We all know the grim statistics. Second marriages are more likely to end in divorce than first marriages. Yet, social animals that we are, we keep on remarrying anyway. But there is hope: there are unions that defy statistics and go on to live happily ever after.
We often think of second marriages as following a divorce. But what about situations when a spouse has passed away? This presents its own set of unique challenges. And, as in any challenging situation, it pays to prepare yourself before you jump in. Here are some important things to remember if you’re a widow or widower and are considering marrying again:
Allow yourself enough time to grieve.
A big mistake that many people make is that they marry again too soon after their spouse passes away. Often the euphoria of a new relationship masks the pain and sorrow of their loss, and they mistakenly think they’re ready to start anew. Don’t fall into this trap.
Let yourself grieve for your late spouse. Because this is so individual and so personal, there is no hard-and-fast rule for how long the grieving process should take. But let yourself be alone for a while before you emotionally commit to another partner. Listen to yourself and take your cues from that small, true voice inside you, instead of from well-intended but bumbling friends or coworkers who think the best thing for you would be to launch into another relationship before your tears are dry.
Prematurely committing will only mean that you don’t really have all of yourself to commit with. It will backfire. Instead of saying “I do” too soon, wait. Mourn the love you’ve lost. Let yourself feel the pain. Work through it with friends or family or a professional. Don’t rush into another romantic relationship before you’ve completed the stages of grief.
With that said, grieving isn’t forgetting. It’s not a process where you just flip a switch and obliterate your deceased partner from your memory (you wouldn’t want that, anyway). Although time and healing will help get you to the point where you again take joy in today, you’ll never totally and completely “get over” losing someone. Part of you may always miss that person. In time, that part may shrink or become less needy or less overwhelming so that you can fill yourself with new love, but that part needs to be acknowledged.
Once you’re remarried:
Talk about your late spouse when appropriate.
Think balance. You shouldn’t spend every waking moment discussing your late spouse with your current spouse. (Likewise, it’s probably not the best idea to keep a picture of your late spouse on the bedside table.) However, nor should you keep any mention of your late spouse from your new spouse. That would send the message that you need to protect the memory of your late spouse from your current spouse. Keeping parts of you hidden ultimately keeps your new partner at arm’s length, a stance that can prove confusing and frustrating to him/her. Your former marriage and the pain you suffered at the death of your partner is a part of who you are. Denying that and trying to erase it can only cause problems down the road.
When you’re sad, say so.
Be open about dates that might trigger sad memories. Even if you’re doing well most days, birthdays and anniversaries can be tough, no matter how much time has passed. Hiding the insight that the sad day is coloring your mood might make your current spouse think you’re unhappy with him/her. Assumptions can be dangerous; if left unchecked, they can morph out of control and prove more troublesome than the reality. Let your spouse know when a particular day saddens you and that it’s not a reflection of your feelings about your current life with him/her. Not only can this help you cope with the day, but your partner will benefit from the clarity and straightforwardness.
Don’t compare. Seriously….don’t compare!
Although comparisons may be a natural human way of putting things into perspective, never ever compare your late spouse with your current spouse. Not outloud, anyway. It will only hurt the person you’re married to now, and it will prevent you from learning the unique things that your new relationship has to offer.
When you feel yourself making silent, internal comparisons, talk yourself out of them. It’s been said that “All unhappiness arises from unfavorable comparisons.” You can’t be fully in the present if you’re always leaning toward the past. And you can’t see your current spouse as an individual if you’re holding him/her up against the spouse you lost. Even if your current spouse doesn’t pick up on it now, eventually s/he will sense your diluted vision of him/her and may perceive it as you being unappreciative of who s/he is.
Remember that yours is a very different situation from a divorce, where the ex-partner is still around to make mistakes and remind you of why you wanted the divorce in the first place. Your late husband/wife is frozen in time, alive in your memory and therefore often idealized in your memory. It’s natural to want to remember the best qualities of the person you loved. However, when you use those memories as a point of comparison for your current spouse, it’s unfair to the man across from you who eats spaghetti with his fingers or the woman beside you in bed who grinds her teeth and steals the covers all night. When you compare the idealized past to the messy reality of today, today will lose.
But remember—the reality of today is reality in the truest sense. And you deserve to enjoy it and fulfill yourself in it, and—when you’re ready—to do so with a companion you love and trust. Don’t squander your present by attempting the impossible feat of living in the past, by inadvertently turning your back on the partner before you while you try to fit your new life into the template of the past.
Find out how to create the relationship of your dreams: Sign up for the free Relationship Toolbox Newsletter at http://StrengthenYourRelationship.com/ and immediately receive two FREE reports that will help you achieve your relationship potential.
Rich Nicastro, Ph.D. is a relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples protect the sanctuary of their relationship.