From my inbox comes the following:
I’ve been with a widower for eight months. (He’s been widower for a year and a half.) Saturday night we went out for dinner. Everything was going great until a lull in the conversation occurred. I noticed he was looking out the widow with a distant look in his eyes. I asked him if he was thinking about his late wife. He said “Yes.” Those words stung but I would have been okay with it if he had stopped there. Instead he continued and told me the story about a time their car died on them in the middle of nowhere during a thunderstorm. (A big storm was going on outside at the time.) He could tell the story upset me and apologized for going into such detail but the night was already ruined for me. I understand he thinks of the late wife but why did he have to tell me that story? He’s apologized but now I’m worried that every time I ask him about what’s on his mind, I’m going to get a story about the late wife. Help!
Frequent readers of this column know that I’m a big advocate of learning how to communicate with a widower. If you can’t communicate with him, odds are the relationship isn’t to survive very long. But part of knowing how to talk to a widower—or anyone else for that matter—is knowing what questions to ask, when to ask them, and when to keep your mouth shut.
In the above email, did it the GOW really need to know what the widower was thinking right then and there? Everything had been fine and dandy until she noticed he was looking out the widow. She could have started talking about something else or simply asked if he was okay. However, asking specifically if he was thinking about the late wife asking intentionally opening a can of worms that didn’t need to be opened in the first place. Perhaps the widower’s answer could have been more diplomatic or maybe he could have shortened the story to one or two sentences but I have a hard time getting upset at him for giving an honest answer.
You don’t need to know everything that’s going on in the widower’s head at any given moment. If you have a trivial question that you really don’t want the answer to, don’t ask the question. Instead focus on learning how to communicate on the more important aspects of your relationship—the ones that bring you closer together and move the relationship forward—not the minor or insignificant parts. If you feel the need to ask about frivolous things, don’t get upset at the widower if you don’t like his answer. There are some questions that are better left unasked.