Question: I am in the weirdest relationship I have ever been in in my life. I met R about a year after his wife passed away. We started out as “just friends” and played together as a band – like Simon & Garfunkel– I admit I thought he was cute but I was kind of put off by the whole “just lost his wife and has two small sons” thing.
His kids are great and they charmed the heck out of me. I started hanging out at his house to just talk and stuff beyond band practice. Then, things happened [tongue], and for about a year, we were sleeping together and hanging about about 5-6 nights a week, but he would introduce me as his “friend” or “band mate”. Every now and then he would share some of his grief feelings with me — he found her engagement ring that she thought she had lost and apologized to him in the hospital for losing — he sobbed on my shoulder.
Things would get sad and tense around the big 3 — her birthday, their wedding anniversary, then the anniversary of her death — all within a month of each other.
I have been living with him and his sons now for about 2 1/2 years, we’re approaching the 5th anniversary of his late wife’s death. R has never told me he loves me. My living here just “happened” — he didn’t ask me to move in, I was at his house so much that when we came back from our first vacation together as a foursome, I sort of just stayed.
In all my past serious relationships, I have been very open and honest about my thoughts and feelings. I feel like I CAN’T in this one. I feel like I can’t ask where I stand, I feel like I can’t ask if he loves me, I feel like i can’t ask if he is still actively in love with his wife (which I suspect) — not that sad acceptance that she’s gone and a reverence of what they had, but ACTIVELY PINING and IN LOVE. For someone as outspoken as I have been, this is really eating me up inside, but I don’t want to be insensitive to his pain or disrespectful of his late wife’s place in his heart.
I feel like I have all the responsibilities of the day in and day out living of a family life but none of the status or validation. I live in their house. He has been slowly putting away many of her things over the last 3 years. Most recently, her wedding bouquet that used to hang in the livingroom. However, I’m looking at her face right now as a wallet pic is taped to the computer desk.
I DO respect who she was to him and the boys, believe me. I don’t want him to “forget” her. I just want to know that I’m in that heart of his too, or if the whole thing is occupied.
Here’s something that gnaws at me — way back before we got intimate, R said that he feels he will NEVER have what he had with his late wife and that he will never get married again. I don’t know if this has changed or not. I’ve been with him now almost four years. I’m not really hell bent on marriage per se since I do not want to have my own children — I really love the boys, they hooked me. They’re all the children I need — plus I’m 38 and not interested in a pregnancy at this stage of my life — so it’s not like I’m dying to get married.
I just want to know if he sees me as a current valid relationship and not just as some lame consolation prize that makes his life companionable and pleasant while he carries an eternal torch for his ONLY love.
How can I approach this sensitively?
Yvonne Kelly, MSW, RSW, Certified Stepfamily Counsellor and Coach, Co-Founder and Director of the Step and Blended Family Institute
Handling this sensitively is important I agree, but just handling it is absolutely necessary. You really do need to talk with him. Even though you are sensitive to his needs and situation which is wonderful, you also need to respect your self and be true to who you are. You mentioned that you’ve always been able to be open and honest in other relationships so it must be killing you to sit on your thoughts and feelings for so long. This will eventually make you bitter and resentful and then you won’t be able to handle it sensitively. No one is wrong in this situation – but the issues and dynamics that follow from a death of a spouse, especially when the person who is left decides to re-partner, are complex and fraught with dilemnas for everyone. It’s definitely a plus that the kids and you have come together; he’s probably thrilled about that and also probably cares for you very much but may be feeling guilty about moving on and or like he is being disrespectful if he embraces you and tells you that he loves you. You will simply not know until you talk to him, but talk to him YOU MUST.
Handling it with sensitivity. You are articulate yourself very cleary and having read what you wrote, your sensitivity and caring for him came across in spades. You could start by telling him much of what you wrote here. That you completely respect what he’s gone through and know that it must be very difficult, so by asking your questions and getting a handle on where he’s coming from, you are in no way making demands of him, just trying to understand where you stand with each other – or more where he stands. You have been together for a long time and you would like to know if he feels the same as you. Let him know that you care, but that you need a relationship in which you know what the other person’s needs, feelings and intentions are, in order to be happy, content, and ready to move forward. This is completely reasonable and you need to keep reminding yourself that. The spirit in which you wrote to us is the same way in which you can talk to him and I believe he will respect that.
You can also reassure him that you understand that he will never forget his first wife and that you wouldn’t expect that. The focus is not on her here though in this conversation, try to keep it on your relationship and how you proceed just as you would in any other situation. You need to be sensitive to him in relation to his past, but I believe in being oversensitive you may be robbing both of you of the opportunity to deal with this openly and move forward in whatever way it takes you.
I married a widower with 2 children myself and only wish that we’d had those conversations much earlier in our relationship. Surprisingly, when we did finally talk about things, on my initiation, my husband was able to deal with it. If he knows you are supportive and understanding, he will be more likely to accept and respect your needs in the relationship and your need to know where this is going. The longer you leave it I can promise you that the relationship will become less viable, because no one can live in silence on these issues for this long and not become bitter.
Best of luck as you talk openly and directly with your partner and perhaps find a special time away to discuss this and begin to make plans for your future.
Jill Curtis, Psychotherapist, Family Onwards, Author of How to Get Married … Again (A Guide to Second Weddings)
I think that you have been very sensitive to the situation, but now that so many questions are nagging away inside you it seems to be the time to have a straight talk. The problem with relationships ‘just happening’ is that different issues and views dont get sorted out along the way. It is not that you are giving him an ultimatum. I understand that in so many ways you are happy with your life, but you do need to feel on firmer ground.