Sunday, May 22, 2011

When a GOW Was “The Other Woman”

Recently on The Official WOW/GOW Message Board, a new member relayed how she and her W started an affair together whist his LW was dying. His reasoning was 1.) his marriage started falling apart long before his LW was diagnosed with cancer, and 2.) he had already done most of his grieving in the last days of her illness, so he was more than ready to begin a new life with GOW. GOW believed him and continued the affair up until a few months before LW passed, at which time she thought it wise to leave him alone whist he made the funeral arrangements, etc. After, they resumed their relationship. Understandably, this W experienced latent grief about one year later, and asked his GOW for a break/time/space to figure things out. Naturally, GOW was devastated, and asked why this was happening, considering how confident her W had initially seemed about moving on.

Having been a victim of spousal infidelity myself, it is difficult for me to advise, much less feel compassion for, GOWs who have been the other woman in a W/LW’s marriage. However, I know I must put on my professional’s cap and try to remain nonjudgmental as I advise this member and my blog readers in similar situations:

First of all, let’s talk about what I feel is #1 on my list of grief myths, and that is this: It is possible to “pre-grieve” the loss of a spouse.

Undoubtedly, overwhelming feelings of extreme sadness and DO occur when a spouse is terminally ill. To be told my doctors that your loved one’s life will soon end and there’s nothing more the medical profession can do, are the worst words any human being can ever hear. Depression starts creeping in, and it’s difficult to hold onto any shred of hope……difficult, but never impossible. In fact, most spouses of the terminally ill DO hang onto hope of their loved one’s recovery, no matter the odds. This is why one cannot pre-grieve. As long as there is hope, there is nothing TO grieve, as there is no loss...not of life, nor dreams. Real grief doesn’t truly begin until the flatline sounds its ominous toll….the time when hope is lost. Neither does the myth of pre-grief allow for the completion of all 5 grief stages. Simply put, there is no way the spouse of a dying wife can journey through and recover from each stage in a natural way.

A W who deludes himself into thinking most of his grief was done prior to his LW’s death is only fooling himself. Grief is like a spoiled child that does not give up its tenacious protest until a survivor finally pays it some attention. Thus, no matter how a W tries to avoid it, grief will catch up with him later in the form of latent grief. As well, although a W may surround himself with distractions (such as work, sports, vices like gambling, drinking, etc., and yes, women) from the hard work grief demands, he eventually fails when grief has its way with him. Thus, a GOW who has been her W’s “other woman” while LW was still very much alive must be prepared to deal with the fallout of her W’s latent grief. Chances are good that the guilt which naturally accompanies the normal grief journey of ANY W will be magnified in an adulterous W, and would explain his sudden withdrawal once latent grief sets in.

Secondly, I am of the belief that a bad marriage is no excuse for infidelity. It is a diversion at best. And any woman, GOW or not, who believes a man who uses this as an excuse to cheat is setting herself up for heartache. Rarely do adulterers change, and a GOW in this situation may indeed find herself on the losing end of another affair – that of her W and yet another woman. It appears obvious to me that a man who cheats not only lacks a well-defined moral code, but also lacks the courage it takes to communicate face-to-face with his spouse about his need to move on in life without her and get his needs, whatever they may be, met elsewhere.

I am at a loss as to how any woman, much less a GOW, could ever build a foundation of trust with such a man…or why she would settle for someone with such poor character traits, ethics, communication skills, and decision-making skills. Thus, I do not hold out much hope for a long-term relationship between adulterous GOWs and Ws. His latent grief/guilt, combined with her low expectations for her self and her life, are a recipe for disaster. Sooner or later, each will blame the other for past indiscretions that have led to too many present regrets and deep remorse. While they may stay together physically, each will remain emotionally unavailable to the other: the GOW, who becomes afraid to discuss her W’s grief journey for fear he will distract himself from the pain by seeking out comfort in another woman’s arms…and the W who experiences latent grief, who cannot possibly juggle his grief, guilt, and remorse with loving feelings for a GOW he may subconsciously blame for his present confusion