How Involved Should A Widower Be With Deceased Spouse’s Family

Question: I am engaged to a widower. He was married for a year to his spouse before she passed away. We have been dating for a little over a year. He is very close to her family. They had no children together. I have three children who love him dearly. He wants to continue celebrating holidays and I do not see the need for this. Am I wrong to feel this way? I feel like he is trying to hold on to her by doing this. He said he isn’t and that he just considers them family and always will.

Alyssa Johnson, The Smart Way to Re-Do Your “I Do”

Thanks for posting. It can be uncomfortable to think about your partner wanting to continue having contact with his ex-inlaws, but I think the issue is more one of trust than anything else.

I’d encourage you to trust his desire for this relationship. If you trust that he truly cares for you and are secure in your relationship, then his connections with anyone will not threaten you.

He has already lost someone dear to him. The last thing you want to do is put pressure on him to lose more people. This can lead to resentment.

Instead, I’d encourage you to share your discomfort with him but value his choice and need to remain connected. I’d also encourage you to get to know his “family.” If it truly is a familial type relationship all members should be open to including you. You are a part of his life now and family members want to know that their loved ones are happy.

Will that be uncomfortable for you? Probably the first time. But I think seeing the reality of the relationship is much better than letting your imagination get the best of you. It also allows him to let you into another important circle in his life, ultimately binding the two of you closer.

Yvonne Kelly, MSW, RSW, Certified Stepfamily Counsellor and Coach, Co-Founder and Director of the Step and Blended Family Institute

This can actually be a complex situtation with the possibility of resentment forming on either side of the equation. The answer in my opinion is neither you insisting that he cut his ties with the family, or him insisting that your new life together will revolve around his deceased wife’s family. I think both extremes would be unhealthy and lead to resentment for one or the other. I think that a couple things can happen here. He obvsioulsy needs and wants to stay connected to them and that can include you and your kids at times, but doesn’t and shouldn’t have to all the time. I also think that he has chosen a new life and family, so to spend all of the holidays with his deceased wife’s family, is not appropriate and won’t give you a chance to bond and develop as a family. So I would seriously advise the two of you to seek some support/counselling to come to some form of arrangement whereby you put all of your wishes on the table, along with your willingness to come to some compromise, and this will enable you to both see if the way you envision your lives, is indeed complementary and can fit together.

I personally believe that he can maintain connections with this family without spending all of the holidays with them. There are many other times when he can be with them, and even if for now, this is what feels most safe and comfortable, I believe eventually the two of you, your kids, and any kids you may have in the future, need to take your own path that you figure out together. I didn’t see any mention of his biological family in this so I would also wonder where they fit, as well as your extended family. For the two of you to form a life together, I also think these families will need to be central to that, even more so than his past wife’s family.

While I agree that there may be an issue of trust at play here and being comfortable with your relationship so the family doesn’t pose a threat, I also think that his need to spend the majority of special family times with them, may be an issue that he will need to and will benefit from, addressing. It may be very scary and uncomfortable for him to forge ahead, and creat change in his life, so it is easier to stay with what is familiar. But if that is the case, maybe it is too soon for him to be starting a new relationship and family with someone else. Perhaps he needs more time to grieve becuase once he has made his way through some of this, he may be willing and able to start a new life that includes this family but isn’t centered on them so much.

I’m not sure if this is as you see it, his way of holding on to her, or if he has stated, that he really does just consider them family and always will. Either way you have to determine for yourself, if a compromise on this issue would even work for you. If after discussing it and considering all the options, you feel like this is not what you want for your life, then better to know now. If you marry him knowing that he intends to for example, continue spending his holidays or wanting to spend his holidays with them and hope that he will change his mind, I fear that resentment would settle in on your side very soon.

Figure out if the two of you can come to some compromise based on how you see your lives unfolding over time, before you go any further. And if this requires counselling for one or both of you to do so, by all means do it. As you well know, this new relationship also involves your children and both of you also owe it to them, to figure out ahead of time, if you have what it takes to make this relationship and family work. I applaud you for seeking out help on this – these kinds of issues are absolutely important to get figured out before the relationship gets serious.

Reader Reply

thank you so much for both of your insight. his family is very much involved in his life and my family is very much involved also. his main thing is to continue to draw names with his deceased wife’s family whether he is able to attend the gathering on the same day or not. he said he would go and visit with them another time when we had nothing going on. i guess i just don’t understand the need to still be involved in the name drawing gift giving if he is really not “in” the family per say anymore. he says it is just a gift and it’s no big deal so in that case why do it is my question? his answer is still because they are still his family also. i just dont see the big picture i guess. i dont want to make a mountain out of a molehill but i dont want him holding on to a memory if that is what he is doing. if he’s doing it not to move on completly how can i tell?

Yvonne Kelly, MSW, RSW, Certified Stepfamily Counsellor and Coach, Co-Founder and Director of the Step and Blended Family Institute

This picture is quite different from what I was originally understanding. If he has said that he will make time to see them when it doesn’t interfere with other things, holiday time, etc. and that you are under no pressure to attend, then that is very different. If he chooses to be involved in the gift giving, then even if you don’t understand why, then I don’t see the big problem with this. This is where it can potentially become more about your insecurity then about him maintaining contact with people he’s grown close to. The gift thing from my point of view is harmless. And if he sees them occasionally it is not much different then maintaining friendships with people who may have been friends with someone when they were with a former girlfriend, as an example. Again, if you think you cannot tolerate this then you need to consider moving on, because to insist on him breaking any ties as you move forward will end up causing both of you more trouble than him being involved in a gift exchange.

And to anwer your final question, perhaps you won’t be 100% certain how much this is about him holding on to memories, for a good long time, or ever, depending on what it would take to satisfy you that he is not holding on to the past. Think of it this way, even if there were no tangible or concrete ways that he was involved with them, that alone wouldn’t remove any possibility and hence suspicion on your side, that he is still remembering and loving his former wife. We tell children all the time that love is not finite – that there’s more than enough to go around. He loved her, and likely always will; but that doesn’t preclude him from loving you or anyone else that may be part of his future. Other things will get in the way of that, much sooner than his memory of her. I think that to continue to dwell on whether he still thinking of her, is only going to ruin any chances you might have of having a relationship together. Allow him to do what he says is important to him around this, even if you can’t understand his need of it, and then get on with the job of creating something with him to see if you really do have what it takes to form a lasting relationship together. That will tell you more about whether you guys have what it takes, then any amount of guessing or speculating about whether he’s ready to let go of the memories he had with his last wife. Put more of your energy into the relationship and less into worrying about all of these possibilities.

Reader Reply

thank you so much. that is just what i needed to hear. i will begin working on my insecurities and let him be a part of that without hinderance to him. i think that since you have broken it down for me it has opened my eyes that i dont have to worry about the gift if he feels it necessary to do. they have a desire to meet me and the kids and in time i may be able to do that too. your site has helped me tremendously. thanks again.

Remarriage Expert

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