While I'm on vacation, I'm having some guest columnists fill in. Today's Widower Wednesday column is written by Heather Massey Coker.
Dating, loving, marrying, and living with a widower is an emotionally trying and, in my opinion, hugely rewarding experience. It requires patience, compassion, and most importantly, the ability to maintain healthy boundaries. My husband and I met and fell in love rather quickly. I am fortunate that when we met: I was 35 years old, had earned a graduate degree in counseling, and had experienced some voluntary and mandatory (for the degree) counseling. I had also lost my father one week after he had lost his first wife. It is not clear to me which of those things helped me most to navigate this unique situation. I am willing to bet it was the combination of them all!
I felt drawn to my husband’s honesty; he was up front about his grief, his desire to move forward, and his plans to establish a life for himself and his children based in the present and facing the future, rather than staying stalled in the past. However, that being said, this loving, kind, tender, and gentle man had not only lost his wife of nearly ten years, but the mother of his children, a son, 7, and a daughter, just four weeks old when she died. His heart was broken while discovering it could love again. He was imagining a life with me while trying to close the door to his life with his late wife. He wanted me to be a mother to his children while trying to reconcile that his daughter would never know the woman who tried for 6 years to bring her into the world. Did I understand all of this? Yes. Were there days when it was so hard to be the living woman in his life when his grief overwhelmed him? Absolutely.
The first boundary I set in our relationship was to “unfriend” him on Facebook. This is how it went: we talked on the phone until 3 a.m. and I pulled up Facebook at 11:00 a.m. to find a status update that touted his love and affection and mourning for his late wife. I sent him an email the size of a short novel outlining how hurtful that was to me and how duplicitous I felt it was and explained that I would not be on his friends list anymore. I understood that he was in a truly conflicting emotional place and needed an outlet to express his grief, that he was unable to tell the world that he was falling in love with someone else less than 6 months after her death, and, most importantly, that I did not have to subject myself to it. My guy was shocked at the hurt that his status had caused me. Grief is a very self-centered experience. Fortunately, for us, I was also grieving at the time so I understood that well. I believe that if I had failed to set this boundary for myself, I would have been unable to maintain my relationship with my guy. I would never have been able to withstand the outpouring of grief and affection towards his late wife repeatedly.
Early on, my guy and I agreed that we would keep our relationship known only to close friends and family. I was not going to meet his son until we were sure of ourselves and knew that this was going to be a relationship leading towards marriage. We set a date for when we would “go public.” The day came and I changed my relationship status and requested that he confirm that we were in a relationship. And, I waited. Several hours passed and it had not been accepted. I admit that I panicked. I doubted myself. I questioned his willingness and ability to love me. I overreacted a little. Okay, maybe a lot. Nonetheless, I pointed out that this was important to me and he recognized that I was important to him.
There would be other boundaries and limits in our relationship in regards to his late wife, her parents, and my role in his and now, our, children’s lives. As in any relationship, healthy boundaries are important in a relationship with a widower. Boundaries tell someone how they are allowed to treat you. If you are a person who struggles to set boundaries for yourself in your relationships with others, then dating a widower is going to test you, push you, and perhaps, hurt you.
Widowers are no more likely to hurt a woman than any other man. Though, they are not dealing with the same issues as a man who has been divorced, separated, left, dumped, etc. It is different. The woman they loved died. He did not leave her and, in most cases, she didn’t leave him. She died. He can and will respect her and love her and miss her. He can and will do that while falling in love with you. Sometimes, he will grieve. Sometimes, it is not going to be about you. If you set limits with the way you need to be treated, he will honor them. Or he won’t. Then, you have to decide what you are willing to accept for your life.
Are you ready to date a widower? Taking care of yourself in any relationship is paramount and it is even more so when you’re involved with a widower. Set boundaries and limits. Communicate them to your significant other. Be compassionate and empathetic. Know that you are capable of leaving a relationship that is not honoring you. Then, you’ll be ready to reap the benefits of a love that will hold you a little closer because he knows what it’s like to be unable to hold the woman he loved.