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Life with a Widower
Never settle for second place
I’ve received several emails lately from women who are married to or living with a widower. The questions these women have are either not addressed or only lightly touched on in my Dating A Widower or Dating Advice for (Young) Widowers articles. Because of these emails, I’ve seen the need to write something for those who are married to, living with, or considering sharing their life with a widower.
Understand the First Wife is Always Going to be Part of Your Relationship
When Marathon Girl and I started dating, the biggest obstacle in our relationship was my deceased wife. Marathon Girl was 23 when we met and had never considered dating a widower.
After we become serious Marathon Girl realized there would be a lot of firsts for her that weren’t firsts for me. Exchanging vows at our wedding, for example, would be a first for her, but not for me. Sharing the exciting news that she was pregnant would be a first for her but not for me. And Marathon Girl knew I would think of my first wife and daughter from time to time when she naturally wanted to be the only woman I thought about. All of this added up to a lot of uncertainty whether she could have (or wanted to have) a relationship where a dead woman was a part – even a very small part – of it.
For anyone considering a serious relationship with a widower, consider carefully whether or not you can live with the first wife being part of your relationship. Marathon Girl decided she loved me enough to work through this issue. But it hasn’t always been easy. Even though I’ve done my best to make Marathon Girl feel she’s the only woman in my life, there’ve been times when Marathon Girl has felt she was living in the shadow of my first wife and marriage despite my best efforts to make her feel like number one.
As I write this, Marathon Girl and I have been married almost three years. It seems the longer we’ve been married, my first wife has become a smaller and smaller part of our relationship. But we both know my first wife will always be there. For Marathon Girl and I, that’s not a bad thing. We both made the necessary adjustments to live with it and work to overcome the occasional issues that arise from marrying a widower.
Decide What You can Live With from the First Marriage
Soon after our engagement, Marathon Girl told me she wanted a new bed for a wedding present. I didn’t understand why. The bed I had was perfectly fine. Besides new beds were expensive and I wasn’t sure we could afford one. Marathon Girl explained that the reason she wanted a new bed was because she didn’t want to sleep in the same bed as my first wife. She wanted our bed to be something that only the two of us shared. Once I understood why she wanted a new bed, I agreed to buy one before we were married.
Recently I received an email from a woman who spent quite a bit of time at her widower boyfriends house. Every moment she spend there was difficult because his deceased wife’s clothes were still in the closet and her toiletries were still in the bathroom. Eventually it reached a point where the woman didn’t enjoy going over to his house because she felt like it was the first wife’s house.
Part of moving on is being able to part with material things from the previous life. It’s not always easy. Objects that emotional or sentimental value can be difficult to part with. The few personal items of my first wife that I kept are now in a box in our basement. They will go with Marathon Girl and I whenever we move. But those objects, though they mean quite a bit to me, will stay in the box. For me it is more important to have Marathon Girl happy then have an object with sentimental value lying out in the open.
But not all widowers feel this way or are able to move on as easily as I did. Taking that step can be difficult for many of them. you can’t force the widower to take them down. Marathon Girl never once asked me to take down photographs or pack items that belonged to my first wife. I took them down because I wanted to do so. If Marathon Girl had demanded that I take them down, odds are I would have been resentful. If he removes a picture or some clothing because you want it done (instead of him wanting to do it) it will come back to bite you in the end.
If you can’t live with the first wife’s clothes in the closet or her curling iron in the bathroom, or her photographs on the wall and the widower seems unwilling to part or move these objects you might want to reconsider if you want to live with him. Ideally, the widower should treat you like the center of his universe and take these things down on his own. However, if he’s treating the dead like they’re still alive and does not want to take down things related to his first marriage, you might want to re-examine the relationship. If you can’t live with it now, what makes you think you’ll be able to live with next year or the year after that?
Even though Marathon Girl expected to have some areas of the home, such as the bedroom, where everything could be ours, there were some items she didn’t mind if I kept. The kitchen table was one of them. Marathon Girl knew the story of how my first wife found a wonderful, brand new kitchen table for under $100 it was something she could live with.
Communication is the Key
The other day I was talking to a friend. He mentioned that he was amazed on how open Marathon Girl and I were about my first marriage and was a little envious that we were able to be so open about that part of my life. When I asked him why he was envious, he replied, “Well I don’t even know why my wife’s first marriage ended in divorce.”
My friend might as well have hit me with a hammer. I couldn’t believe he had been married to someone for nearly five years without knowing why his wife’s first marriage had ended or that after all this time they had been unable to talk about it. I asked my friend if he thought that might be important information to know. He took a deep breath and said, “I’ve always wanted to know but don’t want to open old wounds.”
I’ve received numerous emails from women who feel the same way. They want to know about the first wife and the widower’s relationship with her but are afraid to say anything about it out of fear of how the widower will react. When issues arise in the relationship related to the first marriage, they’re unsure how or the best way to bring it up.
Marathon Girl came from a family that was more open than mine. When it came to personal relationships, they talked about a lot of things that my family didn’t. Learning how to communicate with her was a challenge. And in a lot of ways I felt it was a Catch-22. I wanted to talk about my first wife with Marathon Girl but was afraid doing so would seem like I wasn’t moving on. However if I didn’t talk about her, I risked coming across as not being open about my thoughts and feelings like Marathon Girl needed me to.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, Marathon Girl found herself in a similar predicament. She wanted to ask questions about my first marriage and my first wife but worried that the questions would stir up bad memories or make her seem insecure. If she didn’t bring them up, however, she risked not knowing how I was really doing.
It took almost a year after Marathon Girl and I met before we both felt comfortable and could talk openly about my first wife and my relationship with her. Now my first wife and marriage is something we’re very open and comfortable talking about.
Though I can’t tell anyone the best way to communicate with a particular widower, I will say that the only reason Marathon Girl and I were able to make our relationship work is because we learned to talk to each other about my first marriage. Not only did this communication allow us to take our relationship to the point that we wanted to be married, it helped us communicate when other issues arose in our marriage.
If you want a strong relationship with the widower, learn how to communicate with him about his deceased wife. This will not only help you with widower-related issues but other issues that come with any relationship.
Not All Widowers are Ready for a Relationship
About seven months after my first wife died I found myself in a serious relationship with a good friend. The relationship was intense but short. Soon after I became involved with this friend, I realized I had made a mistake. I liked her and enjoyed her company but the main reason I pursued a relationship was because I was lonely and missed the affection my first wife showered upon me – something my friend was more than willing to do.
Losing a spouse is difficult but oftentimes adjusting to life with out the spouse’s companionship can be even more difficult. Often this leads widowers to become involved in relationships before they’re emotionally ready to take that step.
I’ve received countless emails from women dating widowers who say “He’s a great guy but….” What follows is usually a description of some type of behavior that makes the woman feel like the widower isn’t serious about moving on. If you find yourself in a similar position, find a way to talk about the issue. The widower may think he’s moving on just fine but not realize his behavior says otherwise.
Before you decide to share your life with a widower make sure he is taking little steps in the right direction. If the widower is serious about having you be part of his life, he should be willing to work on the communication issue with you.
A Relationship with a Widower is not for Everyone.
When I started dating again, I was hesitant to date a person who had been divorced. For me there were issues that came a long with a divorced person that I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with. Similarly there are those who may find having a relationship with a widower comes with a lot of issues and that you don’t want to deal with.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. A relationship with a widower isn’t for everyone.
Before I started dating again, I told myself that if any girl ended a relationship because of the widower issue, I would be understanding no matter how much I loved her. I knew that being a widower presented a unique set of challenges – challenges that not everyone wanted to live with.
Sharing a life with a widower can be a very rewarding experience, but it isn’t for everyone. If you’re considering sharing your life with a widower, consider carefully if you can live with the issues that go along with it. There’s nothing wrong with opting out. But for those who opt in, make sure the issues that come with a widower are something you can live with. Because if you can’t, the relationship can quickly become unbearable.