Is it normal for a widower to talk about his late wife? Of course! She was a huge part of his life. They shared a history together. Although she is a part of his past, her memory is very much a part of his present and future. I don’t believe the widowed should be forced in any way by anyone to box up their memories altogether and never again speak another word about their lost loves. It would be an inhumane and selfish request to ask of the bereaved, and would lack the compassion needed have a successful relationship with a widower.
In my book “PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman’s Journey as the Wife of a Widower”, I urge my WOW (Wives Of Widowers) and GOW (Girlfriends Of Widowers) readers to embrace the late wife, and to remember that a relationship with a widower will be a marriage of three hearts, not just two. However, some people have misunderstood my meaning, erroneously assuming that this author believes a woman involved with a widower must willingly and dutifully step aside into the shadow of a sainted woman’s memory.
On the contrary, I believe a widower must treat his new love as the center of his universe, barring all others, including his late wife. However, to have a successful relationship with a widower, his new love must accept his past, including his late wife, and remember that she was, as most wives are, instrumental in making him the man he is today. I truly believe that outward jealousy of and disdain towards the late wife only serves to create an atmosphere of bitterness and resentment – emotions that build walls between a couple. Sharing a widower’s heart with his late wife does not mean his new love must take a back seat and quietly allow the late wife’s memory to stand between the couple. Sharing his heart simply means that the new woman in his life understands and accepts that the love he had for his late spouse did not die with her, and will always occupy a space in his heart.
But does a late spouse have to be a huge part of your present relationship with a widowed man, if at all?
Many girlfriends and wives of widowers (GOWs and WOWs) have written to me, asking when they might expect their widowers to stop droning on and on about his late wife. Hearing about another woman in your man’s past is difficult to handle. We certainly don’t expect a divorced man to talk about the good times he and his ex shared, and we feel righteous indignation when any man discusses, ad nauseum, within listening distance of his present love, the wonderful attributes of the ex-lovers who broke his heart. Doing so would be the ultimate in insensitivity. Yet society expects a woman involved with a widower to sit silently and put her personal feelings on the back burner while her widower lovingly recalls each and every personal detail about his late wife and their marriage.
A friend of mine once chastised my own angst about my widower’s tendency to memorialize his late wife by asking, “Why does it bother you so much? It’s not like she’s a threat or anything…she’s dead!” Clearly, those who have no stake in a relationship with a widower have no clue about - and no patience for - how hurtful and confusing this issue can be to the new woman in his life. Bottom line: the constant stirring and recalling of the memories of a deceased spouse CAN be harmful if it impedes the growth of a new relationship.
Some widowers with whom I have spoken regarding this issue have justified it by claiming they freely converse with their present loves about their late wives so that the former will “get to know” the latter. These widowers feel a need to bond their late spouses with their present loves. I have to wonder why they feel it is necessary, in their minds, for the late wife and present love to be friends. To what end do these means serve? Why would a man expect his new love to gleefully embrace this odd emotional “ménage a trios”, and what women of self-worth and esteem would settle for it without argument?
Sometimes, a widower who purposefully shares intimate information about his late wife and their marriage with their present love is subconsciously looking for permission of sorts to fall in love again. To wit, he is hoping to be exonerated from the guilt he carries about moving on and leaving his memories – and his late wife - permanently in the past. He not only hopes his new love will accept that a part of his heart will always belong to another, but that his late wife will forgive him his imagined betrayal of her. However, doing so only delays his grief recovery as he perpetually memorializes his late wife. (Note: Ws don't [usually] look skyward and ask for LW's permission, lest any supposed "journalist" take my words out of context. I am talking about the W's subconscious here.)
Some widowers feel that in order for his new love to fully and completely understand and accept him for the person he is, it is paramount that she understands the depth of his love for his late wife. In my opinion, if a man thinks his late wife defines who he is and is the main source of his character, then he has not yet matured enough to grasp a very important understanding: the measure of a man is not who shaped him, but how he has used his life experiences to become the man he is. An appreciation for those in our lives who have contributed to our successes is vital, yes…but to claim these selfless mentors possess our personhood is the antithesis of personal growth.
Often times, discussing memories of a late spouse gives strength to the survivor. A widower cannot completely let go of the past unless and until every stone is unturned. He cannot move beyond bereavement until he embraces the past pain as well as its pleasures. Grief is not just an emotion but also a process. I once asked my previously widowed husband when he knew he had successfully let go of the past. He answered, “When I could smile instead of cry when remembering her.” Processing memories is an important step toward grief recovery. Therefore, it would appear logical that a widower who yearns to discuss his late wife and their shared past is thirsty to move on with his life. Thus, the act of verbally skipping down Memory Lane isn’t so insensitive after all.
Or is it?
When a partner in any kind of relationship disregards the feelings of his or her mate, this is insensitivity. Widowers I have spoken to about this issue ask me, “But I don’t understand WHY she (GOW or WOW) gets so upset when I talk about my late wife!” I reply that it would behove these men to ask the new mates personally so that they may acquire a deeper understanding of how it feels to love a man whose heart is apparently, as the old song says, “torn between two lovers.” I then counsel widowers to consider how they would feel if their new loves talked endlessly about their former lovers. Walking around in another person’s moccasins certainly sheds light on the issue. If a partner repeatedly asks his/her mate to cease and desist, that request should be respected, regardless of whether or not the reasoning behind the request is understood.
In conclusion, WOWs and GOWs must be sensitive to the fact that the widowers in their lives may have a need to discuss their late wives and marriages for a variety of reasons: to purge guilt, to complete the final stage of bereavement recovery, or to gain validation of his grief’s normalcy in sharing his intimate grief feelings with his new love. As such, a GOW/WOW would be wise to be sensitive to his feelings and learn to embrace the fact that his late wife will always be a treasured past memory, but not a present threat.
However, widowers must also be sensitive to the assumed threat the new love feels when there is more talk of the past and not enough reassurance and validation that the GOW/WOW in his life is Number One in his heart. When she pleads “Enough is enough!” the intelligent widower will respect her wishes as he attempts to gain insight, using honest communication, about the complex emotional and often misunderstood heart of a GOW/WOW.