Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Enough Already! (When The Widower Talks Endlessly About His LW)

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.

17 comments:

  1. Your article on W's constant mention of LW hits home for me. When I first met my W (now my husband), he had buried LW 18 months earlier, and he had been married to LW for over 30 years. Very early in dating I told him I thought he still had grief work to do because he spoke of LW so frequently. After dating for a month I asked if I could see his home, and he said, "No, it is LW's house". Ouch. (Eventually, he did let me into the sanctum.) Yet he insisted he had done all his grief work and was ready for a new relationship. Ahh, my naivety.

    During the first six months of dating, my W would contribute 6-8 daily anecdotes about LW. If I told him I had a doctor appointment, he would tell me the story about LW's medical history. Ad nauseaum. Any daily activity led to one of his cherished memories. He was so completely still in his former relationship that he even called me by LW's name once while we were making love!

    I understand people who meet in their 50's have previous life experiences to share. I appreciate LW's influences that created his ability to sacrifice and maintain a lifelong relationship and what their commitment taught him. I benefit from this.

    I was married for 26 years and was divorced years ago (I chose to leave the marriage), yet my W says it is alright for him to talk about his LW because she is dead; he does not want to hear about my past because my ex (who I cannot tolerate) is still alive. After 4 years of knowing W, I am infuriated about "his holy grief" that has no comparison to anyone else's pain in life.

    At 18 months of dating, and after my repeated requests to please "stay in the present moment with me", we had our "Waterloo" when W gave his 70-page grief book - a history of his life with LW - to his distant European relatives during a family reunion. He did this the same weekend we announced our engagement. He had previously told me he wrote this book for his own grief recovery and only for his children. I felt belittled and insignificant; if that is "insecure", or I “felt threatened”, then call it what you may. I was completely ready to call it quits. He requested that the relatives return the book, we got over it and he made some significant changes. Now ...

    I am a newlywed to W, have known him for over 4 years total. The latest episode is his wedding picture from 40 years ago on his internet social networking page (which states he is married, with no picture of me). Although we have had repeated discussions about my boundaries on this issue, he had no compunctions about showing me these pictures. Here we go again. Another discussion about what is appropriate ... a discussion about this month being LW's birthday month, so how is he feeling ... how does it affect him when his adult children feel sad during their mother's birthday ... this gets so very old.

    I have held him while he cried as he reviewed sympathy cards; I have stroked him when he got blind-sided with grief while visiting a relative in the hospital; I comforted him while he ceremoniously stored away cherished possessions in his home.

    I don't need his financial support, or his health benefits, or his help with maintaining the home we live in. All I need is to feel special. It would be nice to be someone's #1 for once in my life. Correct me if I'm not seeing this through clear eyes ... I don't see the LW as a threat ... I see his self-centered self-pity, and I see him wasting the present moment with me, a good woman with so many compatibilities with him.

    Thank you for allowing me to vent. I have a good man, yet I think "Is this as good as it gets?" Please tell anyone who is a GOW or considering marriage to a W, think hard and long before proceeding. Perhaps we all must just be satisfied with having a life partner and leave it at that, expect no more. Anyone willing to share their story or advice, I am listening.
    Signed,
    Frustrated

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    Replies
    1. I just wanted to say that you statement about wanting to be someone's #1 really hit home. I am in a "relationship" with a widower and this was LW birthday month. Last night he informed me on a phone conversation that he and his family and LW mother celebrated the birthday at LW favorite Chinese restaurant, complete with birthday cake. He also added that he intends to be buried next to her upon his death. I have not been invited to his home yet (we have been seeing each other for 10 months and live in different states) and his kids and grandkids are his world.

      I am thinking this is not a healthy relationship for me but there are times that I feel so close to him and he actually feels "normal" and those are the times that keep me holding on.

      But, in my heart I know the truth: She will always hold his heart and I feel like a side-show.

      I wish I had read these pieces of heartbreak before getting involved with a widower. I will never agree to date another one again. Truth be told, after this fiasco, I would much rather be with a man that can't stand his living ex. than feel like this.

      Donna

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  2. Good morning...
    I am new to this GOW..I am a 58 year old female, I was divorced 5 years ago to a man I had been with and married for the previous 14 years. We divorced so he could draw SS disability benefits off of his deceased spouse, after a massive stroke in 2003 left him totally disabled. We maintained a relationship up until 2 years ago, then I got tired of the mental and physical abuse, so I moved on....last week I met a man of my dreams...he is 60 and was widowed nearly 2 years ago. In a sense, we each have suffered a death, mine was the loss of my husband as I knew him after the stroke. This man is so kind, thoughtful, I am the first he has gone out with since the death and he is the first I have gone out with since my "death"...we had sex the second date, very passionate, very hot...the best I have ever had..he calls me a couple times a day to see how I am doing, and to say "hi"....he will say "I am very protective of my emotions, I don't want to get hurt", and I understand that, I don't want to get hurt either, no one does. But, he says we were brought together for a reason..and I truly believe it, I think I am falling for him already. I feel so different than I have in any other relationships I have been in, I was married for 13 years, divorced for 8 before I began involved with my second husband, who was very demeaning and possessive, during those 8 years, I had a long term relationship, but this one feels right.
    We each had not had a sexual relationship in YEARS.....It felt right, mutually...
    Any advice?
    He is a dream....

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  3. Dear "Frsutrated" and "Aonymous".

    I would like to invite you to come to The Official WOW/GOW Message Board (accessible from my website at http://www.juliedonnerandersn.com), where over 550 members, many like you, share, support, encourage, and advise each other as "sisters" who all love a widower.

    Blessings...

    JDA

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  4. I have been widowed for 9 months and have been dating a widower for 2 months. We have various problems concerning telling family & friends, but our biggest problem is when we make love I always end with my saying my dead husband's name. He was so kind in the beginning but now is angry and to the point of leaving me out of his life completely. I know it hasn't been long enough maybe and we don't plan marriage but I want to desperately stop this since it seems to happen at no other time. Any suggestions?

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  5. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own timeframe. There is no "right" or "wrong" length of time. However, most statistics show that a year is best for healing, as there are 5 stages of grief to work through, and each stage takes a great deal of time and effort to overcome. As well, grief really should be managed alone, without distractions such as new love. Therefore, I believe perhaps your issues with your W may stem from this. I would like to work through this with yo uin fuirther detail, so I would like to invite you to come to The Official WOW/GOW Message Board (accessible from my website at http://www.juliedonnerandersn.com), where over 700 members, many like you, share, support, encourage, and advise each other as "sisters" who all love a widower.

    Blessings...

    JDA

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  6. hello,
    my first time discussing the issue with fellow WOWs (what a weird abbreviation!)
    my husband and I have been happily married for just over a year. we started seeing each other only 2 months after his ex died, and we had known each other for a few years before her death (in fact, I was sort of friends with her). the first year was tough - it was all grief and no room for me, but i was happy to have it that way as I understood it was very early days. then things started getting better and i began to realise that he really loved me.
    to cut the long story short, i sometimes think i have completely got over the whole WOW issue - although we live in her flat and talk about her a lot and have her pictures etc. I feel completely at ease with it. but sometimes he says things that just physically hurt me, and I do not understand why he has to say them. we are very close and we talk about virtually everything, but I cannot understand why he cannot keep certain things to himself!
    yesterday he told me in a phone conversation (I'm away on business trip at the moment) that he woke up to a very strong and upsetting dream, so I asked if he wanted to tell me about it. and he did! it was indeed about her; she was standing next to him, and he was thinking how much he loved her and how much she loved him and he wanted to kiss her but he couldn't reach her. when I heard that he wanted to kiss her I physically felt my heart sinking. the following night I kept waking up and weeping so strong that I seemed to wake up my housemates. I'm upset and angry with him for telling me this - but should I be? wasn't he just trying to be open with me, as we tell each other everything? and why was i so shocked - i already know he loves her very much and always will?.. I have a feeling it's the kissing bit that did the job but I'm not sure, and I feel completely destroyed.

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  7. Being a (former) W does not give a man carte blanche to treat a GOW or WOW insensitively. In your W's defense, however, it would appear that you have put up with his grief needs for so long, he's gotten used to being able to tell you anything and everything without impunity. I believe you really have to start drawing your boundary lines and inform him as to which "LW talk" you can stand, and which you cannot. For further discussion, please feel free to join The Official WOW/GOW Message Board, which you can find via my website at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com.

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  8. i really like this W guy and i think his late wife was very lucky to have him.
    i went through my own past of being with an abusive husband which i never really discuss but when he asked me how my past was i didnt say much but he some extent compared my life with his abd obviously drew a conclusion that my pain was not any way comapared to his . i feel we cannot compare broken hearts and loss and pain for we all hurt in diffrent ways. thing here is he is painted as a saint, we are all not perfect, we all have grieved and do respect that they have experienced a sudden death of a loved one.
    But what i can not tolerate is a man that treats a woman badly in a bracket of being painted a saint perfect hubby; not taking her out, not inviting her to parties or even being seen with her. I have been treated this way and think a W is not any diffrent from any man; Death doesnot select and i respect grieving process - still no way tp disrepect a woman.M

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  9. If your W is not taking you out, not inviting you to parties, and is hiding you from people altogether, then he is nowhere near being ready to date again as he feels guilty about moving on. As well, it would appear that perhaps he fears being judged harshly by others, especially if he hasn't been widowed for long.

    I believe the most difficult thing for a GOW is discerning which of her W's behaviours are grief related, and which are simply part of his original personality. GOWs are a very compassionate, sympathetic bunch, and our natural tendency is to blame all bad behaviour on grief when grief is not always to blame.

    For more on this, please join the 775+ members of the Official WOW/GOW Message Board and I (accessible via my website at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com).

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  10. Since I married my husband, Mother's Day has been a struggle, both for his two daughters and me. My sons didn't want to move with the marriage and live with their father. On Mother's Day, the girls grieve the loss of their mother (now 6 years). I grieve over the loss of not being with my sons as the custodial parent. I also feel awkward as the stepmom because the girls and I have had a strained relationship. Needless to say Mother's Day is tense and it seems that we are just in hurry to get it over with. This year I wanted to write something to the girls and give them a reverse Mother's Day card, but I never was quite sure what to say. I searched and searched for the right words to have already been written, because honestly, I just didn't know what to write in order to make this a less tense and more positive experience for us all. Finally, I wrote the following to them with a quote from Abraham Lincoln about his mother:

    Girls,
    I just wanted to write a few words in tribute to your mother and honor her this Mother’s day. She was only here for a short time, but while she was here with you, it seems as if she was an incredible human being who made a dynamic impact in the lives of the people who knew her, and most especially you in your young lives.
    I hope you always cherish her teachings to you and the unconditional love she devotedly gave to you.


    "I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life."
    ~ Abraham Lincoln

    It was a blessing to put the focus of Mother's Day towards their mother. Maybe someday, the holiday will be more joyful. But for now, I feel very content to have connected with them through my message.

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  11. I have been married to a widower for 6 years. We meet 3 months after she had passed. However , I was told at the time that she had been deceased for 6 months. I found out differently when I saw her obituary( after we married) I did not press the issue at first. He told me that he was ready to move on. I must mention that he was married to his first wife for 30 years and she died from brain cancer.
    The issues that I am having is that we have been married for 6 years and he insist on keeping their marital home (he says he is keeping to give to his two sons after he passes- his sons are grown and both live in different cities. My point is this- If I go over there to their home- there are pictures and everything just like she left them. Her jewlery is on HER dresser and even her perfume. Her hair color, and other supplies are still where she left them.Her clothes were just given to one of his late wifes caretakers. (after I complained that it was time to make a place for some of my things. However, I had asked him if we could get another bed becasue I did not want to sleep in "their bed". He said that he was not going to get rid of the bed where his son's were concieved. Needless to say I don't go there anymore. I am thankful that I have my own home and no other man has ever slept in my new bed- nor do I have pictures of my ex husband everywhere. The house that he says he is keeping for his son looks like you could expect his late wife to walk in any minute becasue it is still as she left it over 7 years ago. I undrstand they were married for a long time. I understand heartache,however, something is wrong with this picture. NOt to mention he constantly reminds me that if we don;t have sex he doesn't feel loved. An in order to keep the peace and avoid the silent treatment-I have to (not because I want to) but if I want to be talked to and want him to be decent to my family--I have to or else he pouts and is rude and hateful. Also, I have a19 year old son that he hates. My son got into trouble and is in treatment now. He hates my son and says that its over if I have anything to do with him.
    I need an outsiders opinion. Thanks.
    Miserable in GA

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  12. I am a GOW and I very much relate to all the experiences mentioned here. I am happy to know that there are people like me:-)

    I divorced a very nasty person. Took four years to get over it. Then I meet an old friend after 15 years who is widowed now. While showing sympathy to him, I fell in love with him. Ours is long distance relationship - I met him 4 times since. We text and call each other every day. There is no communication gap. But....the content of conversation hangs around his past. Even after having a great time for 3 days, once he goes back, his first text will be about how he misses his wife! Gawd! What about the great sex we had for three days?!!!!!!!
    I am frustrated now - competing with his memories and guilt.

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  13. Dear "Miserable in GA",

    A widower (W) who keeps the LW's and his "marital bed where their sons were conceived" has not let go. He may have moved on, but letting go is very different: the former is a natural progression of life, but letting do is a concious act wherein the W CHOOSES to put the past in its PROPER perspective. I believe your W could beneift form therapy or bereavemenrt recovery classes.

    As for having physical relations just to keep "in the game", my advice would be - don't. Don't ever compromise your needs, wants, and desires just to suit a man's. He is using sex as a way to manipulate.

    For more on this, please join The Official WOW/GOW Message Board, located on my wevbsuite at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com.

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  14. Dear Anonymous of Jan. 9, 2013,

    Obviously, you have, one or more time sin the past allowed your W to talk about his LW without impunity. Perhaps it didn't bother you then; however, many GOWs find that the more they become invested in the relaitonship, the less patient they are about listening to their Ws talk about LW. You are NOT alone! You have rights, so what you must do now is communicate to your W just how his constant LW chat is making you feel. You must make a personal boundary. Use the 3C's (see blog about this communication method here on this site) to work together cooperatively to find a compromise you can both live with.

    For more on this, please join The Official WOW/GOW Message Board at my website, http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com

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  15. I have been dating someone for 2 months now who lost his girlfriend (though to him she was his "wife") to cancer. She passed away about 4 months ago. The first month was great - I felt as if he was really into me, but then after about 4 weeks into dating, he said although he enjoys our time together, he isn't ready for any type of commitment right now. Though he still takes the initiative in communicating with me everyday and getting together every week, I sense that he has taken a step back as the level of affection is not as it was during the first month of seeing each other. He talks about her every time we see each other (apart from only one time) even though it's only for a brief moment. Although I do like him a lot, I am torn on whether I should continue to have patience and see what happens(as he is a good man and I feel he may be worth it) or whether I should end things sooner as opposed to later. I welcome your insight to this situation. Thank you.

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  16. Dear Anonymous of March 15, 2013:

    If it bothers you to hear about LW, then you must do the dutiful thing and communicate with your W about your feelings. For more on this issue, please join the over 2,000 members and me at The Official WOW/GOW Message Board, found at my website (http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com).

    ReplyDelete