Tell Me About It: I feel guilty about my wife’s family, and my children don’t approve
PROBLEM: I was married for 39 years when sadly my wife died from cancer three years ago after an illness that lasted for nearly six years. We were happily married and I was devastated when she died.
I met someone else about six months after my wife’s passing and we get on very well. She is a widow whose husband died 18 years ago. We do not live together, but go out regularly and have been on holiday together.
I feel guilty at times that I am letting my first wife and my children down, but I know I would be very lonely if this new friendship ended. I also feel and know that people are making disapproving remarks about us. My children do not approve, yet they say they are willing to meet her. I also feel guilty about my wife’s family and feel I am letting her sisters down. I know that I will have to put up with this if I want the new relationship to last.
Am I doing wrong and should I end this new relationship?
ADVICE: If this were the other way around and you had died and your wife had the possibility of a new relationship, would you be happy for her?
I hope the answer is yes, as love requires that we want what is best for our loved ones and clearly you are enjoying this new relationship. When we have loved well once in our lives it bodes well for the possibility of us loving again as we have gotten good at being in a relationship. You say that were happy with your wife for 39 years and struggled through illness with her for six long years at the end. The grief and letting go process, therefore, started a long time ago for you and so you find that you are ready to engage fully with life and relationship again.
Suffering and sadness is not a measure of how much we loved someone, though it is of course a natural process we go through. That you feel able to love again is a testament to your marriage and the problem you are encountering is other people’s ideas and judgments.
You say your children are struggling with the idea of your relationship and this is perfectly understandable: most children expect their parents to stay the same while they go grow, develop and change. Also, they have always thought of you in conjunction with their mum so seeing you as a separate person brings up their aching loss of their mother.
All of you have suffered great loss and you share that experience but the future will be determined by your behaviour now
However, they are all now adults and are willing to meet your new partner and this shows the possibility of compassion and support for you. You must take up this offer as it will be good for all of you to be stretched in this way. It will require courage from you, largeness and openness from your children and daring from your partner – qualities that will enrich you all. If we demand/depend upon love, it grows to fill the need and so all of you will find that your love expands to meet the situation. If you do not do this, fear dominates and your life will be the smaller for it.
You fear the loss of relationship with your wife’s sisters and no doubt they too fear that they will lose their special relationship with you should you become involved with another woman. All of you have suffered great loss and you share that experience but the future will be determined by your behaviour now.
It requires determination to keep up the relationship with your in-laws when a new relationship happens. Yet if you go to the trouble of doing this, it demonstrates how important that relationship is to you and some of this will get through to your sisters-in-law in time. The danger here is that you take the route of less resistance and thus lose the possibility of love and fun in your life out of fear of disapproval.
If you truly want your in-laws’ blessing, you will need to talk to them and tell them that meeting someone else does not lessen your love for your wife, but that having had such a good experience of love once, you wish for more of it in your life. Include them as friends and involve them in your experiences and in this way all your relationships can flourish.
Of course, your in-laws may react harshly but don’t be put off by their first reactions and allow them many offers of engagement with you. If you stay open, and keep seeking connection with them, they will most likely soften with time.
Lastly, your new partner deserves a full position in your life, show other people how to treat her through your own delight and pride in her company.
Do not hide her away as something to be ashamed of and instead relish the opportunity for love that you both have found at this stage of life.