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.

1 comment:

  1. I have been dating a widower over a year now. I had a lot of the insecruties that many GOW have. have come to a place where in dealing with the LW family/friends and widowers grief that I truly do understand their loss. I do understand them feeling bittersweet about our relationship and feel their sorrow and mixed emotions- I get that the W will always have a place for his LW and love for her.

    But I am not a martyr. I also feel entitled to have my own happiness and life with him. Because I understand, sympathize, and have empathy but doesn't mean i want to live there. I also am not wrong to expect that his family, the LW family, and friends be cordial and polite to me and not rub my face his previous marriage anymore than I would expect those in my life to do that to him with my previous marriage.

    I also had a marriage before his - ended in divorce. I know this apples to oranges in comparsion. They are 2 separate entities, but I don't let my former marraige and relationship dictate my present. My W has to understand and accept aspects of me being divorced. An ex-husband on the scene... continuing interaction with him for the sake of childrenetc. But I dont' expect my W to take a back seat to my ex-husband and our issues. I have my own memories, but I am committed to living in the present not the past. My divorce made me who I am today. I am not the same person as before my divorce. I am refined. I am more independent. Just the same as I know his loss of his LW has changed my W. He is different than when he was married to her. the same man but refined also. He has been as single parent for many years and I am sure he is more compassionate and understanding due to not having a partner and caring for 2 daughters alone.

    I know it can be more difficult with a widower because the loss was not a choice per se - but I also believe there comes a time to keep your memories but also not live in them... to honor the past, be respectful the LW and her memory and her family but not to LIVE FOR THEM soley or at the expense of your GOW/WOW. A man must decide to move on enough to let love come into his heart and start a new life. He can still simtulaneously maintain relationships with people from his past.

    He doesn't forget the old life or love but he has to hold his past loosely enough so he can enjoy the present and the future and allow love to grow again.

    I am happy My W posts OUR picture on his FB and I am by his side at all family events (his own famliy and his LW's). He makes it plain and clear he is with me now. He is not dishonoring her memory or hiding our relationship. It's simply life is for the living (the circle of life shall we say)- people eventually heal and learn to love again. In fact, I believe it celebrates the life of those who have gone before to live the remainder of our life fully rather than in constant sorrow.

    I try to be understanding of those who were close to LW but not the expense our our relationship or my own happinesss, its a balance. I try to conquer insecurities by realizing she was no better or worse than I. He met someone he loved and sadly she was taken away. Of course they remember her but it has no reflection on my own worth. Those who compare us are doing so out of their own inability to handle their grief inability to deal w/the fact that he has found someone new. Essentially it's their problem - not mine.

    I don't want my life or our relatioship to be be necessarily defined by his widower status it is but one facet of "us" not all of us just as me being a divorcee is not all of who I am or who we are...

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