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Loving him while he's loving her

My partner is still madly in love with his wife.

And I am okay with it.

It is coming up on five years since my partner’s wife passed away - a date that is significant to a loss in my world as well, but that is for another piece of happenstance.

Dating a widow is a terrible idea if you are not prepared to enjoy a roller coaster.

A widow has lost the person they assumed they would grow old with - but time is a gnarly thief sometimes.

A widow has often lost the person they brought children into the world with - and those children, regardless of age, need their remaining parent double time.

A widow has baggage - a lot of fucking baggage - and that baggage takes a long time to unpack.

A window has the ability to survive without anyone - they have had to do it once already, and they will easily do it without you.

But, you have the luxury of experience navigating a (usually successful) marriage, years of learning how to treat their partner (which sometimes needs to be unlearned, admittedly), and a complex set of emotions that are deeper than you’ll ever fully know.

I’ve learned a few things over the past three and a half years, dating a widow. Here are the lessons I am pretty confident about:

You are not replaceable, but your partner can find someone else if you leave.

Resiliency in relationships is important. While we all love the notion of “one true love,” I have come to believe that we all have numerous people that we can be compatible with - it is all in who you choose to open up to.

My partner’s wife is irreplaceable. I cannot fill her shoes. I will never have the same connection as she and my partner had.

And honestly, I don’t want it. Not that I think it was bad or anything - it just was theirs.

There is nothing wrong with your partner loving their deceased spouse differently than they love you.

If you leave, your partner will find someone else. Love is like a bucket that keeps pouring out, but never empties. Loving someone means you want them to truly be happy, with or without you.

Learn their name and use it with confidence.

I never knew my partner’s wife.

However, we talk about her all the time and I say her name now.

In the beginning, I was afraid to say it. I always said “her” or “your wife.”

What I learned though, is that she will forever be a part of his world, even if she isn’t physically with him. That makes her a part of mine, now.

To be honest, I like knowing about her and talking about her. I like hearing the stories of when they were younger, and the kids were growing up. She seems like someone I would have enjoyed meeting and having a chat with.

Say the name. Ask the questions. Give your partner space to celebrate their spouse.

Special dates are not about you.

Now hold on one minute. Your birthday is about you. Valentines day is about your current relationship.

But their anniversary, the spouse’s birthday, and the spouse’s deathday - those are about your partner and their grief. Those days may get easier but they will ALWAYS be important.

It is your job to step back and be available in the ways that your partner wants you to be. Don’t be afraid to ask. Have the conversation before the rush of emotions of the day. Be flexible in changing what the original plan was.

However - and this is important - it is NOT okay for your partner to be shitty to you on those days. They may be touchy, angry, sad, and not want you around, but by no means do you need to allow yourself to be a punching bag.

You are not their therapist. You do not need to be their world. You do not need to allow them to be destructive to you, your relationship, themselves, or others. If they drag it out for an unhealthy period of time, it is okay to talk about that and bring the focus back to the present.

It is okay for people to sit in sadness and grief on these days.

It is also okay for you to not be okay with being with them on those days.

The important thing is to communicate and keep communication open.

You are going to feel weird emotions.

I feel guilty sometimes about enjoying time with my partner and his kids.

Sometimes I go off by myself and cry because even though I am so insanely happy to be with him, I would give most anything to bring his wife back so they could be a family again.

I feel stunned when it dawns on me that this person had a whole freaking life before he met me.

I feel like an outsider at all family events - like a black flower in a sea of white roses.

I feel envious that he had a partner to raise his kids with, and I did it all by myself - even though she is gone now - and then I feel guilty for feeling envious.

I feel hurt when he rejects me or pushes me away, and then I feel mad at myself for not being more patient.

I feel frustrated that we are moving so cautiously through stages of our relationship (but that may have a lot to do with my impulsiveness with my ADHD).

I feel overwhelmed by the situation at least once a day.

I feel like I will never “measure up” to his spouse on occasion - but have come to work through that as irrational because comparing myself to their relationship is silly.

But, I am human.

My partner’s spouse gave him two beautiful children and they shared over 20 years together and that is a beautiful thing.

He still posts about her on social media. He still loves her. We talk about her - sometimes a lot, sometimes not at all.

Honestly, I would dislike him if he stopped loving her or hid his love for her.

Your needs and emotions are JUST as important as your partner’s.

…even on those special dates.

I sometimes hold back. No - I hold back a lot. That has a lot to do with my previous relationships and not feeling validated, but I will be honest: the first year of my relationship with my partner was absolutely bullshit. We were together, then we weren’t, then we would get back together, then we would break up.

That first year made me fight to grow as a person, but sometimes I still let the responses from the first year (he was only widowed for 18 months when we met) take hold sometimes and I will not say what I am feeling.

It is a constant battle for me to give myself permission to take up emotional space and not be afraid of triggering him when it is important to me.

Dating a widow is the most confusing, and often fulfilling, relationship you will ever have.

They know how to be successful in a relationship. Let them lead sometimes, but never let them lead you to a place that isn’t uniquely YOURS as a couple.

Once you get through to their heart (it may take a little longer) - I promise it is all worth it.


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