of context to further the blog owner's agenda). I would not have even noticed, as I rarely have time to read major blogs (large readership) that interest me, nevermind minor ones (small readership), such as his, that don't.

But when a member of The Official WOW/GOW Message Board contacted me personally about her search for information about grief in order to understand her W better (not completely, just BETTER), she was flabbergasted about the abject polarization she encountered by this particular woefully misinformed, mildly arrogant, and sadly pitiful blogger. Her angst: "I know I have a lot to learn about grief, but if those who have experienced it won't offer their expertise, and the present available literature is so complicated, where else can I go to find enlightenment?"

Indeed, it is difficult to find the best of both worlds, that being firsthand knowledge which has not been corrupted by judgement aganst those who would a society that is uncomfortable discussing such a "taboo" (in its collective mind) subject. hard. It is an elusive emotion very few understand. And if that weren't enough, it is not just an emotion but a journey as that does not come with a timetable, a blueprint, guidelines, or set of rules, making grief all the more mysterious and complicated to those of us on the outside of it...which leads to assumptions and conjecture by a judgmental society that wants nothing more than to either put a patch of platitudes on it, sweep it under the proverbial rug, or ignore it completely until it goes away (which it never does!).

Grief's fallout (its complicated misery and mystery) is considered "taboo" to discuss; thus, ignorance of it has lead to a society that just doesn't get it...and is too uncomfortable with it to bother. Worst of all, grief is perpetual: it never ends, and continuously revisits itself. It can be diminished but never eradicated; coped with and managed, but never eliminated.

Enter those of us who just want to love a man who grieves. Hard as we try to comprehend this puzzling emotional journey, we fail miserably. Society, which encourages survivors to move on, happily accepts a GOW, but under one condition: she must not attempt to understand grief and just merrily, without question, accept a "lesser" role in her W’s heart. (Indeed, ignorance abounds on both sides of this proverbial fence!)

For example: When Ws congregate in their mutual misery, such as on a website or blog for Ws, they form an exclusive "club" which they feel no “outsider” should penetrate. Exclusive, because even if we “outsiders” have experienced similar loss, no two grief journeys are the same; thus, grief is one example of life experience where personal expertise seems to matter little. When it comes to a GOW’s beloved W’s loss, we are "damned if we do, and damned if we don't" try to understand it. Within the aforementioned exclusive club are those who would minimize our role, blaming us for our insecurity as they themselves label us as "less than" the sainted LW, thus perpetuating our insecurity that we will never be "as good" as she was to our Ws.

Sadly, these kinds of clubs, while at first offering survivors a much needed open-armed hug of acceptance in a world that doesn’t understand them, are usually led by those who believe letting go – the normal and natural recovery at the end of grief’s efforts - is but a fallacy, and equates to dishonoring the dearly departed. And those GOWs who would interfere with their mission of protecting, preserving, and canonizing their lost loves are the enemy.

In such clubs, there is no room for enlightenment. Grief is selfish, and can render its victim the same; thus, few members can see the forest for the trees. To them, their loss is all that counts, to the exclusion of others. They believe their loss has made them untouchably noble martyrs, and as such, they have, in turn, closed their minds to other, perhaps loftier, possibilities and theories. Instead of utilizing their experiences as teachable examples with which they could educate society about grief and, in turn, crush the ignorance they claim is rampant, they have achieved the opposite via alienation. They have lost their ability to communicate intelligently with the outside world in a rational manner as they sit atop their thrones of nobility, casting judgment after judgment against those with good intentions whose only desires are to love, help, sympathize with, and yes, understand grief and those who deal with it.

Indeed, a GOW faces a plethora of obstacles as she journeys alongside a W who grieves. Outsiders (society) and insiders (fellow survivors) are against her from the get-go. Friends rarely understand her loving a man who also loves another, as where else in Western culture is this acceptable, except perhaps for cults in Utah? Her own W can often be non-communicative and complicated. Worst of all, a GOW herself can often be her own worst enemy as her natural and normal insecurities rear their ugly heads. There are few resources available to the GOW to help her understand not only herself, but her W and his grief, too.

Whether we have experienced it or not, it’s not rocket science for ALL of us to admit that grief is hard. But if it is, then we ALL must admit that loving someone who has experienced loss is difficult, too. GOWs face seemingly insurmountable odds, especially when the obstacle of ignorance and the breakdown of communication are so commonplace.

I believe breaking down barriers is key. In the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” I don’t think it’s too much to ask, especially when the benefits far outweigh the present state of dysfunction between survivors and those who love them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Feeling Like W's Mistress?

Many women tell me that they feel like they are in relationships with married men when dating a W. Recently, a member of The Official WOW/GOW Message Board ( even created a short list of reasons why:

1) We spend little or no time together on the holidays. His immediate family, extended families...yes, even LW’s family...all come first.
2) His inability to plan and/or take a trip with me, even a short overnighter.
3) Friends and/or family members that treat me like “the other woman”; an outsider.
4) No card or small token gift for Valentine's W, either.
5) The LW’s and her memory – and the preservation thereof – comes before everything else.
6) I feel like I am constantly competing with LW for W’s love, but never attaining that coveted #1 spot in his heart.

Some GOWs have told me that their Ws have even gone so far as to make love with them once, feel guilty about it, and then cut off all sexual contact if the Ws were cheating on their LWs. Talk about feeling cheap!

While NO man has the right to make you feel like his mistress on purpose, it is easy to forgive a W’s seemingly hurtful behaviour when you understand the grief process....and how it is his lack of intent that makes his mistakes forgivable.

Some of you may ask incredulously, “But how in the world can a man be so unaware of - and so blind to - such insensitivity?” Most men wouldn’t be, but Ws are exceptions. Grief, like love, can be very blind...and guilt is often in the driver’s seat, holding the reins of control. Sadly, there is no blueprint or guide to grief. Ws stumble their way through it unwittingly, without a plan, and without knowing what they’re doing or if they’re doing it right. They need to be reminded that what they feel is normal, as are the behaviours that rise like phoenixes from such confusing emotions. However, normal does not always equal productive, and there ARE steps a GOW ca take to overcome feeling like her W's mistress (more on this later).

To be sure, most Ws are unaware of how their behaviour impacts others, least of all, their GOWs....that is, until they are shown the way! Dr. Phil says, "You teach people how to treat you!"..and GOWs are no exception! In fact, I can say without fear of retribution that if a GOW feels like her W’s mistress, SHE is partly to blame! It is a GOW’s lack of communication in those delicate areas listed above that lead to a wall of resentment and confusion in her relationship.

Indeed, it is up to each and every GOW to communicate her needs effectively to her W. Most men are not known for being mind readers, and very few actually “get” sarcasm or negative female body language and facial expressions. Thus, it takes good oral communication skills to tune a W into his insensitivity without raging at him for his woeful incompetence brought about by grief.

It starts with validation: a GOW should acknowledge her W’s grief in a way which conveys to him that he is not being blamed, resented, or otherwise scolded for his actions/inactions. She should actually take the guilt burden off of him by offering her understanding, informing him how she knows that grief can render a W selfishly myopic and sorely out of tune with anyone’s needs but his own.

With a spirit of cooperation, a GOW should be willing to give her W a pass for his past mistakes because she knows she must put the blame where it belongs: on grief. She should acknowledge that, although she has been patiently understanding thus far, some things DO need to change.

Finally, a GOW should communicate to her W in detail those things that upset her (see list above) and, using The Three C’s (communication, cooperation, and compromise), she should ask for his help in working together with him toward solutions that are mutually satisfactory to both.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The "Longsuffering Goodfella" Syndrome

I got a letter the other day from a GOW who has been with her W for 2 years. He had been widowed five years prior to their meeting. Having successfully completed bereavement recovery classes years before, she felt her W had moved on and let go long before they met. However, she was annoyed at how much he seemed to enjoy playing the grieving widower around certain people, especially his former in-laws, and was curious as to why.

I think most Ws suffer from "Gotta make other people understand that grief never stops" syndrome...and I believe it is closely tied to the canonization stage of grief. In other words, it is important for Ws that other people realize he has not forgotten - nor stopped loving - his LW. Ws like being thought of as noble in their grief, and when they take on a new love, some of their halo's polish wears off. Thus, they need to remind people that, although they have moved on, they are still longsuffering goodfellas who haven't erased LW from their minds.

I think the "longsuffering goodfella", AKA: the W, is quite attractive to society in general BECAUSE he is suffering: It means he must really know how to love if he grieves its loss so badly. It also means he must really be a good man who honours his wedding vows of "til death do us part" and has a proven track record of commitment. Thus, society tends to hold the bereaved up on a pedestal. Society loooves to compartmentalize, label, and yes, hero worship. ;)

Thus, some Ws tend to believe what they know society thinks of them - and they take a certain pride in their halos, as if grief were a badge of honour earned in the battlefield of loss. They feel almost duty-bound to uphold the reverence of such a noble title. Doing so shows the world that he is a good guy…a champion among men…one who, though once crushed and wounded, has risen above the ashes and then danced in them.

But not so fast! Dancing in the ashes of victory over grief can backfire when society feels that, in doing so, the W has made sure his past has been destroyed, forgotten, and ignored. If a W who enjoys his title is to keep up the fa├žade of nobility (and his imagined responsibility to those who also experienced the same loss, such as his former in-laws), he must not allow the world to witness his inner victory dance, lest they stop holding him in high esteem.

Such is the case with certain Ws who feel they must keep the sad, mourning routine going for the sake of their LWs’ family or anyone else, even though they are far beyond bereavement. These men fear that any hint of their moving on and letting go may disappoint the others, and they are afraid others may be angry about their choice to do so. And yes, some of these Ws have grown accustomed to their shiny halos of sad nobility, even those who have long ago recovered.

There are even those Ws who enjoy the attention of being longsuffering, negative though it may be. Never before having been the center of attention, they quickly learn that being in the spotlight as the ever-grieving widower garners a great deal of sympathy and kindness, the likes of which he may never have experienced before….and it feels soooo good to bask in this kind of love. It’s hard to let go of something that feels so soothing and comforting, regardless of how enabling it is.

This is not to say that ALL Ws experience this kind of subconsciously manipulative behavior. Those who do are usually Ws who not only have had a very close interpersonal relationship with the former in-laws and/or an on-going friendship with former friends of LW - but have kept this bond going ONLY because of their shared mutual loss. It’s not entirely the W’s fault, either: the in-laws and friends derive a great deal of satisfaction from this kind of bond. What they fail to do is to see their son-in–law/friend (the W) as a man autonomous from the LW. In other words, they have a hard time imagining him as anything other than LW’s husband, not as a unique individual who might have other plans and dreams apart from being “one of them” (longsuffering survivors).

Thus, when a GOW enters the picture, she may be seen as the interloper - the person poised to “replace” the LW and knock her off the imaginary pedestal they have worked so hard to erect in her memory. The W in this scenario now faces a new challenge: how to keep moving ahead with his plans, moving on with his life, and letting go of the past so he can be released from its chains enough to love again….yet STILL prove to LW’s family and friends that he will never stop loving nor forget LW, enough so their worries and fears are groundless. He thinks that the way to do this is to keep LW’s memory live in their presence, even when his GOW/WOW is also in attendance. Little does he realize that doing so minimizes what his GOW/WOW means to him and hurts her feelings.

This is when the “tough love” that comes with being a GOW/WOW must be initiated via good, honest, and forthright communication of her needs, thus urging W to re-evaluate his priorities as to where and with whom his loyalties lie. This can be tricky for him, as he does not want to hurt neither his family/friends nor his GOW/WOW with such a decision. He fears that choosing one over the other is what he must do, and if so, someone is bound to be hurt. Guilt then ravages his soul, knowing he MUST release his charade of longsuffering, but not wanting to for fear he will no longer be the goodfella he has come to know and love about himself.

Although not exactly a stage of gruief, this IS a stage of bereavement recovery...and as with all things grief-related, a W i n this position will eventually work it out, and this too shall pass.