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.


  1. Hi Julie, You may remember me from your newsletter a couple years back. Hubby and I have made wonderful progress and even the older girls are beginning to show that they want this family to move forward and function well. I think I may have been in all three types of situations at one phase or another. Thankfully, five years after LW passed away, we are beginning to actually thrive. Communication is more open as well. Most of the difficult topics have been discussed and compromise is taking place. We are finally blending into one unit.

    I have to admit many of the changes have taken place in me. It helps to know that you can change yourself and thereby change your life experience. Taking ownership of our wrongs does that.

    Thanks for helping me (through your book) to be able to wrestle with all the emotions in an intelligent way. It really helped me a lot.

  2. I am in a relationship with a man who is 74 and has lost his wife 4 years ago. He still has all her pictures throughout the house and I am not as ok with it as I was when we first met I don't even want to sit in the same room as the LW picture is in because of how I feel. How many years does it take to get rid of her things or will he ever am I just not accepting the reality of it?