Thursday, March 31, 2011

Breaking Down Barriers

Recently, I was misquoted on a blog written by a W (my words were taken out of context to further the blog owner's agenda). I would not have even noticed, as I rarely have time to read major blogs (large readership) that interest me, nevermind minor ones (small readership), such as his, that don't.

But when a member of The Official WOW/GOW Message Board contacted me personally about her search for information about grief in order to understand her W better (not completely, just BETTER), she was flabbergasted about the abject polarization she encountered by this particular woefully misinformed, mildly arrogant, and sadly pitiful blogger. Her angst: "I know I have a lot to learn about grief, but if those who have experienced it won't offer their expertise, and the present available literature is so complicated, where else can I go to find enlightenment?"

Indeed, it is difficult to find the best of both worlds, that being firsthand knowledge which has not been corrupted by judgement aganst those who would a society that is uncomfortable discussing such a "taboo" (in its collective mind) subject. hard. It is an elusive emotion very few understand. And if that weren't enough, it is not just an emotion but a journey as that does not come with a timetable, a blueprint, guidelines, or set of rules, making grief all the more mysterious and complicated to those of us on the outside of it...which leads to assumptions and conjecture by a judgmental society that wants nothing more than to either put a patch of platitudes on it, sweep it under the proverbial rug, or ignore it completely until it goes away (which it never does!).

Grief's fallout (its complicated misery and mystery) is considered "taboo" to discuss; thus, ignorance of it has lead to a society that just doesn't get it...and is too uncomfortable with it to bother. Worst of all, grief is perpetual: it never ends, and continuously revisits itself. It can be diminished but never eradicated; coped with and managed, but never eliminated.

Enter those of us who just want to love a man who grieves. Hard as we try to comprehend this puzzling emotional journey, we fail miserably. Society, which encourages survivors to move on, happily accepts a GOW, but under one condition: she must not attempt to understand grief and just merrily, without question, accept a "lesser" role in her W’s heart. (Indeed, ignorance abounds on both sides of this proverbial fence!)

For example: When Ws congregate in their mutual misery, such as on a website or blog for Ws, they form an exclusive "club" which they feel no “outsider” should penetrate. Exclusive, because even if we “outsiders” have experienced similar loss, no two grief journeys are the same; thus, grief is one example of life experience where personal expertise seems to matter little. When it comes to a GOW’s beloved W’s loss, we are "damned if we do, and damned if we don't" try to understand it. Within the aforementioned exclusive club are those who would minimize our role, blaming us for our insecurity as they themselves label us as "less than" the sainted LW, thus perpetuating our insecurity that we will never be "as good" as she was to our Ws.

Sadly, these kinds of clubs, while at first offering survivors a much needed open-armed hug of acceptance in a world that doesn’t understand them, are usually led by those who believe letting go – the normal and natural recovery at the end of grief’s efforts - is but a fallacy, and equates to dishonoring the dearly departed. And those GOWs who would interfere with their mission of protecting, preserving, and canonizing their lost loves are the enemy.

In such clubs, there is no room for enlightenment. Grief is selfish, and can render its victim the same; thus, few members can see the forest for the trees. To them, their loss is all that counts, to the exclusion of others. They believe their loss has made them untouchably noble martyrs, and as such, they have, in turn, closed their minds to other, perhaps loftier, possibilities and theories. Instead of utilizing their experiences as teachable examples with which they could educate society about grief and, in turn, crush the ignorance they claim is rampant, they have achieved the opposite via alienation. They have lost their ability to communicate intelligently with the outside world in a rational manner as they sit atop their thrones of nobility, casting judgment after judgment against those with good intentions whose only desires are to love, help, sympathize with, and yes, understand grief and those who deal with it.

Indeed, a GOW faces a plethora of obstacles as she journeys alongside a W who grieves. Outsiders (society) and insiders (fellow survivors) are against her from the get-go. Friends rarely understand her loving a man who also loves another, as where else in Western culture is this acceptable, except perhaps for cults in Utah? Her own W can often be non-communicative and complicated. Worst of all, a GOW herself can often be her own worst enemy as her natural and normal insecurities rear their ugly heads. There are few resources available to the GOW to help her understand not only herself, but her W and his grief, too.

Whether we have experienced it or not, it’s not rocket science for ALL of us to admit that grief is hard. But if it is, then we ALL must admit that loving someone who has experienced loss is difficult, too. GOWs face seemingly insurmountable odds, especially when the obstacle of ignorance and the breakdown of communication are so commonplace.

I believe breaking down barriers is key. In the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” I don’t think it’s too much to ask, especially when the benefits far outweigh the present state of dysfunction between survivors and those who love them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Feeling Like W's Mistress?

Many women tell me that they feel like they are in relationships with married men when dating a W. Recently, a member of The Official WOW/GOW Message Board ( even created a short list of reasons why:

1) We spend little or no time together on the holidays. His immediate family, extended families...yes, even LW’s family...all come first.
2) His inability to plan and/or take a trip with me, even a short overnighter.
3) Friends and/or family members that treat me like “the other woman”; an outsider.
4) No card or small token gift for Valentine's W, either.
5) The LW’s and her memory – and the preservation thereof – comes before everything else.
6) I feel like I am constantly competing with LW for W’s love, but never attaining that coveted #1 spot in his heart.

Some GOWs have told me that their Ws have even gone so far as to make love with them once, feel guilty about it, and then cut off all sexual contact if the Ws were cheating on their LWs. Talk about feeling cheap!

While NO man has the right to make you feel like his mistress on purpose, it is easy to forgive a W’s seemingly hurtful behaviour when you understand the grief process....and how it is his lack of intent that makes his mistakes forgivable.

Some of you may ask incredulously, “But how in the world can a man be so unaware of - and so blind to - such insensitivity?” Most men wouldn’t be, but Ws are exceptions. Grief, like love, can be very blind...and guilt is often in the driver’s seat, holding the reins of control. Sadly, there is no blueprint or guide to grief. Ws stumble their way through it unwittingly, without a plan, and without knowing what they’re doing or if they’re doing it right. They need to be reminded that what they feel is normal, as are the behaviours that rise like phoenixes from such confusing emotions. However, normal does not always equal productive, and there ARE steps a GOW ca take to overcome feeling like her W's mistress (more on this later).

To be sure, most Ws are unaware of how their behaviour impacts others, least of all, their GOWs....that is, until they are shown the way! Dr. Phil says, "You teach people how to treat you!"..and GOWs are no exception! In fact, I can say without fear of retribution that if a GOW feels like her W’s mistress, SHE is partly to blame! It is a GOW’s lack of communication in those delicate areas listed above that lead to a wall of resentment and confusion in her relationship.

Indeed, it is up to each and every GOW to communicate her needs effectively to her W. Most men are not known for being mind readers, and very few actually “get” sarcasm or negative female body language and facial expressions. Thus, it takes good oral communication skills to tune a W into his insensitivity without raging at him for his woeful incompetence brought about by grief.

It starts with validation: a GOW should acknowledge her W’s grief in a way which conveys to him that he is not being blamed, resented, or otherwise scolded for his actions/inactions. She should actually take the guilt burden off of him by offering her understanding, informing him how she knows that grief can render a W selfishly myopic and sorely out of tune with anyone’s needs but his own.

With a spirit of cooperation, a GOW should be willing to give her W a pass for his past mistakes because she knows she must put the blame where it belongs: on grief. She should acknowledge that, although she has been patiently understanding thus far, some things DO need to change.

Finally, a GOW should communicate to her W in detail those things that upset her (see list above) and, using The Three C’s (communication, cooperation, and compromise), she should ask for his help in working together with him toward solutions that are mutually satisfactory to both.