If you are dating or planning to marry a widow or widower, here are some suggestions and thoughts to consider.
LEARN ALL ABOUT GRIEF
Do some research about grief, read books and talk to others in similar situations. Know what to expect on anniversaries, birthdays and other days that were special to your new partner and his/her late spouse. Being aware and understanding about another person's feelings allows you to be gracious and sensitive to your new partner.
TALKING ABOUT A LATE SPOUSE: SHOULD YOU ASK QUESTIONS?
Allow a widow/er to talk about his/her spouse. If a couple were married at a young age, married a long time, or have children/grandchildren, it is going to be very difficult to talk about his/her life without mentioning a late spouse. This can only be threatening to you, if you allow it to be.
Always remember that the late spouse is dead. He or she is not coming back, so you are not going to lose your new mate to him or her. There is no competition!
In general, when you get to know someone you want to share your past with him or her. It is the same for a widowed person. This time it just happens to include a person that is no longer alive. Simply ask your questions respectfully, so it is not regarded as prying but as a genuine interest in the deceased spouse and their relationship. If you pay close attention, you actually may learn many interesting things about your new partner, for example: how he/she views the world; how he/she treats a partner; likes and dislikes, etc.
A late spouse was most probably a very big part of your new partner's life and to get upset every time his/her name is mentioned makes for a very uncomfortable situation - for both of you. It is important, especially at the beginning of a relationship, to allow the widow/er to talk freely about his or her late spouse. If this ends in a non-stop crying jag each time the name is mentioned, this will also be a good tip-off that your new partner is really not ready to recouple. If there is only some lingering grief, try to figure out together how to move forward - how to create new memories so the old ones can be tucked away and only revisited when fondly remembering a late spouse on a birthday or another special moment or day.
Keep in mind that the heart is a very accommodating organ. It can expand to let new people in without kicking out the old residents. Take pause and ask yourself if you would rather your new partner didn't care about his/her late spouse. You might consider the fact that the better the relationship a new partner had in a past relationship, the more he/she knows about how to make unions work. That is very good news for you and your new relationship!
PICTURES OF A LATE SPOUSE
Perhaps when you first start dating, there are many pictures of a late spouse around your new partner's home. It is so natural for him/her because that is where they have always been. It has not even dawned on him/her that another person might find the pictures intimidating. You can gently drop some hints about the pictures, especially if they are on the bed stand table. If there are children and some of the pictures are family pictures, it is probably unrealistic to think that every picture will be put away. Perhaps you could suggest moving them to a child's rooms or at least off the wall in the living room.
Another alternative, of which I learned from a woman who was dating a widower is that she intended to have two walls of pictures in their new home. One would include those of her intended and his late spouse, and the next wall would be a continuation of pictures of the life they were leading. She did not feel threatened by these pictures, but instead thanked the late spouse for helping to make her fiancé into the wonderful man with whom she gets to spend the rest of her life.
Rather than demanding that all the pictures be put away, you might want to have a heart-to-heart discussion about how they make you feel. Without being put on the defensive, your new partner, wanting to please you, will probably try to be accommodating.
WHERE SHOULD YOU LIVE? MOVING INTO A HOME SHARED WITH A LATE SPOUSE
If there are no financial concerns and this situation can be avoided, it would probably be best to move to a new home - one where you can both make a fresh start and it can be yours together.
If circumstances require that you move into the home shared with a late spouse, it would be beneficial to have a frank discussion about what can be changed to make you feel as if it is your home too.
It is at this time that you can negotiate about the items he/she would like to keep around. The house should not remain a shrine to the late spouse, but there may be some special keepsakes that hold sentimental value or children may want something of their mother or father to remain in the home. Try to be cognizant of these facts and not insist that everything that belonged to the late spouse be disposed of. As much as you may want it to, throwing away items will not erase the memories of a former spouse. Instead, it might cause resentment to rise up in your new partner and/or his/her children.
DEALING WITH THE FAMILY OF THE LATE SPOUSE
Be sensitive to the late spouse's extended family and recognize their great loss too. Parents of the deceased may be very concerned that when a new marriage takes place that their child will be forgotten. They also may be concerned that they might have less access to their grandchildren. Reassurance goes a long way to settle their concerns.
DEALING WITH CHILDREN OF A NEW PARTNER
This is probably one of the toughest issues to overcome. Daughters tend to cling to Dad and sons are big on being the man around the house for their moms. Actually, it is up to the parent to help his/her child remain a child and not think he/she needs to step into the dead parent's role. If this is done successfully, this issue becomes less of a problem.
Try not to be step into or be cast into the role of the wicked stepparent. It takes time for children to work through being loyal to the deceased parent and to still be able to like you without feeling guilty about it. Afford them ample time to accomplish this monumental task. Patience is the watchword. Do not force your affections on a child. Step back, be kind, be loving, be a role model, be helpful, be respectful of their time with your partner and their feelings for their dead parent and just BE THERE. Then - simply wait. They will eventually, little by little, start turning to you and a relationship can be forged.
MAKING NEW MEMORIES
Make memories that are special and unique to you and your new partner. Travel to places where he/she and the late spouse never visited. Eat in new restaurants. Stay in different hotels. You can redecorate the house (within reason) and slowly make it more your own.
Always remember that you are the one that gets to spend your life with your new partner. Rather than worrying about the past impinging on the present and future, live each day to the fullest. Make your life together a celebration of being together. Your new partner will be thankful that you have brought fresh breath into his/her life and made him or her be able to feel love again. There was probably a time after the death that he/she thought life would forever be bereft of any sort of feeling, let alone new love.
So, if you catch your new partner taking a moment to remember his/her late spouse, do not go off the deep end. All it means is that some memory was stirred up and it brought back a feeling. Again, this does not impinge on the new relationship between the two of you. Ask yourself if a few moments taken to remember are worth your jealousy and anger? I think not, and your new partner will not think so either.
In conclusion, although you may be daunted by the fact that your new partner has been touched by the death of a spouse, changing your perspective may provide you with the opportunity of a lifetime. Anyone who has lost a spouse, especially at a young age, knows about the preciousness of each moment we are given. This person is not going to waste another minute and brings with him/ her a renewed zest for living. Be the beneficiary of all the life lessons this person has learned in coping with grief and relish having a partner who had the strength and fortitude to reignite his/her own spark of life.
This article is an excerpt from Ellen Gerst's book, "Dating After 35 Plus: How To Move Forward After The Loss of a Partner From Death, Divorce or Break-up," which is available as a downloadable e-book for $2.99 via her website.
Ellen Gerst is a grief and relationship coach and workshop leader. Her other book titles include, Suddenly Single, A Guide Through Grief to Renewal; Love After Loss: Writing The Rest of Your Story; If You Want To Be Terrific, You Need To Be Specific; Figuring Out Life and Death: Thoughts on Coping with Suicide; Thin Threads of Grief and Renewal (co-editor); Understanding Grief From A to Z; Understanding Dating & Relationships From A to Z; and Understanding Spirituality From A to Z. Books are available via her website at http://www.LNGerst.com/Library.html. Connect with her via Facebook to receive dating/relationships tips; coping with grief tips; and thoughts on the power of positivity.
Ellen also offers a social connectivity tool at http://www.LightenUpAndSmile.blogspot.com. Watch the video and find out how this tool, cleverly disguised as a hair accessory, can help you recapture your smile after loss!