Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Three Types Of GOWs: Which One Are YOU?

In my 12 years of dealing with GOW/W relationships, I have come to the conclusion that there are three types of GOWs:

1.) The first type of GOW I like to call "The Spy". She sniffs around for every detail of LW's life: who she was, what she was like, what W's marriage to her was like, what did she looked like, what her personality like, what shoe size LW wore, how she was in bed, nauseum. This kind of GOW is fishing for info in order to "size up the competition". She doesn't really want to "know" LW in order to embarce her; rather, she wants to know that she (the GOW) is somehow BETTER than LW, and is looking for comparisons where she can "best" LW. This type of GOW has probably always had trust issues, and comes across as insecure, needing to be constantly reassured of her W's love. She whines and moans constantly about feeling "second best" in W's heart because she is not secure and confident about the woman SHE is, so how can she believe W when he tries to tell her - over and over again - that he indeed loves her? This type of GOW claims W as her territory and becomes very territorial in her behaviour - and God help anyone who trespasses, including old friends and family of LW. This GOW will not and does not tolerate ANY discussion of the past. She CLAIMS it's because "the past no longer matters - we live in the present", but in reality, she is scared to death that any reminder of the past might result in her losing the man she loves, or that she just might pale in comparison.

2.) The second type of GOW is what I call "The Grief Therapist". She is waaay too understanding about W's grief episodes (AKA: "fits and starts" - where he's happily committed one day, breaking up with her the next, and back again). She can't tell the difference between normal "guy behaviour" and what constitutes normal grief behaviour, so to play it safe, she blames all his nonsense on his being a widower, thus excusing him every time he hurts her feelings. This type of GOW puts her own needs on the back burner in order to serve his grief needs, yet resents doing so very much.

There are two divisions of Grief Therapist:

~One is benevolent and truly feels that sacrificing her own needs, and not communicating them, serves "the greater good" of the relationship. She is happy to serve, and gets a great deal of self-esteem out of being the eternal martyr.

~The other will never complain, and will often stretch the truth of her relationship, sugar-coating it because she enjoys "keeping up appearances" of happiness since she rather likes being viewed as the heroine in the story of W's life. I feel for this type because she is spinning her wheels and getting nowhere fast. Her relationship is at a standstill. It can't move froward without communication of her needs, yet she's stuck and doesn't know how to get out of this pretty little grave she's dug herself into. What is pathetic about this type of GOW is that her relationship with W - and W himself - often suffers from all her selfess "grief therapy". Her benevolence often feeds W's ever-present guilt to the point of being burdensome, and when he breaks up with her because of it, she is at a loss to explain why.

3.) The third type of GOW is what I call "The Combo". She is a bit of Numbers 1 and 2, but more often than not, she is more of a realist. This type of GOW has the benefit of life experience. She is older, wiser, and has had a lifetime of perfecting other relatinships, so she brings to the table a great guidebook of life lessons she can use to navigate the waters with W.

Combo GOW wants to be patient and tries very hard to be, but she tires easily of holding onto hope when there are no guarantees that her patience will pay off for her. She is fairly good at communicating her needs, but she is easily frustrated when HIS seem so insurmountable. She trusts W's declarations of love, but sometimes, when the chips are down, she worries a bit that she'll never be good enough - or as good as LW.

The Combo GOW makes room for everyone in W's life: his children, his LWs family, and his own family. In her mind, the more people in their relationship to love, the better. She is tireless when she works to blend her family with his. She is present-grounded and future-sighted, juggling the needs and wants of all involved, yet allowing for her own needs to be met. She understands that W's children and/or former in-laws may not accept her at first beucase she truly understaands the grief process and does not blame them. In fact, she has a great deal of compassion for their grief, and lovingly steps aside to allow it to run its course, just being confident in herself until such time as they come to accept her.

The Combo GOW has an uncanny ability to anticipate W's moods, often beating him to the punch before he even has a chance to explain his grief triggers. She allows for dischord, yet believes in the power of herSELF, as well as the strength of her love for W, to get through the tough times. She is confident yet not demanding, and she is careful not to get too big-headed about her relationship because she has done the research and knows that a perfect relationship with a W is often defined as a one-day-at-a-time, "as good as it gets" kind of relationship. She is open-minded about latent grief, and is willing to go with the flow through the changes that happen to her W and the relationship.

The Combo GOW is not threatened by LW or her memory. She acknowledges W's love for LW, and is grateful to LW for helping to make W the man she loves, yet she is wise enough not to allow the past to invade the present. She knows how to draw a fair boundary line between what about the past is OK to bring into the present, and how much of it can be allowed into the future without taking anything away from herself or her relationship. She is fearlessly unafraid of talking about her needs with W, and expects his compassion and his listening ear as much as she gives the same to him.

Keep in mind that, for ALL 3 types of GOWs, there is a type of W to go along with each:

1.) The Spy GOW often has a W who wallows in self-pity, is immobile about his own grief healing, is often in denial about his grief, and, more often than not, is using the GOW to avoid doing the necessary grief work. Grief NEEDS to be selfish in order to work through it, yet the W who dates The Spy GOW's W is TOO selfish to address HER needs. He is too self-centered to see how her digging for information about LW is not a good thing. He then willingly gives her all the information she needs because he is soo happy to be able to talk about LW, yet he does so to his own disadvantage. The individuals in this couple are both users, and they eventually suck the life out of each other until the relationship dies on the vine. If they do manage to hang onto each other somehow, there is always an undercurrent of resentment on one or both of their parts. Since they suck at REAL communication, and are too selfish for cooperation and compromise, they take whatever they need from each other and feel like they've settled for less than they deserve.

2.) The Grief Enabler's widower is happy to wear the GOW's rose-coloured glasses and play along with her charade because doing so distracts him from his pain as well as his grief work. The Grief Therapist's widower takes full advantage of her selflessness. However, sooner or later, the grief he has been denying comes back with a vengeance, and instead of being honest with her and risk hurting this amazingly patient and caring woman, he either stays stuck in a grief stage until it consumes him to the point of breaking, or he simply stays with her out of pity, need, or fear, and remains grief-stricken and guilt-ridden while the relationship stands still and suffers from lack of growth.

3.) The Combo GOW's widower knows he has a good thing, but is careful not to let his own needs overshadow his GOW's needs. He is CONSTANTLY aware of his GOW's feelings and is a willing participant in honest communication about touchy subjects. If she says she is uncomfortable with LW discussions, LW pictures, or LW stuff, he is mindful to be respectful of her needs, knowing that she isn't being unreasonable. He is open-minded about her gentle suggestions for moving forward. If he disagress with her, he trusts her enough to communicate with her, knowing she will be receptive to his thoughts and willing to compromise. There isn't much they can't tackle together, and with their maturity, ease of communication, cooperative selflessness, and committment to compromise, they are the most successful pairing of GOW and W.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

When the GOW/WOW Compares Herself to the Sainted LW

I believe it's absolutely normal for a GOW/WOW to fine some kind of satisfaction, even comfort, in discovering LW's faults and flaws.

When it's W himself who offers these tidbits of truth, he is, in effect, completing a grief stage: acceptance. Where once he held LW on a pedestal of perfection, time has healed his heart to the point where he can now put LW's memory in perspective. In most cases, admitting openly that LW had flaws doesn't mean he regrets his marriage, or that LW went from angel to total b*tch overnight. It simply means that he has come to a point along his grief journey where he has processed her loss rationally instead of irrationally.

Should Ws be aware that GOWs/WOWs are bothered by hearing that W/LW marriages were happy? Not unless the GOW/WOW tells him so! And until that time, I believe Ws will tell the unvarnished truth because they consider their happy marriages to be a sign of good character. Thus, does sharing information about the happy state of his marriage to LW make him an insensitve clod? I don't believe so. Instead, it makes him an honest person with a great resume of marriage experience.

Ws who only have nice things to say about their LWs aren't always stuck in grief. They may just be the kind, gentlemen-ly type who never say a bad word about ANYone, and they prefer not to speak ill of the dead. Hubs has never said a bad thing about LW to me, except that she wasn't perfect. Fine by me, because I KNOW she wasn't perfect, and that's not based on anything negative anyone has told me. It's just that I know human beings are imperfect and there is no such thing as a Super Woman.

The danger in a GOW taking LW's admitted flaws/faults and judging LW as "bad" - just to make herself feel better - is that doing so can come back to bite her. When W has heard enough LW-knocking (even if he agress with what is being said about her faults - and even if HE was the one who confessed them), he will resent having shared such intimate secrets about her flaws in the first place - or start to feel guilty about doing so - when he knows deep inside she wasn't ALL bad, and that their marriages indeed had moments to cherish. Divorcees are often dealt this kind of judgement when others ask them, "How could you have stayed with such a monster for so long?" First of all, it makes the divorcee feel stupid, and everyone can relate to resenting a person who judges us as foolish. Secondly, every divorcee will tell you that there WERE some marital highlights, happy times, and positive affirmations within the marriage's duration (and enough good things within their exes) they will always treasure...and grieve the loss of.Thus, while it's true that some Ws had unhealthy marriages to their LWs, be forewarned that even those marriages (and the less-than-stellar LWs) will still be grieved as a loss. This kind of grief is jammed-packed full of guilt and resentment, leaving these kinds of Ws very trepidacious about committment, much less remarrying. More often than not, it is these kinds of Ws who take longer to come full circle in their recovery....and can be "the toughest nut to crack" for a GOW.

I think it's easier to make those LW comparisons when the Ws in question are being dunderheaded about letting go and moving on. It leaves a GOW wondering, "What's wrong with ME? Why am I not good enough? What makes HER rate a higher seat on his priority list than ME?" and blame her for him dragging his feet, when the important question should be, "What's wrong with HIM?!" It's easy to have ill feelings for someone who you feel is stealing your thunder. But it's not her fault that he loved her.

Ws need to be able to come to a point at the end of their bereavement recovery when they can finally let go. It is the last, and hardest, step to healing. At this final stage, the W learns to manage his grief, put the past where it belongs, and embrace the present and future. This is not to say that he stops loving LW. He won't. Most never will. There will always be a place in his heart for her. But in putting the past where it belongs, a W releases its hold on him for good.

Normal as it is to do "the superiority dance" (a la "Church Lady" from old Saturday Night Live when LW's faults/flaws are laid bare, as I have stated many times, normal does not always equal productive. LW's faults/flaws are only part and parcel of the human being W loved (or once loved). She wasn't perfect, but she wasn't a total write-off, either. There was SOMEthing good about her or SOME payoff of their marriage that kept W hanging in there. It is always disasterous when human beings take an "either/or" stance on their acceptance of other human beings. No one is absolutely, 100% bad or good. We ALL have good, and we ALL have flaws.

Needing a yardstick (the LW) against which you measure your own self worth in W's heart is a true sign of a dangerously low self-esteem. Working on THAT is how you can overcome feeling like "second best".

Trying to find ways to feel superior to the LW, while initially normal for GOWs/WOWs, is unproductive to say the least. No matter how you add it up, these small victories never end up being the real reasons why W loves you for who YOU are. We need to embrace the fact that who and what we are, however similar or different from the LWs, is what truly matters.

The sad reality is, many women with insecurity issues will battle them even harder when they start dating a W.

You have to start believing that what you offer to W is what he wants and needs, to hell with what anyone else thinks, and remember that itis BECAUSE he lost a LW that he is the man for you. He has evolved, grown, and matured. The experience of losing a spouse changes a person, and he is much so that he has become the perfect fit for YOU!

Obsessing over LW, either positively or negatively, takes up waaay too much time and energy that would be better spent embracing the present and choosing to be happy despite the past. She was his perfect match back then. *I* am his perfect match now, because he is no longer the man from the past - he has changed, evolved, grown, matured, and learned that life is fragile so you gotta embrace it with GUSTO and CHOOSE to be happy in the "here and now."

The simple truth is this: He loved her. Loved = past tense. He can love the MEMORY of her, but she's not here anymore for him to love with a passion reserved for the living. He loves you. Loves = present tense. YOU are the real, living, breathing embodiment of his present feelings. He will contine to love you. Will love = future tense. One cannot build a future on memories.

So, too, must a GOW come to a final stage of acceptance. in order for the relationship to thrive, she must embrace her own autonomous significance in the W's life, and stop allowing the past to interfere with the present.....and that means: stop allowing LW, her memory, and her perceived yet illusional perfection interfere with your choice to be happy!!

Whether W and LW were blissfully happy or miserably connected, it matters little in the here and now. It is the present and future we as GOWs/WOWs need to be focussed on and concerned with, not the past. Start today to uplift your self esteem. Embrace who you are and what you mean to your W. It's real, it's permanent, and it's packed with hope for everywaking moment. Don't waste any more precious time you COULD be spending in a peaceful, fulfilling relationship by allowing the past to suffocate your self worth. If you weren't worthy, he wouldn't have chosen you. But you ARE worthy! He could have spent the remainder of his years alone with his memories, but God bless him, he had the strength, the fortitude, and the will to push himself beyond his grief to appreciate the gift of love you bring. He's awesome..YOU'RE awesome...LIFE is awesome! Enjoy it! Embrace it! Happiness is a BE happy!!

First of all, stop feeling guilty about feeling happy that LW was not perfect. It's human, and very common and normal for GOWs and WOWs to feel relieved when they hear bad things about LW. It makes HER appear more human - not the perfect angel we have been lead to believe by W, her family, their friends, or all three.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: what you are feeling in regard to LW comparisons is NORMAL for a GOW! Thus, I validate your normalness. However, when all is said and done, it matters NOT what other people think - it matters what W thinks, and if he perceives LW as perfect, then the bad stuff other people say isn't going to make much difference.

We cannot be satisfied to remain validated when we know deep inside that it is unproductive and gets us nowhere. DEALING with negative, non-productive, kneejerk reactions - however normal they may be - is what matures us and helps us grow as individuals, which can only help our relationships thrive. Acknowledging WHERE the insecurity that leads to the comparisons comes from is an important first step....but it's not the last.

I have battled the demons of low self-esteem my whole life. But I had a choice: I could either be satisfied with the validation of my stinky past and thus, be condemned to wallow in it unproductively.....OR....I could rise above it, learn to like myself and project that likeability onto others, and deal with my trust issues so that I wouldn't miss out on the joys of life. And missing out on those joys is exactly what I fear may happen to you if you don't start today to move beyond validation and start taking the leaps of faith - in yourself and others - so you can lead a full and happy life, free from comparisons.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Those "Other" WOW/GOW Sites and So-Called "Experts"

Recently, I received an e-mail from a GOW who was totally disturbed by the lack of support and encouragement she received when she posted her GOW issue on a different kind of WOW/GOW site (not my site). In her words: "One blog owner advised that if my W were really over his LW and ready to move on with life, then he should have no problem with my issue. Another one told me to just get over it as I had him now and she was dead."

How truly sad, misinformed, and misguided these other so-called "experts" are.

There is a reason why I call my forum “The Official WOW/GOW Message Board” (and yes, it’s copyrighted!): because there is not another one like it in cyberspace! No other board is run by a GOW/WOW who has not only had a book published on the subject, but has had over a decade of grief counselling and bereavement recovery experience. Not to boast, but I bring to my board both personal AND professional experience. That being said, the “other” boards/blogs/forums really irritate me because they tend to be non-productive, non-supportive, and definitely short sighted and lacking in real expertise.

One such forum that really burns me up is run by a widower who thinks he can counsel GOWs and WOWs just because he remarried and wrote a book about it! Puh-lease…give me strength! Most of the time, when a GOW or WOW posts her issues to his blog, he minimizes her feelings and just tells her to shove off, get away from W, dump him, and move on. But when a GOW or WOW has invested much of herself, her love, her hopes, her dreams, and yes, her life to the relationship, these harsh words do mor eharm than good...and it's time to set the record straight.

Lest anyone think I am posting this blog because I am competitive, jealous, or feel threatened by the aforementioned "other" forums, let me state for the record the following: I have NEVER tried to steer my board members away from something besides me and/or my book if I thought it'd be helpful to them. In fact, I would search (and have searched) heaven and earth for ANY good literature for them IF I thought it would help them. And if I thought for one minute that these other forums were truly beneficial, I would post the web address for all to see and visit.

However, I am of the opinion that those who have never walked in GOW or WOW shoes have no business advising those who do. It'd be like a man advising a woman about childbirth: sure, he might know the mechancics, the medical facts, and process from start to finish. But he would NEVER be able to advise her as to how it FEELS, emotionally speaking, to birth a child and/or be a mother because, simply put, he is not a woman, and thus, has never personally experienced birth!

Therefore, ladies, be careful "out there" in cyberspace. Thanks to POD publishing technology, ANYONE can write a book....but that doesn't always mean they have the experience or expertise to back it up. Do yourselves a favour and think twice before "nodding and smiling" for any cyberspace "expert" who lacks the credentials and experience necessary to validate you as you journey along as a GOW/WOW. Anyone can throw together a website these days and claim to be an "expert", so don;t be intimidated! Do your research and ask questions before baring your soul to someone who has never worn your moccasins, lest you find yourselves mislead or, worse, discouraged.