It's dangerous to make assumptions about the person you’re dating. At some point you need to have in-depth conversations about finances, family, personal values and beliefs, faith, and other important topics to see if there are anything that you can't live with. Yet I’ll often see women who marry widowers or have been dating a widower for years who don't have or refuse to have these conversations and end up with nasty surprises years down the road.
For example, I recently received an email from a woman who’s only been married to a widower three months. She dated the man for two years and during that time assumed he was financially secure. Yet it wasn’t until after they were married that she realized the widower had blown through the late wife’s life insurance policy and had racked up over $100,000 in consumer debt on various credit cards. When they were dating they never discussed money or finances. She just assumed his job paid well enough to support that lifestyle and now finds herself in the unfortunate situation of being married to someone with a spending problem and having to use her own hard-earned savings to pay off the debt.
I felt bad for the woman but wondered how she had dated someone so long without knowing anything about his true financial situation. Then I remembered I got a similar shock early in my marriage with the late wife. About four months into our marriage the late wife thought she might be pregnant. It turned out to be a false alarm but that started a conversation about how many kids we wanted and when we wanted to start a family. It was a conversation we never had before that moment. Much to my surprise the late wife said she only wanted to have one or two kids.
I was shocked. Because we shared very similar religious and cultural backgrounds I had always assumed that the late wife wanted a large family. In the two years we dated it never occurred to me to ask if she wanted something different. When she said she wanted a small family, I was literally speechless. It took a couple of days before I was able to pick the conversation back up and talk about the reasons she felt the way she did.
The fact she wanted a small family wasn’t a deal breaker. We still had a good marriage and I hoped that maybe after a child or two that perhaps she’d want a third. However, I was kicking myself for not having this conversation early in our relationship. I still would have married the late wife had I known early on about her family preferences but it would have helped me set expectations of what our future family would look like and avoided some difficult moments early in our marriage.
It’s a mistake I didn’t make the second time around. After Marathon Girl and I realized that we had a long-term future together, we had an in-depth conversation about when we wanted to start a family and how many kids we wanted to have. There was no way I was going to get surprised again. We also had detailed conversations about finances, religion, and lots of other personal topics. At first these conversations were difficult to have because I didn’t want to consider the possibility that there might be a deal breaker lurking out there somewhere. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Marathon Girl and didn’t want an ugly truth getting in the way of a life together. But based on my past experience I didn’t want any surprises after we were married. I knew that it was better to find out these things early on and decide whether or not I could live with them then find out later.
Whether you’re new to a relationship with a widower or dating one for a long time, it’s never too late to have these kinds of conversations. The sooner you have them the better. If you have doubts about what the widower tells you, don’t be afraid to verify what he says is true. Make sure his actions back up what he says. Don’t let fear stop you from having them because it’s better to find out now than later.
As for the woman who discovered the truth about her husband’s financial situation, the latest update email I received from her is that she doesn’t know if the marriage is going to last. Her husband got defensive when she brought up the debt. They’re going to marriage counseling and she’s willing to help pay off the debts and work on the marriage but only on the condition that he changes his spending habits. Right now she doesn’t know if that’s going to happen.
She’s learning her lesson the hard way. I hope its pain and heartache everyone else can avoid.