Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why Are We Afraid To Ask "The Tough Questions" Of Our Widowers?

After my book was released, I was deluged with letters from wives of widowers, wondering how I found the courage to ask my previously widowed husband about his late wife and their marriage. While I appreciate being thought of as courageous, asking “the tough questions” was more a matter of necessity than bravery for me…and for our marriage.

I have always felt that the greatest fear of all is the fear of the unknown. When left to our own devices, our imaginations can work overtime, wreaking havoc on our insecurities and vulnerabilities. When we privately wonder about things that concern our happiness and mental well being, we tend to lean towards the negative, assuming that the tough questions, if asked aloud, will be met with answers we are not ready to hear…or that will be the opposite of what we hope to hear.

Surprisingly, that’s usually never the case. Information, like education, allows us to calm our fears, put them into perspective, and in most cases, brings peace and relief to a worried soul. Even the painful answers to the tough questions can at least be digested with time. Truth has a way of winning out over the worst of fears.

So what are we so afraid of?

We are afraid that our questions will be perceived as nosy, insensitive, none of our business, or regarded as insignificant by the person we are asking. We fear being judged for appearing needy. We fear the perceived and/or anticipated fight that may ensue as a result of hurt feelings. And worst of all, we fear that the answers will be too shocking or painful to endure.

However, husbands and wives communicate with each other the most intimate, secret, personal things that two people can utter to one another. By doing this, their relationships deepen and their marital bonds are strengthened. Being privy to another’s deepest thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and opinions is an honor. It means that the person sharing this vital information trusts the receiver implicitly, and is assured that the listener will not judge nor hold said information against him or her.

Trust is a two way street. Respecting the answers to tough questions is just as important as being respected for asking the questions. To be trusted, one must be trustworthy. Wives of widowers must first decide if they are capable of handling whatever their husbands respond, whether the answers leave them feeling good or not. They must also decide, before posing the questions, whether the answers will help them overcome fears, issues, and insecurities, thus leading to a stronger relationship.

Case in point: When my husband I were planning our first Christmas together as a married couple, I wondered to myself why I should try so hard to make it nice for us if his grief would only make for a miserable holiday. I wanted cookie cutter perfection for my holiday, complete with Martha Stewart-ish dinners, parties, and decorations…without the interference of “The Grief Monster” or “The Ghost of Christmas Past”. But it was painfully obvious to me, even though he spoke nary a word about it, that my husband grieved his late wife’s loss at this special time of year, just as he did in the past when we were dating. The act of marrying me did not make his grief miraculously disappear.

I had a choice: Either I could muddle through and pretend for both of us to have a good time (but fooling nobody!), or I could gently confront my husband and ask the tough questions about how he would like to proceed with the holiday festivities in respect to his grief.

Brave, yes, but necessary. I needed to discuss my husband's feelings with him so I could make plans based on them. I needed to know his answers so I could be as much of a helpmate to him as I could be through this sentimental time of grief. As well, his answers would also provide me with insight into his grief journey, enabling me to gauge where he was at and if healing was rooting or not. That way, I could prepare my own heart for whatever was to come.

I trusted my husband not to judge me for asking, and he trusted me with his revelations about Christmases shared with his late wife, and how he missed certain traditions of old. Because of our little discussion, we were able to form a united front in the face of grief, incorporate old traditions with new, and enjoy the present holiday and each other.

But are some questions too sacred…too personal…too scary to ask a spouse? In respect to present wives asking tough questions to previously widowed husbands, the answer, in my opinion, is a resounding “No!” Keeping secrets, for whatever personal reasons, is not a healthy thing for anyone to do to a sacred blend of two souls into one, which is what marriage is all about: one soul, one mind, one love...and a willingness to share everything about one’s self with your soul mate.

If you are a wife of a widower, you must first be aware of your reasons behind your questions. Do you want to know about your husband’s sex life with his late wife? First, ask yourself why. Would his answers be beneficial to making your own sex life more interesting and enjoyable? Or is this a “loaded” question – the answer to which will only serve as justification of your insecurities and plunge you deeper into your own self-serving pity party?

The answers to the tough questions are like constructive criticisms – you may not like what you hear, but with a heart full of grace and respect for the one who delivers the answers, you can easily find a positive way to utilize the information...as long as you take “self” out of the equation, and just concentrate on Loving A Widower.


~~Copyright 2009 Julie Donner Andersen. No reprints without express permission from author.

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