When we wrote our book, "Love for Grown-ups," we interviewed dozens of women who found that the adjustments that women who married widowers must make are very different from the issues facing women who married divorced men. Surprisingly, we found that, in many cases instead of friends being pleased that the widower had found someone to love and share his life, they in fact resented the new relationship. As though marrying again somehow blotted out the dead wife.
One of our brides told us that when her best friend died of cancer at a young age, she was surprised at how soon her friend's husband had gotten seriously involved with another woman. "At first I was angry and felt it was disrespectful of his dead wife. Then I thought about it and realized that the last three years of his life must have been a horror and of course he was looking for the comfort of a new relationship".
Here are some things to remember if you're marrying a widower:
You are not a substitute for his late wife. Some friends will insist on telling you what a wonderful wife-mother-friend his wife was. While this is probably true it can be difficult to hear. Keep that conversation short. "I know she was a terrific woman and I'm sure I would have liked her." Then change the subject!
Don't let friends' comments make you feel like a second class citizen. You need to establish yourself with these people, not as a substitute for the late wife, but as your self, and with some people it's going to take time. But remember he loves you and time is on your side.
Don't allow yourself to think of the late wife as your competition. When someone starts to tell you about the late wife's suffering politely say "Yes, my husband has told me all about it and it was a terrible time. I'm concentrating on making our life together a happy one." Don't be disrespectful, but bring the conversation into the present. And, if they bring it up again you can be firmer with "Yes, I know, you told me all about it last time I saw you." And as we said before, change the subject.
Develop a relationship with the late wife's family. This won't work in every situation, but some of the Garter Brides felt it was helpful to reach out to the late wife's family. After all, your step-kids are their grandkids. Make sure they're invited to family events like the kids' birthdays, graduations, communions, confirmations, etc.
Remember this is tough on the kids. Losing a mother is very tough on kids. They may already be receiving professional help, but they may also be resentful of you so, whatever you do, don't get angry when you hear "You're not my mother". It goes with the territory and remember, you're the grown-up. If the kids want to talk to you about their mother, let them. Don't let this trip down memory lane rattle you. It helps the grieving process and it will establish you as a caring adult.
Older children may have different problems. Sometimes older children may have had to pitch in while their mother was ill. For instance a daughter may have had to assume the responsibilities of running the household and will resent you coming into the picture. This may require a heart-to-heart with your husband. The important thing to remember is to never get between your husband and his children. Don't put him in a position where he has to take sides. You never want him or his kids to blame you for creating a rift.
Take time to move his late wife's things. We know how much you want your home to reflect you and your husband, and eventually it will. Yes, you can re-arrange the furniture and add some of your own things, but do not remove her pictures (if he were to die you wouldn't remove his). Add a few of your own; add some of your new family. Eventually your presence will be the dominant one.
Concentrate on taking care of your husband and making a happy life together. When you are with his children say that you're glad you can all be together to celebrate whatever the occasion is. Don't call yourselves a "family". That should come from his kids. Be patient, all of this takes time, and you have the rest of your lives together.
Is it more difficult to establish a life with a divorced father or with a widowed father?