You probably want reassurance that you are the most important person in your man's life, but if he is a widower grieving over his deceased wife, you might feel shunted aside by his lingering thoughts of her. It's not possible to compete with a memory, but understanding the emotions and dynamics involved can help you to deal with the situation.
Vive La Difference
Men and women react differently to the death of a spouse. Abel Keogh, author of "Dating a Widower," suggests in his first chapter that men are more likely to seek out new relationships to fill the void left by their spouses before they've fully emerged from the grieving process. Keep this in mind to help understand your man as he works through his emotions. The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us the amount of time necessary for someone to progress through the grieving process varies a great deal. Don't make assumptions about the amount of time it should take to recover from a loss and don't pressure a man who is finding it difficult to commit to a new relationship. Be sensitive to his feelings and let him set the pace.
Patience Is a Virtue
Widowers need patience and sensitivity. Put his need to preserve the memory of his lost wife ahead of your need to be the significant other in his life. It's difficult to control feelings of jealousy, but your patience will likely be rewarded. If he becomes weepy and you suspect he's thinking about his wife, don't accuse or badger him. Move slowly and remember that the grieving process is not necessarily linear. Some days will be better than others. Don't vent your frustration when he seems to be backsliding. Allow him to talk about his wife when he feels the need, and respect his desire for privacy when he wants to be alone.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Evaluate your man's stage in the grieving process by examining what he does more than what he says. Keogh tells us that some widowers might declare their love for someone new before they are able to remove their wife's clothes and possessions from home. It's wise to realize that this usually indicates he is not yet quite ready to start over, despite his declarations.
Realists and Optimists
Learn to accept the inevitable. Realistically, love doesn't die with a spouse. If the marriage lasted many years, getting over the loss completely might never happen. But this doesn't mean you have to settle for a loveless relationship. Widowers can love someone new while retaining treasured memories from the past. Avoid comparing yourself to his late wife and assuming you fall short. Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, noted author and lecturer, suggests in his article "Secrets to a Successful Second Marriage" on Chabad.org that men who've had a good first marriage usually have good second marriages as well.
Conflicts and Complications
Your relationship might be further complicated by his children and yours, even if they are all grown. His children might resent your intrusion into the family. They might have difficulty accepting your children or grandchildren. They could be encouraging their father to retain his thoughts and memories of their mom and resent what they perceive to be his disloyalty. Expect family holidays and other celebrations to bring back thoughts of the dead wife. Prepare your family members to be sensitive to his family's loss and to be tolerant when memories of her are shared.
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Supporting a Grieving Man You Love
- Abel Keogh: Starting a Relationship with a Man Who's Starting Over
- Canadian Mental Health Association: The Stages of Grieving
- Letters of Note: I Love My Wife -- My Wife Is Dead
- Chabad.org: Secrets to a Successful Second Marriage
- Psychology Today: Late-life Remarriages: The Second (Or Third...) Time Around
Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.