Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Break or Break-Up? Let's Be Friends..or Not?

Many times, a W will jump into a relationship with a GOW before he is ready; before he has completed bereavement recovery. Naturally, an innocent, loving GOW who has no clue what grief recovery entails will have no idea what she is in for, which is usually the W’s inevitable latent bombshell of, “I’m sorry, but I ‘m not ready for all this yet…can we just be friends until I work this out?” Suddenly awestruck as to the timing of such a request, a GOW wonders, “Is this a break…or a break-up? Do we keep seeing each other…or not? And what about contact: do we, or don’t we?”


So what is a GOW to do when she is asked by her W to be patiently single while he limps off on his own to nurse his grief? In a utopian world, a W and his GOW will have already laid a good foundation of communication wherein they can feel comfortable enough to define the parameters of their separation. This is a time for fortitude in asking the tough questions about how long the separation may last, who contacts whom, and whether or not meeting for dates or even coffees is a good idea. Bottom line: it is best to find out NOW if this will be a complete breakup or just a temporary setback.


Sadly, this is NOT a utopian world. A W who suddenly seeks a break or a breakup will be ill-equipped, thanks to his overwhelming need for “alone time” in which to process his grief without distraction, to adequately formulate a plan that includes the GOW’s feelings. A grieving W is not forward-thinking; thus, a plan that requires thoughts of a future beyond today is usually not something he is ready to deliver. As much as he may claim to love his GOW – and he usually does! – he is temporarily rendered insensitive when, in reality, grief is to blame for his inability to be compassionate about her stake in all of this.


If you are a GOW who has just landed in this predicament, the good news is that it is never too late to go back to your W after the initial devastation of his request for separation wears off, and ask him to cooperate with you about how to define the break/breakup. You may have to swallow your pride before confronting him on a fact-finding mission, however, especially if your last date where he delivered the bad news was emotionally explosive, and hurting words were delivered as parting shots you now regret taking.


But think about it: do you really think you would be capable of maintaining a friendship-only relationship with a man you once loved, and still do? Would it not be best for both of you to completely separate until such time as W feels recovered enough to pick up where you left off? And is that fair to you?


Grief is a lone journey, each survivor making it in their own time and in their own way. Seeking professional counseling is always a good idea for a survivor, but you yourself playing grief counselor to a W who is not comfortable in a love relationship any longer can backfire on both of you. It would be like the blind leading the blind. I never recommend it. Thus, you have to ask yourself, “Am I willing to just be a good friend who merely nods and listens as he mourns for another woman in my presence?”


You and only you must decide whether being his friend is going to be helpful to both of you. Are you mentally, emotionally, and intellectually prepared to play the role of grief counsellor? Are you prepared to endure the heartache of wanting him, yet knowing you must keep him at arm's length? Are you willing and able to put in the time, energy, and resources into a friendship that may never result in more? Do you believe you can truly be selfless enough to hold back your personal agenda so he can have what he needs to recover? Grief is a solitary journey, one he must work alone, at his own pace and in his own time...and without distractions. Are you sure that at some point, you will not be tempted to push your agenda, thus delaying his recovery?


Some GOWs answer this question by replying, “Well, I’d be willing to put I the hard work as long as the payoff is that we are together in the log run.” However, therein lies the rub. There is no way to predict whether your efforts to maintain a friendship with W will end up the way you hope it will: as a loving, more-than-friends relationship. In fact, the statistics show it will not happen. But you just may beat the odds. There is always hope. It IS possible he is just asking for time to heal, and will be back after he has properly grieved, but there are no guarantees ad no way to predict the outcome.


Remaining "friends only" with someone you once loved and were intimate with is a very difficult task. Thus, it is up to each individual GOW to decide whether or not she has the fortitude for the job. Since W is in the driver’s seat of grief, it is up to him to lead the way and set the pace. But that is not to say you have to be his passenger. Moving on without him, even as he resides in your heart, is what I feel is best. Do not contact him until such time as he contacts you. Make your life as happy as possible without him in it. If a future with a W is meant to be, it WILL be....as long as grief no longer stands in your way.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Onset (and Onslaught!) of Latent Grief

Simply put, “latent grief” is grief that was never satisfactorily dealt with during the early stages, and has come back. Reasons why grief may be delayed are many, but the most common reason is that a W, knowing how difficult grief is, often pushes it aside (denial) or substitutes it for more self-pleasing activities and pursuits in order to distract himself from the agony of grief. Often, a new love in his life can delay a W's journey to recovery because she represents a pleasing distraction from the arduous task of working through grief feelings. However, grief is like an insolent child: it will kick and scream until it gets the attention it wants.

Latent grief is usually triggered by some kind of new emotional and/or stressful event in a W's life, such as a child's entrance into college (empty nest syndrome), a new job, and even another loss. Guilt is often a factor. When latent grief happens, a GOW (Girlfriend Of a Widower) is suddenly both shocked and confused as her W goes into a self-imposed exile in order to deal with HIS suddenly confusing and shocking feelings.

The problem with latent grief for the GOW is that it strikes out of seemingly nowhere. The relationship can be running along rather smoothly, and then whammo....the widower suddenly becomes withdrawn, sulky, depressed, etc....and refuses to discuss his feelings. Since he has convinced himself (and you, too) that he was beyond bereavement, this new and surprising development makes him shut down even further. He feels he cannot possibly discuss these new feelings with you NOW, since he has already spent so much time and effort convincing you that he WAS ready to love again.

At this point, a W may ask his GOW for a separation, or may simply stop all contact. It is not his intention to hurt her, but rather, to distance himself from that which is distracting him from the grief work he knows he must accomplish in order to heal. A W who does not realize that his latent grief is normal and temporary may need to enter counseling in order to receive validation and to learn effective tools for healing.

So what is a GOW to do? Unfortunately, at this point, grief is stronger than your W, so the "alone time" he requests is vital to his healing and must be respected, even encouraged. Your W will have to complete the grief stage he formerly skipped before he can move on again. Only HE knows what is best for himself, grief-wise. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time; thus, while a widow who dates a W may find his actions strange if she herself had never experienced latent grief, it is perfectly normal - even common - for others, including her W. It is statistically unclear how long the average length of separation caused by latent grief may last. However, it is best to let a W lead.

During the separation, a GOW would be wise to research grief so she can learn to somewhat understand what her W is going through.

Latent grief differs in severity from one mourner to another and each widower deals with latent grief in differing lengths of time. Thus, it's hard to put a finger on what to expect. I know you are so tired of being patient, and all you really want are guarantees, but I'm afraid I can't offer any. However, I'll try to give you some idea:

For one, you can expect a kind of "bipolar" experience, meaning he will be maniacally UP one day, and depressingly DOWN another in a roller-coaster kind of way. It can happen surprisingly fast, too: one minute, you'll be having a nice, happy dinner together, and the next minute he'll be crying in his dessert.

Secondly, you can expect him to try to push you away. He may do this for a variety of reasons: to get the space he needs to cope with his emotions, to keep you at a distance while he goes through this so he won't hurt you emotionally while he copes, to deal with his overwhelming guilt feelings, etc. And just as quickly, he may try to pull you back into this life. During this push/pull experience, all you can do is go with the flow and let him lead. During those times he pushes you away, keep in casual contact to let him know you care. During the times he pulls you in, try to get him to open up and communicate his feelings. Don’t worry about bringing up his painful past. He NEEDS to talk about it in order to purge it.

During this separation, a GOW/W couple may cease all communication if that is what a W has decided is best. However, I believe casual "check-up" contacts are important to maintaining healthy lines of communication, thus keeping a spark alive until such time as the W has learned to better manage his grief.

Thirdly, understand that there is nothing you have done or could do to bring on his episodes of latent grief. It's not your fault. Neither should you blame him or accuse him of doing something over which he has no control. He is just as confused as you are.

Lastly, understand that therapy takes time. You will be called on to deliver the most patience you have ever had to give. It is a good sign that he accepts he has a problem, better still that he has sought help for it. Realize that latent grief IS temporary; he will not deal with it forever. Sure, he will always grieve his loss to some extent, but not in a way that impedes his personal growth and happiness as it does now.

Accepting latent grief as a normal step towards recovery goes a long way towards building the patience and endurance she will need to survive such a breakup. It is also important for a GOW who is enduring a grief-related separation to take care of herself - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually - lest she fall into depression's grip.

It's up to each individual GOW to decide whether or not she can stay with her W while he attempts recovery from latent grief. Many women do, and they are rewarded for their patience and understanding. It depends on the woman's strength and endurance. But if you truly feel you cannot possibly learn to trust him again...if you feel he has hurt you beyond forgiveness....if you cannot possibly wait around for however long it takes him to recover...then by all means and with my permission, start packing your bags. But if you feel you love him and yourself enough to work through this together....if he is willing to be more open and communicative about his feelings while he recovers....if you are willing to understand the complexities of latent grief and commit yourself to researching all you can about it so you will know what to expect...then by all means and with my permission, stay and work it all out.

For more information on the topics of latent grief and surviving a breakup or "fits and starts" episode, please click the links below, which will take you to a few entries in my blog, "Loving A Widower":


http://juliedonnerandersen.blogspot.com/2009/04/fits-and-starts-of-dating-widower.html

http://juliedonnerandersen.blogspot.com/2009/04/moving-on-and-letting-go-are-they-same.html

http://juliedonnerandersen.blogspot.com/2010/03/selfishness-of-grief-aka-fits-starts.html

http://juliedonnerandersen.blogspot.com/2010/01/for-gows-who-date-early-grief-widower.html


For a great excerpt from a professional point of view about latent grief, please click to:

http://books.google.ca/books?id=K-8RwDWbwdIC&pg=PA55&lpg=PA55&dq=latent+grief&source=bl&ots=wcAE2UYUvQ&sig=P0ltJ3h7asEeq-ZnDWXVjYrHhYg&hl=en&ei=K_bATKD4HoOjnQf19YXfCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CC0Q6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=latent%20grief&f=false

Finally, if you are experiencing a separation due to latent grief, I encourage you to become a member of The Official WOW/GOW Message Board, where over 600 women worldwide - many who share your experiences - meet to commiserate, share, advise, and encourage each other. Membership is free, and as the moderator, I am there daily.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Separation: What's My Next Move?

Many times, a W and GOW will decide to take a break from the relationship to re-evaluate and re-focus, but mostly so that W can take necessary "alone time" to work on his grief without distraction. However, because the burden of grief recovery is all-consuming, a W may "disappear" from GOW's life altogtheer, shutting her out without even realizing it. It is during this time that GOWs tend to wonder, "What's my next move? Should I leave him alone...or should I contact him?"

No living thing will grow if it is cut off from even one of its basic survival needs, i.e., food, water, shelter, etc. The same is true for relationships, which cannot grow and thrive without the need for communication being met. Without regular contact (even if "regular" means once a month), we are left to our own conclusions and assumptions about what the other person is thinking, feeling, and/or doing without us...and 99 times out of 100, these will be negative and borderline paranoid assumptions and conclusions. Regular contact establishes a line of communication; a lifeline of sorts that keeps us hopeful and exposes us to W's truth, whatever that may be.

Logic tells us that that which is not connected is DISconnected. Without regular communication, a relationship is indeed disconnected and no longer based in any foundation, be it respect, love, or trust. Indeed, it becomes "uprooted", and like a flower that is not firmly grounded, it will begin to die a slow death.

The difficult part of this "limbo" is that W may not feel the need for contact as much as his GOW does. He has enough on his plate with trying to figure out the complexities of grief, and work through them. This takes all the focus he can muster, and because grief is so hard, a W sometimes subconsiously allows distractions into his life that would ease his pain...distractions that may interfere with his progress.

Surprisingly, most Ws KNOW this, and will put all their ducks in a row prior to grief work...one of those "ducks" being "solitary confinement", wherein he opts to go into his man cave alone, without disruption by anything - or anyone - who may trifle with his focus, thus disconnecting from his GOW until such time as he either A.) feels his grief work has progressed enough to be less of a burden to the relationship and will thus REconnect with his GOW, or B.) decides that he needs more time and will remain DISconnected until further notice.

When a W asks for a break to further his grief agenda, he does not feel the severity of the separation as much as the GOW does. He has more than her on his mind - he has grief. GOW, on the other hand, only has W on which to focus all her energies, thoughts, and feelings....thus making the separation quite a bit more intense - and the need for reconnection and regular communication much stronger - than his.

Friendly, casual contact is a Band-Aid solution to a GOW's anxiety, and should never be taken as a "foot back in the door" of W's life. It is merely a way to ease her troubled, questioning mind and exposes the relationship to the POSSIBILITY of healing through communication; thus rooting the relationship in something more positively focused.

Make no mistake: just because a W goes into self-imposed exile (i.e, his man cave) does not mean he has forgotten his GOW. He has just decided that disconnecting from her is the healthiest way for him to deal with his issues. Most GOW/W relationships that had been firmly rooted in mutual respect and trust PRIOR to separating will weather a separation much better than a previously non-committed relationship. It is this kind of GOW/W couple that should work out regular contact schedule in order to keep the candle burning in the window of their hearts until the W is safely home again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A DOD Without Issues

(Note: I wrote this on Sept. 10th 2010, but just got around to posting it today...)


Today is LW's DOD...#14. As I look back over the years, I am amazed at the growth and progress of my W...but also, of myself. Gone are the days of my feeling "less than" or "second best". My insecurities, once raw and laid bare, are barely a flicker. The intensity of my jealousies has been distinquished and doused by the love we have tended to and grown throughout the years. I cannot even remember the last time W and I discussed a W/WOW issue of our own. I don't recall the last time he felt melancholy about "the one who came before me". I no longer wonder, worry, or compare. I have wisely invested in living for the present, which has slowly added up to a future. I no longer look back...just forward.

Today is LW's 14th DOD, and It is just another day on the calender. I haven't secretly driven by the cemetary like I used to in almost a decade, looking for evidence of W's having been there. I remember the date only because it is the day before 9/11, and now that I have remembered the date, I remember the woman. I whisper a "thank you" in her honour. I'm sure W has had a fleeting thought today, but I'm equally as sure that it will be one to make him smile and not plunge him into a deep depression. He will not mention his thoughts or share them with me, as his past memories are his own. WE have OUR memories, and they are the ones he cherishes now.

Today marks the 14th year since LW's passing. The only sadness I feel is for her, but not for W nor for me. She never got the chance to be a mother; to share with W the wonderful joy of parenthood with him that I have. She never experienced the wonder of growing old(er) with him, sharing not only the odd but expected age-related aches and pains together, but also the awe-inspiring depth of love that can only be achieved over time. I start to feel sorry for her, and then I remember where she is. I can almost feel her looking down on us, laughing at our "all too human" thoughts. She is a resident of Heaven. She walks and talks with God, experiences no more pain or heartache...and I can't help but think she is happier now than she ever would have been here on earth...and I smile at how comforting that feels, knowing she is well cared for and loved.

Today is LW's 14th DOD, and my thoughts are with her mother, father, sisters, and other reletives. I send up a heartfelt prayer for them, as I know this is a day that they will never forget. As a mother myself, losing a child is, I believe, the greatest loss of all, so I pretend to wrap loving arms around LW's mom on this day when she misses having her own arms around her baby. I hope that when they think of LW today, their thoughts will be ones to make them smile and laugh. I know their grief journeys will be never-ending, but I pray they experience more peace and acceptance with every passing DOD.

Today is LW's DOD, and my heart is with you, my sisters. I pray that my post here offers you hope that some day, your time will come when you can, like I have, release the chains that previously bound you to negativity, insecurity, and jealousy over LW. I hope you will someday be able to experience a DOD where, without a word spoken between you, you simply reach for the hand of your W and know that each other's thoughts are not on the past, but in appreciation of the present - and with a confident hope for the future. It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful feeling in the world.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

If LW was W's "Soulmate"...Where Does That Leave Me?

In my opinion, “soulmate” is more of a concept...and one not everyone believes in (me, for instance!).

First of all, let's see how the world's best dictionarians and dictionaries define the word:

Merriam Webster: 1 : a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament 2 : a person who strongly resembles another in attitudes or beliefs

American Standard Dictionary: "One of two persons compatible with each other in disposition, point of view, or sensitivity."

Collins English Dictionary: "A person for whom one has a deep affinity, especially a lover, wife, husband, etc.

Princeton University: "Someone for whom you have a deep affinity"

Oxford Pocket Dictionary: "A person ideally suited to another as a close friend or romantic partner."

In reading these definitions, two things about "soulmates" as a CONCEPT pop out at me: 1.) compatibility (in temperament, beliefs, and disposition), and 2.) deep love/affection. But look closely: the one thing that does NOT appear in ANY definition is a concept of a soulmate being "the one and only". Thus, we can logically conclude that the definition of "soulmate" could also apply to the relationship between parent and child, close personal friends, siblings....and W's with GOWs/WOWs.

As a concept, it would appear that "soulmates" falls within a timeframe: Perhaps LW WAS your W's soulmate AT THE TIME of their partnering. However, TODAY - the "here and now" present - YOU are his soulmate. Different times, same concept.

Another thought: Many people attach some kind of ethereal, religious, or "other world" concept to the word "soulmates", i.e., some kind of Higher Power selected LW and W and, because of this, they are destined to be inextricably linked forever and for all eternity.

OK...let's break this down:

I think the concept of "soulmates" differs from religion to religion. As a Christian, I DO believe that God has a plan for all our lives, and yes, I believe He DOES select our lifemates based on what He thinks is in our best interest AT THE TIME, and...based on our oh-so-human choice. I believe all marriages are ordained by God, but not all marriages are made in Heaven. Thus, yesterday's "soulmate" CAN become today's ex-husband! Inextricably linked forever and for all eternity? I think....not. The Bible itself is VERY clear about how God feels about widows/widowers remarrying (He's OK with it! ) In fact, we get a glimpse of this in the wedding vows when we hear a couple utter, "...’til DEATH do us part"...meaning that God thinks of death as a complete separation of soulmates, thus freeing the surviving spouse to find ANOTHER soulmate for the remainder of his earthly days.

In conclusion, I believe the word "soulmate" as it is bantered about today is NOT how the concept was originally meant to be defined and designed. In the aforementioned definitions, there is too much "wiggle room" inasmuch as the word is defined as a noun and not as a concept. As well, the definitions seem to apply prima facie (or "as is") to many other kinds of couples other than that of husband and wife.

If I were a dictionarian, my definition would read something like this:

"Soulmate: A concept in which a partner in couple's earthly life is compatible with the other partner and with whom each shares a deep affinity until such time as the couple is separated by death; after which the surviving partner is free to connect with a new partner until separation by death; thus, perpetuating the concept throughout one's earthly lifetime."

In Judith Sills' book A Fine Romance, she talks about the relationship traps and circle of blame that people can get caught up in what she calls "The Right Person Theory." This totally underscores what I have said about the misleading folklore that there is only one soul mate. Judith says that "Mr./Ms. Right is a myth of our culture and contrary to popular belief, romance can develop with a lot more “someones” than we allow ourselves to believe. Love is not an event – it’s a creation. Love isn't something we find – it’s something we develop." Judith Sill's bottom line is: "There is no one right person - only our ability to give and receive love."

So....

Having read my lengthy dissertation, I'm sure you feel better about the word "soulmate" in that it does NOT mean "the one and only". Still, there will be people who don't "get it" and will fall into the majority of society's ignorance and confusion about the word. The only thing you can do is remember what you have learned here today - and smile at those ignorant lemmings following society's altered twist of the concept. Feel sorry for them and their desire to romanticize a word that just doesn't track, neither logically nor intellectually. Smile...because although LW was his soulmate THEN...YOU are his soulmate now.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fighting The GOW Insecurity Monster

I think most women, as a gender, are naturally insecure. We get so many confusing messages from family, friends, other people, the media....all of them telling us how to act, how to look, what to do with our lives, what to eat, etc....arrgh!! I have two daughters, and it's always been quite the parental chore for me to get them to understand that they should learn to shut out the "noise" of others, and just be happy with who they are.


Alas, many women are chained to a childhood past that may have included harsh judgement, negative stereotypes, and absolute verbal abuse from misguided people who made them feel "less than". These women end up as very confused and insecure adults who carry the chains of their past with them throughout their lives. These women often perpetuate their own self-destructive cycle of insecurity by consistently mentally referencing the negativity, and they do this because, frankly, it's all they've ever known. It's like the only manual in their head is the one entitled, "You're Unworthy"...and the audiotape of that book constantly plays and replays over and over again.


When such a woman dates a widower, it's no wonder she will have the MOST difficult time being a GOW. Geesh, even an extremely self-aware and secure woman struggles with feeling second best in these relationships from time to time, so you can imagine how a chronically insecure woman would handle it! She may never feel "good enough" as she constantly compares herself to the LW herself and/or W's marriage to LW.


But there is hope! First of all, allow me to validate your feelings as 100% NORMAL for a GOW! There isn't a GOW or WOW alive who hasn't felt "less than" in her relationship with a W at some point. NOT ONE! Knowing she is not alone nor are her feelings "crazy" often relieves the pressure a GOW feels about her insecurity. However, as I always say, "Normal does NOT equal productive!" "Owning" the fact that you have insecurities is the first step towards healing them....and then the hard work begins. Healing from insecurity must begin from the inside out. What I mean by this is that you CANNOT and SHOULD NOT depend on others to validate yourself. YOU are responsible for your OWN happiness, and thus, your own sense of self-worth.


In therapy, counsellors use a technique wherein they teach their extremely insecure patients to "re-learn" their self-worth/value by substituting the negative "voices" (in the mind) of the past with positive affirmations. This takes a conscious daily effort. Some re-learning techniques include seemingly silly but very effective daily affirmations, such as beginning the day by looking in the mirror and saying out loud to your image, "You are beautiful, intelligent, and worthy of love...and you're going to have a great day!" As well, if you make a mistake during the day, you will learn to substitute negative responses such as "Oh, I'm SUCH a klutz/an idiot/worthless!" with "Oh well, fiddle dee dee, everyone makes mistakes. I’ll just have to learn from this and move on" affirmations. Admittedly, it feels weird doing this the first couple of times, and most people will struggle with believing what they are saying...but the truth is, sooner or later, substituting negative energy with positive energy starts to morphing the childhood lies into a new, beautiful truth - that YOU ARE INDEED a beautiful, intelligent, love-worthy human being!!


Secondly, understand that, while LW and W may have been "perfect" for each other back when they were together, YOU are perfect for him NOW. Your W is NOT the same man he was when he was married to LW. His loss, the strength he has earned by surviving it and coping with it, and other positive character traits he picked up along the way - such as patience and perseverance - have changed him into a very different man; one who is better suited for YOU than he would be for LW if, by some miracle, she returned. Also, remember that you and LW are very different people, autonomous and unique in your own ways. Look at it his way: If your W had WANTED a clone f his LW, he wouldn’t be with you, would he? Thus, he CHOSE you because you are better matched to the person he has BECOME, not the person he used to be.


Thirdly, remember that it IS possible to love two people at the same time for different reasons. Think of how parents do this with ease, loving ALL their children equally but each for their own uniqueness. Your W's love for his LW does NOT diminish what he feels about you, and vice versa. You and LW are like apples and oranges in the fruit bowl of your W's heart. ACCEPT that he will always hold a special place in his heart for her...but that his heart is big enough for him to love YOU with as much passion, if not more.


Lastly, forgive yourself your jealousies of LW and the life your W shared with her. She is not the enemy - grief is. Luckily, grief CAN be managed to a point where it no longer interferes with personal growth and happiness. And when your W finally gets to this point, the pay-off for you will be amazing. Trust me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" (When GOWs Overstay Their Relationships with Ws)

I think women sometimes "overstay" their rocky or unfulfilling relationships with men, and for a variety of reasons, a few being:

A.) "I've already invested soooo much of myself, my life, and my time with this man, that if I left now, it will all have been for naught"
B.) "Well, at least he sorta/kinda cares, and it's beats being alone"
C.) "Leaving him now would mean starting all over again, and I'm too old/tired to do this again"
D.) "I should stay and work this out, because if I can't make HIM happy, then what are my chances of making another man happy?"
E.) "I'll stay and work a little harder because even though he's a schmo in one important area of contention, he's good at so many other things"
F.) "My love can change him"


Sound familiar?

GOWs are just as guilty as most women of the above defences, and perhaps even more so. GOWs tend to excuse or overlook their Ws’ faults simply because they are Ws, and in doing so, become longsuffering, overly patient, and extremely forgiving, especially when a lot of time has passed without her needs being fulfilled. However, the “waiting game” is a breeding ground for frustration and resentment, and the relationship soon suffers from a lack of growth. Years can slip by, and suddenly the GOW faces a decision: Should I stay and give him more time, or should I cut my losses and move on?

Let’s again look at the aforementioned reasons some women give for overstaying their welcome in an unfulfilling relationship with a man, and how each pertains to a relationship with a W:

A.) First of all, NO relationship is “for naught” if we take away from it a better understanding of ourselves. Staying in a stagnant, unfulfilling, one-sided relationship where your needs matter little to your W is not a healthy way to spend your time…or any MORE of your time than is necessary. Getting out of a bad relationship is supposed to feel liberating and often exciting as you embark on a new journey toward fulfillment. Sure, you can have a few regrets, but never use them to stay in an unhealthy relationship with someone who depresses you more than he uplifts you.

Granted, even the best relationship with a W can be very confusing and frustrating, but if enough time has passed for your comfort level and you are now faced with the quandary of “Should I stay or should I go?” then you need to ask yourself the following questions: Am I getting our of the relationship more than (or equal to) what I am giving? Am I happier more often than I am sad? Is there an equal balance of need fulfillment (i.e., are his grief needs are being fulfilled along with your GOW needs, and vice versa)? Is your self-esteem in tact, or is it slipping away bit by but because W can’t seem to commit?

B.) What’s wrong with being alone? And does it really pale in comparison to staying in a relationship that offers little or nothing in return for all you have given? Women who use Excuse B to stay in bad relationships do so out of fear. Perhaps they have spent too much WASTED “alone time” in the past, not using the time to discover themselves and try new and exciting things to boost their self-awareness and esteem. Thus, they are afraid to again live in that lonely world of the past where nothing much happens because she is not doing what it takes to MAKE things happen.

Some Ws are very slow to risk loving another women (besides their LW) simply because they are afraid of losing her to death, too. Thus, they offer little in the way of need fulfillment to a GOW, throwing crumbs of hope at her, such as “I MIGHT love you some day,” and dangling that carrot of hope before her face. He does so not for her sake, but for his own. The GOW is a sweet distraction from the necessary grief work he’s trying to avoid, and many Ws will say anything to get a GOW to keep him in blissfully ignorant denial. Sadly, without doing his difficult but necessary grief work, a W’s relationship is doomed to stagnancy, as relationship growth cannot happen in a field of unresolved grief weeds.

C.) Indeed, unbalanced, unfulfilling relationships can be very draining, tiring, and time-consuming. As well, surviving a relationship of this kind often sours a woman from wanting anything more to do with ANY man, as she tends to measure all future possibilities by the same past bad experience yardstick. Again, this is fear talking. Every man you let into your world runs a 50/50 chance of being another schmo unworthy of your time and effort. However, let’s not disregard that OTHER 50% chance of the next man possibly being Mr. Right-For-You! Wallowing in an unfulfilling relationship because you’re tired means you are settling for less than you deserve simply because you can’t imagine making another exhausting effort with another man. But imagine this: have you considered the fact that the next man won’t be so overwhelming? You’ll never know until you try. Happiness just may be one date away.

D.) I’ve always said that the life of a GOW is NOT for every woman. This is not to say that if you cannot make a go of a relationship with a W, that you are somehow lacking in some superhuman quality. It just means that you are mismatched for whatever reason. My best friend is married to a travelling salesman who spends a great deal of time on the road. Sometimes they only see each other once a month. Meantime, she works full time and takes care of the house and kids. I could NOT survive such a relationship as it would be very unfulfilling and energy depleting for me, but it works for them and they are very happily married. It doesn’t mean I somehow lack a certain “salesman’s wife” character trait. Thus, don’t despair if you cannot make a go of it with a W. And don’t resign yourself to not making a new effort with a new man who just may be a better match for you than your W was. Your chances of making the next man happy are pretty good if he’s not a W, since you will have learned that Ws just aren’t for you.

E.) Staying in a stagnant relationship with a W to “try a little harder” would be like spinning your car wheels in quicksand. You couldn’t try any harder than you have. It’s not you – it’s grief! And sadly, there is nothing you can do to make his grief work easier. You could read up on grief to try to understand its stages and complications. You could whisk W away on a tropical mini-vacation every weekend. You could set up a stripper pole in the bedroom and drive him wild. But the fact is, these are all merely distractions for W that enable him to avoid doing his necessary grief work.

On the Official WOW/GOW Message Board (at juliedonnerandersen.com), there are GOWs who have waited more than a year, sometimes several, just to hear their Ws utter the words every woman needs to hear from her lover: “I love you”. But these GOWs stay with their non-verbal Ws, they tell me, because he shows his feelings in other ways and is good to her in other ways. That sounds nice…in theory. Theoretically, these GOWs seem willing to sacrifice a very important need for the greater good. But needs are just that – needy! And if you, like most women, NEED to hear verbal confirmation of your W’s feelings, then his denying you this very important need is selfish and cruel. A year or more is a long time to be with someone, be intimate, and recognize their actions as loving...yet not hear the words. You have a basic need to hear them, and he is denying you that. Why? How much more "thinking time" do you believe he needs in order to decide that the time is right for him to speak his heart!? If he's not sure by now, when DO you think he will be? And are you willing to wait until that time comes…IF it comes at all?

I think it's wonderful that GOWs, by their very nature, try to understand their W’s reasons, excuses, and justifications (and almost defensively, so we won't think he's a total jerk), but I can't help but think that this very noble understanding is, in fact, enabling him to remain "closeted" with his feelings. He might be good at fulfilling your other relationship needs, but at what cost - your most important basic human needs? That’s a sacrifice no woman should be willing to make....or wait for….or excuse.

F.) If you really think you can change a W just by staying faithfully by his side and loving him through his grief, think again. YOU cannot do Thing One to change him. The changes WILL come eventually, but only if he does the necessary grief work for himself and BY himself. And your relationship will not survive unless he can do this required grief work PLUS be sensitive to your GOW needs simultaneously. If enough time has passed without seeing any progress at all in this area with your W, then you are spinning your wheels. The only person in this instance that you can change is YOU, as you develop enough self-esteem to remember that you are worthy of a fulfilling relationship where nothing stands in the way of your needs.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Feeling "Left Out" As a GOW

Ideally, your W’s children (whether small or grown), his extended family, and friends have welcomed you with open arms into W’s life. Sadly, that is not always the case. Sometimes, the people you expect to warmly accept you into the fold are the ones who just cannot accept that W’s life has moved beyond bereavement into the light of new love. Sometimes, it is the W himself who feels the need to “hide” his new love from family and friends in order to “shield “ her from what he perceives as potential conflict. And sometimes, the GOW or WOW herself sabotages these potential relationships before they even take flight. In this blog, we will examine the reasons behind each situation.

The Official WOW/GOW Message Board (which you can join at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com) is chock full of members who have been left out of their W’s family gatherings, events, and functions simply because W was not ready yet to bring his new girlfriend into the array. The basis for this unreadiness is fear: W is simply afraid to face the music, i.e., the possible negative judgements and opinions of those he holds dear. He erroneously assumes no one will be happy for him. He is afraid that his new relationship will disappoint those who feel he has “forgotten” LW by loving again, or that he is trying to erase LW from his mind, or that he no longer loves her. Family and friends have been through so much already, perhaps many are still dealing with their own grief, so he does not want to upset the applecart of emotional balance that took years to achieve. Many Ws also feel that they “owe” family and friends their eternal devotion and memorialization of LW because their loved ones have been so supportive of the W’s loss in the past. After all, he reasons, none of them have moved on, so why should I be so lucky? Thus, instead of being confident of his choice to move on, his choice of new love, and his family’s reaction, he instead gives into his assumptions and does his best to please everyone. W rationalizes to his GOW that his decision to “hide” her from the scrutiny of family and friends is because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; that she is better off staying in the proverbial attic until such time as W feels bringing her to meet his posse will not cause trouble. Of course, this never works, as someone’s feelings WILL be hurt – and it’s usually the GOW who pays the price.

While noble in his intent to protect his GOW from what he perceives as possible condemnation, W’s fear of reprisals is ridiculous and more than likely, unfounded. Naturally, friends and extended family will feel awkward and perhaps a little uncomfortable at first, but meeting ANYONE new can bring these feelings to the surface. As a rule, most friends and families of W love him unconditionally enough to be happy for him, and delight in meeting the new woman who has been such a positive influence on his life. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, but the bottom line is this: W must come to terms with his life choices, embrace them, and confidently live his life without fear of what other people think. After all, it’s HIS life, not theirs. And if they have issues with his choices, it’s THEIR problem, not his.

Friends of W were usually friends of LW, too. Those who spent a great deal of time with W and LW and enjoyed the simpatico of their combined friendships may have trouble accepting the GOW at first only because they know it will never be the same at is was before with LW. Soon enough, however, friends begin to realize that the GOW brings a fresh perspective to the group because of her unique and individual personality, which isn’t bad thing, just a different thing!

As mentioned previously, there are exceptions to the rule that friends and family will always embrace the GOW….and that exception is usually his children. Minor children who live at home are fiercely loyal to their mother’s memory, and can stubbornly dig in their heels when Dad (W) brings home the GOW. This is normal, as children do not have the emotional maturity to make sense of grief. A widowed father knows his children well, and because his kids’ grief is so near and dear to his heart, he struggles with trying to balance his newfound happiness with their pain. As sure as he may be of how the GOW could add so much joy to their lives, he is still afraid – and perhaps rightly so – to minimize their mother’s memory by stomping on it with his desire to love again. Ws with children – whether minor or adult children - must be ever mindful to remain respectful of their feelings, but this is not to say that he must demonstrate that respect by sacrificing his own happiness. A balance CAN be achieved with proper communication, timing, and the W’s willingness to comfort his children’s fears with his reassurance of not only his forever love for their mother, but in the benefits of having another woman in their lives to love.

Finally, the last barrier to a happy family is the GOW herself. While she complains of feeling left out, it is often she who often puts up impenetrable walls of fear. She is afraid of being misjudged and criticized. But mostly, she insecurely fears the inevitable comparisons W’s friends and family may make between her and LW. She is afraid she will never be accepted for who she is and not a pale replacement for the late, great LW. The good news is that once she makes the decision to face her fears and meet W’s friends and family, she is often rewarded with the relief that her fears, as W’s had been, were simply groundless.

Naturally, there will be exceptions to the majority of happy endings that occur in these cases, and some friends and family of W will never learn to accept the GOW. They may tolerate her, invite her to family functions but ignore her, and/or blatantly make verbal comparisons to LW to extract some kind of misguided “revenge” on her audacity to “replace” LW in W’s heart. While I feel for GOWs in these situations, I know that understanding friends' and family's complicated grief, and being compassionate towards it, often makes these get-togethers tolerable. As always, it is imperative that the W in these situations have his priorities in order so he can defend his choice of GOW, stand by her side, and facilitate as best he can the GOW's acceptance into the family…whether they like it or not.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Selfishness Of Grief, AKA: Fits & Starts

Recently, a GOW on The Official GOW/WOW Message Board (at http://www.juliedonnerandersen.com) posed the following problem regarding her W's 'fits & starts' behaviour:


“When my W told me he needed space, one of the questions I asked him was if his true intention was to break up with me completely. I understand logically that the grief has overtaken him, but anxiety kicks in and I start questioning whether or not I've done something to ruin the relationship. Is this anxiety and insecurity normal?”


I understand what my GOW “sister” is saying. It's hard NOT to take it personally when a W needs to create a self-imposed exile to go hide in his "man cave" for awhile and lick his grief wounds - especially a W who does not know how to communicate his feelings very well. Feels like rejection.


When you've invested your time, energies, and love into a relationship in which the other person seems to be rejecting you (even if it's temporarily, as per ‘fits and starts’ behaviour), then yes, your GOW insecurities are bound to flare up.


Wouldn't it be GREAT if, during periods of 'fits and starts', Ws could say, "I need some time/space to figure some things out re: my grief feelings. Thanks for asking, but no - there isn't anything you can do to help me. Rest assured, I'm not interested in any other woman - I just need some "me time". During this time, I will still be loving you, and my goal is to return to you on ____(date/time), at which point I will have it allllll figured out. Please be patient with me, don't contact me, and above all else - don't worry."


But noooooooo! Instead, they just leave a GOW dangling!


However, take heart - somewhere deep inside, most Ws know that their ‘fits and starts’ hurt their GOWs. There is a huge difference between a W who knows (that his actions are hurtful to the GOW) and cares, and a W who knows he’s being hurtful and DOESN'T care. With the latter, it’s more of a character flaw than a W issue. But with the former, grief is soooo overwhelmingly selfish (because it HAS to be), and selfish emotions can sooo cloud a person's sensitivity to others, that it would appear as if he doesn’t care when, in reality, he does.


The thing is, grief is such a monster that it takes control of a W's usual "good man" self, and turns him into a person you barely recognize: a selfish, self-centered, insensitive, cranky, guilt-ridden, self-pitying, oftentimes self-flagellating - - - - caterpillar. Yep - there goes the ugly insect into his cocoon! So when you think about it, do you really WANT to be with a W when he's like that? I'd rather wait until he emerges as a butterfly. And...he will. It just takes time. How MUCH time? Depends on the caterpillar!


I was chatting the other day with a dear friend of mine about her experiences as a parent who lost a child to cancer. She was talking about how her grief and her husband's grief were sooo damaging to their marriage that they almost divorced. (The divorce rate is very high among couples who lose a child by any means of death). When I mentioned how Ws tend to go through 'fits and starts' when dating, she assured me that this was a GOOD thing...that she wished she and her husband could have spent a year apart to lick their wounds before coming back together in a more "healing" state of mind. As it was, she said, they were each too close to the pain, and to each other, to be of much help. The selfishness of grief was, to them, like poison. She resented his grief, and he resented hers. She needed him, but he was too overcome...and vice versa.


Granted, GOWs are NOT "too close to the pain" since, after all, the GOW didn't lose LW. But it would appear that, based on my friend's experience, no one can really be of much help to someone who grieves, even someone who loves a W. Grief is a solitary journey. Thinking of it this way, we can understand how ‘fits and starts’, though difficult and hurtful to the GOW, are perhaps just blessings in disguise.


It's always a good idea during times of separation to keep your focus on yourself: find ways to pass the excruciatingly slooow and hard time with things and people that will make you feel good about yourself.


Some GOWs find it cathartic to start a journal and detail their feelings. A few even share this journal with their Ws once he emerges from his “cave” in order to show him exactly how she felt so he can be more aware of her feelings if he ever again finds the need to again impose his ‘fits and starts’ exile. This is a great way to communicate your needs to your W as you work together to endure the difficult yet oftentimes necessary ‘fits and starts’.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Putting your GOW/WOW Needs On The Back Burner

GOWs walk a fine line between getting their issues addressed and not wanting to burden their poor grief-weary Ws. On one hand, you want to be compassionate, respectful, and caring. On the other hand, doing so means your GOW needs take a back burner, and you start to wonder where YOU fit in with all this grief. Then you begin to lose patience, which breeds resentment, which stunts a relationship's growth...not a healthy path for ANY relationship, but an absolute "couple killer" for GOW/W relationships!


Tiptoeing around W's grief, though compassionate, is never really a good idea. But neither is ignoring his grief, wishing it away, and/or pretending like it doesn't exist, all in the name of pushing him towards recovery faster than he needs to go, or just so you can get your needs met.

The balance you need to achieve can be accomplished by following these steps:


1.) Never assume...Communicate!!


Dating is a "getting to know you" time in every relationship. Having been with your W for awhile, you start to become very adept at recognizing your partner's moods. But which moods are grief-related, and which moods are simply the ordinary, run-of-the-mill blues we all experience from time to time? We can almost pinpoint when a W bad mood is grief-related if an LW-related anniversary is near...but what about those times when he is quiet and pensive, mopey, or just down in the dumps? Can we assume ALL of his bad moods have something to do with grief?


Of course not! Ws are human, after all, and ALL humans have bad days. Drawing "Grumpy" out is key to getting him to communicate about his negative moods. There's no beating around the bush allowed when dealing with a W! - you have to use direct language, but in a compassionate, gentle way: "Dear, you seem very down lately, and while I know you struggle with your grief feelings, I'm wondering if your mood isn't based on something that has [i]recently[/i] happened. Either way, I'd like to talk to you about it because I care, and I hope you wil trust me with whatever your reasons for being so depressed/quiet/grumpy.ansious/etc."


2.) Acknowledge - and accept - his pain, but don't "sacrifice in the name of love" unless you are prepared to focus ALL of your relationship's time and energies on grief alone!


While noble in its compassion, putting your needs aside to devote 100% of your energies on W's grief is never a good idea. Many GOWs believe that "Since W is already hurting an dealing with sooo much, why should I dump my GOW issues and everyday life problems on top of his already burdensome pile?" The answer is simple: because YOU matter! YOU are 50% of your relationship, and as such, you are an intregral part of its growth. That being the case, let me ask you: How much growth will there really be if you continue to withhold your feelings/issues to tend to his, all the while suffering in silence and breeding resentment and impatience slowly? Thus, putting your needs on the back burner isn't so noble after all...it's downright destructive, both to your relationship and to yourself.


However, timing is everything. I know that when my husband comes home upset about something that went wrong at work, that is NOT the time for me to complain about our high electric bill. The same discernment is required of a GOW when W is in a grief-related bad mood. Therefore, choose your discussion times wisely, and approach them in a spirit of cooperation. Acknoweldge his pain when he seems to be hurting...but when you are hurting with GOW issues, the same rules apply. All in love is fair...so allow him to be YOUR support when needed, too. When you seek to withhold your issues "for the good of the relationship", you effectively deny your W the immense pleasure he derives from reassuring you. Stop being so selfish in your nobility! ;)


3.) Communication kills The Insecurity Monster...so itemize your needs and deal them out, one at a time.


Without proper communication, we assume waaay too much negativity. Humans are funny beings, and GOWs are stranger still: instead of assuming the simplistic reasons behind a W's quiet mood - that perhaps he is silent simply because he's just got gas (lol) - we negatively assume that he MUST be thinking about ending our relationship...or he's thinking that he couldn't possibly love me as much as he loved LW...or he's thinking I'm fat...or...or..or...etc....etc...ARRRGH!! All that insecurity makes you feel like you're losing your mind, doesn't it?


The GOW list of insecurities can be quite a long one, so the problem becomes dealing with one at a time instead of the whole kit & kaboodle at once. Itemizing your list of GOW issues in order of importance to you, then communicating them to your W, effectively kills The Insecurity Monster...and when the beast is dead, you acquire newfound strength for your GOW journey, add groweth potential to your relationship, and become more of a positive influence and support to your W when his own journey becomes problematic.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

For GOWs Who Are Discouraged

It's sooo difficult to be in the "limbo" of GOWdom. Eventually, we all come to a crossroads and wonder if we should stay and fight, or chalk it up to experience and leave before another shoe drops.


As a GOW, you wonder, "Is it worth it? Is HE worth it?" You worry about investing any more time and effort into a relationship that seems so unbalanced and one-sided. You feel unloved and unworthy. You think to yourself "Is there a light at the end of this tunnel?" as you cling to whatever shred of hope you can find. No one understands you - least of all, the W himself - and you feel so alone, frustrated, and insecure. You start wondering if what you feel is selfish or simply unappreciated, and the frustration of that leads to anger. You are angry about putting your needs on hold to pacify his. You are afraid of communicating your needs for fear of sounding demanding or selfish. You are angry at grief itself and its stranglehold over your W. You secretly rage at this beast - The Grief Monster - for occupying more of his time, emotions, and thoughts than you do. You fear for your future security, and wonder if he will ever learn to manage his grief, let go of his past, and move on...yet you worry that the damage he may survive will always be a part of him, creeping into your future life together without warning. You question whether or not you have what it takes to be a helpmate, support system, and sympathetic counsellor...yet a part of you wants nothing to do with babysitting grief until it - and he - matures beyond bereavement.


The roller coaster ride of GOWdom is like being bipolar: the highs are manically sweet and intoxicating, and the lows are destructively negative, wreaking havoc on your self-esteem and your need for security. Most times, you feel like two people at once: the angel on your shoulder whispering softly into your ear about love and hope, and the devil on the other shoulder nagging at your fears and urging you to be self-righteous. The inner boxing match you suffer daily is fueled by impatience -an overwhelming need to do whatever necessary to shake W out of his abysmal situation so the two of you can just get on with life. You constantly question how W cannot see the forest for the trees - how he can't seem to appreciate the wonder and beauty of the love you bring to him, and start basing his hope, and his future, on you.


Ladies, I understand how you feel. I have been in your shoes. I may not be that someone to give you the right answers, but I can most certainly offer the wisdom of my personal experience and that of working with Ws for more than a decade. The simple fact is: there ARE no "right" answers, since each relationship is unique and different as the people in them. You have to take whatever advice, illustrations, or examples you find here on this blog, in my book, or on the Official WOW/GOW Message Board on my website, and tweak them to suit your unique siuation.


But most of all, you have to hope. Without hope, you have nothing...no reason to be happy in the moment, to practise patience, to give your best, or to rise above your fears and work through them. Sometimes, hope is a leap of faith...a blind jump into the unknown, with only your belief in yourself, your W, and your God to get you to the other side. I can shout it from the mountaintop that "YES, your W WILL be capable of sooo much more if only you just hang on"...but I can't MAKE you believe that - that is up to you. I can tell you with 100% certainty that hope is always worth the ride. With love, nothing is impossible...you can climb mountains. And hope is the harness to keep you from falling.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

For GOWs Who Date An "Early Grief" Widower

The 5 stages of grief are necessary to complete before a survivor learns how to manage it and can thus be considered recovered. That is why the first year or two of grief is the most crucial. When a W begins dating while he is still walking the stages of grief (referred to as an "early grief" widower), the temporary feeling of euphoria that comes with new love takes his mind off the hard work grief entails and delays the necessary work required for healing. But grief is like an insolent child - it WILL have its way, bar nothing. Thus, the giddy emotions of new love eventually collide with the insolence of grief when grief plays "catch up" and forces the survivor to get back on the road to recovery. This is when a W takes two steps forward, one step back, limping along his grief journey and confusing the new love of his life as he attempts to complete his grief work while also trying to balance that with new love....a verrrrry difficult and confusing thing for any survivor, and equally as confusing to his new love (you).


When unresolved/delayed grief collides with new love, the W can suddenly turn into someone you don't recognize. His moods change, and he often breaks off the relationship without warning and without explanation. During this time, Ws often battle guilt, depression, and anger all at once. He feels guilty for being alive while his LW is dead. That guilt also includes feeling as if he is betraying his LW by loving again. Oddly enough, though he wants his family/friends to accept the GOW, he wonders why they have "forgotten" LW by doing so! He wonders if he will ever "get over" his depression, which makes him sink deeper into it. He no longer feels worthy of the wonderful love the GOW brings, so he begins to withdraw from her. He is looking for someone to blame for his overwhelming feelings of grief...and sadly, it is the GOW who takes the brunt of it.


The good news is that these episodes of "fits and starts" in early grief widowers are usually temporary...but can vary in length. Every W handles grief in his own way and in his own time, and certain W behaviours are normal and common to each stage of grief. Thus, there IS a light at the end of this tunnel, but it could be a looong time before you see it. It should reassure you that the emotions W is experiencing are very common...and quite normal....for most early grief Ws.


If you believe your W did not properly grieve before he met you, and is only recently attempting to get back on track with his grief, try to be patient. Though these episodes apepar to come out of nowhere, there are usually signs: Holidays and death anniversaries are common grief triggers. The magnitude of what he is feeling is just as confounding to him as it is to you.


The best thing you and W can do from this point forward is to really learn how to communicate effectively...and often. Although I caution GOWs NOT to play the grief counsellor, there are things you CAN do to bring grief to the surface. It is healthy for a W to walk every grief stage completely, so the last thing you want to do is to stand between he and his grief work. It is beneficial and cathartic for W to be able to talk about his feelings. If this is not something you think you can handle - and it would be OK if you didn't - then I recommend urging W to attend Bereavement Recovery classes, or seek counselling wit a qualified grief therapist. These are wonderful people who recognize what W is experiencing and can give him the tools for recovery.


Meantime, try not to take his behaviour personally. I know this sounds odd since you probably feel like the target of his angst, but please understand that a lot of his feelings are subconscious in nature (he can't help it) and perfectly normal for every W. There are many books on grief that you may want to read, as recognizing the stages will put your mind at ease quite a bit. Just remember that this is part & parcel of Loving A Widower….

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The GOW Sacrifice

Many GOWs wonder if, by tending to his own grief needs, W is ignoring or being insensitive to her GOW needs. As a former GOW myself, I can validate how loving a W sometimes feels like an either/or proposition: either his needs are being met while the GOW's are being put on the back burner, or the GOW's issues are getting the attention they deserve while the W temporarily halts his grief process. There just doesn't seem to be much "wiggle room" for compromise when it comes to such demanding and complicated emotional needs on both sides.


Thus, it might seem like you, as a GOW, are usually the one in your relationship making all the sacrifices in the name of being compassionate to W's grief, but there is a good reason for this: you cannot control a W's grief process. It is much stronger than you are. This is why I caution all GOWs against insisting on having things go their way. Communication and compromise are key to accomodating W's grief while, at the same time, getting your needs met, too. It IS possible, but it takes a LOT of strength, trust, and belief in each other. Unfortunately, grief needs are very selfish needs. But tending to grief needs, selfish or not, is necessary in order for the survivor to properly heal.


Grief is a HUGE job. Think of W as grief's employee: the boss (grief) gives W a HUGE pile of work to do, but no deadline. W feels overwhelmed, but knows he must do the work or lose his job and thus, his suvival. He begins the immense task when suddenly, he is tempted away from the job by a sexy new co-worker (you!) who offers him respite from the tiring work. He still plugs away slowly at the work, but by spending more of his work time with the co-worker, he becomes a slacker who starts pissing off the boss.


The boss finally has a chat with him, telling him he must get his head back in the game and go back to where he left off with more enthusiasm if he is to get it done properly. The boss reminds him that he cannot serve two masters, and that he (the boss/grief) is the only master who holds the key to W's survival.


Meantime, the co-worker is making more and more demands of him that are opposite than those of the boss's. She wants him to please HER, and to him, what she offers feels sooo much better than the work. So, he is torn and confused: he wants to do what feels good, but he knows he must get the job done and done well if he is to keep his job/survive. At this point, he believes what the boss said about serving two masters, and realizes that a choice has to be made. He has no idea how to please the boss and the co-worker at the same time. Thus, making a choice means someone will get hurt, and since his job/survival is more important than his co-worker (the selfishness of grief), he goes back to the part of his work where he left off, and hopes the co-worker will understand and be patient until he finishes.


But the co-worker does not like being put off, even temporarily, so she starts making even more demands of him in order to take control away from the boss. This irks the employee to the point where he starts rebelling against the co-worker. He stops going to lunch with her, calling her and sending e-mails to her on company time, and simply puts his nose the grindstone whether she likes it or not. He can't help it...the workload is enormous and it takes everything he's got to concentrate in order to get through it all.


The co-worker then has two choices: she can either kep things friendly and encourage him to do the work while she patiently awaits her pay-off...or...she can keep insisting on her agenda, driving him further away, and making him even more resentful, perhaps to the point where he tells her that he cannot possibly juggle the work and her at the same time, and she loses him altogether.


Life is about choices, and GOWs who act wisely and out of compassion know that their patience will indeed pay off in the end when her W's grief journey becomes more manageable. The rainbow at the end of the storm is a reward for persevering through the dark times, and this is especially true when you are Loving A Widower....


Blessings,

JDA