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 The relationship can be running along rather smoothly, and then whammo....the widower suddenly becomes withdrawn, sulky, depressed, etc....and refuses to discuss his feelings.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":

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

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.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. This is where I am now with my W. I moved out and am trying to give him space. As you know, it's not easy!

  2. Well, how long though is the GOW suppose to sit around and wait? What if it takes months or a year before the W decides he wants to continue to date? Isn't it enough that a GOW has to endure long winded stories about LW over and over again, deal with LW family and friends and other issues that arise with dating a W? How it can be justiable that a W is allowed to hurt and trample over another person's heart just because the W has suffered a loss?

  3. Good questions! For answers, please refer to the following past blog posts:

    "The GOW Filter":

    "Enough Already! When A Widower Talks Endlessly About His LW":

    "Should I Stay Or Should I Go? (regarding overstaying a relationship with a W):

  4. Just a simple thank you for your blog and much helpful book. I find myself re-reading your wisdom as issues arise and when assurance and strength are often needed. Although being a GOW is sometimes stressful, I am truly blessed to have such a loving and caring man in my life. His heart is big enough for the both of us and I have no problem sharing it with such an amazing woman. I can only wish that when those roller coaster emotions do appear, that I can take his pain and sorrow away. But, I am learning that time heals those wounds and sunnier days are ahead. Thank you again, Julie.

  5. Any advise on how to muddle our way thru when the latent grief hits. I've offered a break, but he wants to hang in there.

  6. Janette: The best thing you can do is to take good care of yourself. Riding out a W's latent grief with him is no picnic, and unless you steel yourself & guard your heart, you may find yourself feeling depressed and hopeless. It's always a good idea for ANY GOW - but esp. a GOW dealing with latent grief - to expand her world outside of her W, meaning you should do what makes you personally happy as if W were not in your life. This may include getting reaquanted with old friend/family members, taking a class you've always wanted to take, travelling, or simple things such as a day at the spa or taking in a movie alone. It's hard to find fellow GOWs in the "real" world, but if you are so lucky, this may be a good time to nurture that friendship in order to have someone to talk to. If not, then by all means, please come join The Official WOW/GOW Message Board at my website ( where over 2000 members and myself are there to help you every day.

  7. Thanks. With summer here we both stay so busy with our own children that having something else to do is easy. Been a couple of weeks since I've seen W, but we've talked or text every day. W's been out of town with work. I think he trying. He a great guy, yet I don't see us getting married ( if we make it that far) least W's boys are gone to college. Mine too, possibably. Mainy because W let LW spoil them. Now don't misunderstand me. He's a great dad and they are good kids. We just parent different. And I think it would add another stress to our relationahip. Even couples that aren't dealing with grief, adding step families is stressful. I never thought I be OK dating for that many years, but maybe I am.

  8. wow...this is a lot like what im dealing with. I have been "seeing" my W for just over 2 !/2 years. His wife died 7 years ago. he has 2 boys 9 and 10.this has not always been an easy ride.I hang on because I love and care for him.Everything I have read is sooo what I have been dealing with.I want to run forward with this and he is still taking baby steps.

  9. This has been really helpful - I can't thank you enough for this article. It helps me understand the confusion I've been going through and to endure my W's sudden and unexplained withdrawal. Instead of feeling hurtful and angry I've got past those emotions to feel sympathetic and accepting.

    At this point he has completely withdrawn and refuses to communicate. We have only known each other briefly before this U-turn and I'm concerned that the lack of a longer, stronger emotional basis between us may not help us to survive this separation. Nonetheless I wish to give it a try by being patient, by taking care of myself in the meantime and simply dropping him quick notes once in a while to wish him well, without asking for a response. I hope this will let him know that I care without feeling his space and privacy infringed.

    1. Your situation sounds similar to mine. We were together 4 1/2 months. Things moved very fast. We have deep feelings for another. I would say we love each other. He suffered a loss and has spiraled back into grief. He suffers with what he calls spells of depression. He broke up with me to only turn around to say I had convinced him not to break up. He also said I needed to understand the pain fear and overwhelming feelings he had. Said we needed to talk more, and promised we would. However we haven't dpoken in 10 days. I'm so confused and feel stifled to what to do next. We have a great relationship, we have trust, respect, chemistry and such passion for one another I don't know what to do. Can someone please give me some advise

  10. I began dating a widower. It was wonderful. We had one date and lived a few hours away. I have 2 young children and he had a 7 yr old. His wife of 8 years had only passed 2 months before we began dating and I had concerns and voiced them but we worked through them and he insisted he was ready to move on. One weekend only a month into dating he wanted to come over and have our kids meet. I thought it was too soon but was allowing it. The day he was supposed to come he didn't show up, call or contact me in any way. I was devastated. Three days later he emailed the mutual friend to say when he told his son they were coming to meet me his son got upset and was asking questions he wasn't prepared to answer and said he wasn't ready to move on. However, over the next two weeks we began texting again but no phone conversation, and he told me he still wanted more, he loved me (he told me he was in love with me two weeks into the relationship) and wanted to come over again. Then it was Christmas and he went silent again, blocked my number, just like the first time. I realize now this may have been latent grief, but at the time I didn't know what happened, was upset, and asked him through voicemail admittedly too many times to please tell me what was happening. He never did. In the beginning he had told me it was true love, he wanted to be with me for a very long time, it was fate and the strongest he had felt for anyone in such a short time. Immediately after the new year he told our mutual friend he began taking to a new woman that first week of January who lives in his hometown (he works offshore and got back the second week of January). Within two weeks of being with her he is stating all of the same things he professed to me to her via facebook and phone calls which our mutual friend has relayed to me. I am devastated, Was I only a rebound and how could he find "true love" again so fast with another woman? I am left confused and very hurt.

  11. Dear Anonymous of January 30th,

    Sadly for you, your W was simply not ready to date again. By dating you - AND the new woman, too - he is avoiding the difficult but necessary task of grief healing. You were a lovely distraction to that healing, as is the new woman in his life. Unless and until he gets the alone time he needs to start the healing process, I'm afraid his new GOW will suffer the same consequences as you have. Simply put, he was never in love with you nor is he in love with the new GOW - he is only seeking a BandAid for his pain and a distraction from the work he must do in order to move beyond bereavement. Consider yourself lucky to be out of the drama before you invested your heart further with this damaged man.

    On a final note: To have included his young child into this drama was unintentional but cruel nonetheless. My heart goes out to the child.