To Be or Not to Be - In A Relationship with a Widower



 By: Rosie

For any woman contemplating a relationship with a widower my all-encompassing, albeit simplistic sounding advice is: BE CAREFUL! While still recognizing that these men can be very good men and worth our efforts, and that there are many success stories of relationships working out, there seem to be things that a GOW/WOW* typically deals with, or has dealt with, that are particular (and seemingly at times peculiar) to these relationships.

To dissect some of the issues that arise in these relationships, it is sensible to begin with the start of the new relationship at hand. It is very common that while forming his new relationship widowers relay much of their grief to a caring, compassionate, understanding “new” woman; thereby in effect constructing a scenario that makes it possible for the new woman to become a grief counselor of sorts for them, and we, because of our caring, don't initially realize that we are providing that "service." How this can happen can be as varied as the individuals involved. For example, the new woman may simply trust that because her man has told her he has gone through his grieving process and is ready to forge a new life she believes him and will sympathetically listen to his stories about his LW*. Typically, as he tells those stories he will, as a natural progression, or so it seems natural, also include his expressions of grief over his loss. The new woman accepts, initially, listening to these stories out of the spirit of offering him her friendship, support and even love, and of course because she believed him when he told her that he is ready to move on his life. At other times, it may be because LW’s death took place within a “reasonable” amount of time prior to the new woman and widower meeting each other, that there is the assumption that “after all THIS time” he “is” or “should” be ready to move on and rebuild a new life for himself which could include her.

Regardless of how a GOW/WOW comes to realize that she has assumed the role of grief counselor for him, and often this realization is a sudden one for her, the effects of hearing so much about LW, another woman, from the man SHE cares for NOW can become very painful for her, as well as have devastating and lasting effects on her self esteem and confidence. When one keeps in mind that the stories a GOW/WOW can hear from her man about his LW can range from innocent bits of information to the intimate details of their sex life, it is no wonder that the new woman feels she is the one who is haunted by the memory of a ghost. To make matters more complicated, is the issue of communication; namely the difficulty or uneasiness the GOW/WOW feels about her “freedom” to express her thoughts and feelings to her man; that is to say how she may feel regarding hearing so much (too much) about LW, and her distress and often self-doubt as to how she will (or will not) convey her feelings to him. In many cases GOW/WOWs feel that if they state their own feelings, or express them too strongly, they are somehow being less than supportive to their man. GOW/WOWs often debate what constitutes insensitivity or what is their rightful stance concerning getting their thoughts and needs conveyed and met by their man. But this issue, communication, merits its own article and discussion so I shall not take any more time in this article to explore its aspects here.

With so much emphasis being placed on the widower’s loss, it is not uncommon that losses which the GOW/WOW has experienced in her life be relegated to the position of taking the proverbial back seat to his loss. Losses that are not centered on losing a spouse due to death seem to be treated as being rather pale by comparison. Often this “my pain is bigger than your pain” attitude is directly expressed. A widower may discount the pain that a woman feels over her divorce or loss of another significant relationship by bluntly stating that such a loss is simply not comparable to losing a beloved spouse to death! It is presented to the GOW/WOW that the ultimate separation – Death – was an unsolicited separation. Many women have been told that a divorce or a broken relationship came about for THEM as a result of choice, and not much attention is given by these men to the details of the reason for her severed relationship, her loss.

It is the new woman who hears of the "love, longing, etc." our man had, and sometimes still admits to feeling for Another Woman. As well as these men have the physiological capability for memory retention, so do we, and these stories that we have been told stubbornly take hold in our minds, and here we call that our "LW tape," which is, in my estimation, the single and most painful issue that GOW/WOWs have in common. Even when the relationship progresses, or has become very good, WE often struggle with that tape for a long time afterward! This is the same as saying that even when he has healed, we need to heal too - from the pain of the “LW tape” that was created. Often times a GOW/WOW experiences not only having heard about LW ad-nauseum, but also has experienced the pain of being compared to LW, where typically LW is presented as “perfect” or “nearly perfect,” and the same can be said for how he has portrayed their marriage. When a widower admits, at the very least, that his LW or his marriage to her was not perfect, to one who states that their marriage was very troubled, or that LW as a person was very troubled, there still seems to exist a degree of reluctance from him to let go of some “glorification” of LW and their marriage.

Memory plays a critical role in these relationships. Though we all have memories, it is typical that his have gotten greater attention, as is made evident by all the LW stories these men have felt so often compelled to share with us. Once a GOW/WOW develops her “LW tape,” and even when the man is fully engaged with her and their relationship, it is often the GOW/WOW who experiences “triggers.” Triggers are those memories which were implanted in the mind of a GOW/WOW by the widower because of his sharing his stories. While these triggers are individualistic, there are also many that are common to GOW/WOWs. For example, GOW/WOWs most often experience at least a degree of angst surrounding certain dates – LW birthday, the anniversary date of her death, the anniversary date of “their” wedding. Places that “they” visited can also be triggers. Certain songs, colors, flowers, can all be triggers for the GOW/WOW and incite a measure of discomfort and/or pain. Suffice it to say, that anything that was “theirs” or “special to/for LW” can be trigger inducing. Generally speaking, what used to be, or still are, triggers for the widower become the triggers for the GOW/WOW.

Along with the examples already stated, the GOW/WOW may experience other things that help to contribute to the formation of her “LW tape.” While this list is by no means inclusive, here are some other examples that are common in these relationships: the widower *refuses* to take off his wedding ring, remove household objects, or objects that to “them” had sentimental value, LW collectibles, photographs, etc. The widower may adamantly tell the new woman he'll never move or sell *their* house, or remove any *shrines* to LW that he has constructed in his environment. Often enough the widower insists on maintaining LW-related traditions or rituals, i.e., to commemorate her birthday, death date, and “their” wedding anniversary. Now add to this a GOW/WOW’s own capability to trigger into her “LW tape,” and many problems can arise and persist for her, and for him, and consequently, for their relationship.

It is very common for a GOW/WOW to feel, without any contribution from her man, that she is, and perhaps always will hold the “replacement” status in his mind and heart. She may feel that she is “less than” or “second to” LW to him. She may feel that the *only* reason she is in his life is because LW is not. While this last statement is only logical, the resulting emotions for her can be acutely painful, frustrating, confusing, and seemingly never-ending. In addition, it is not uncommon that a GOW/WOW feel frustrated and upset at the notion that the man they love will forever more have the image of their young, vibrant, healthy LW in their mind, as we are by virtue of looking in a mirror, reminded that we continue to age. Whether or not a GOW/WOW is younger or older than was LW, these thoughts and feelings can occur.

Now, do these relationships ALWAYS have these problems inherent to them? I wonder. Certainly I recognize that not all GOW/WOWs experience ALL of these issues, and perhaps not even the majority of the issues that I spoke of as being typical and common. I can only trust and hope that someone at sometime will say their relationship with a widower was and always had been issue-free. I’d love to meet her!

WOW = Wife of a Widower
GOW = Girlfriend of a Widower
LW = Late Wife
Copyright 2005 - WLW




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