The topic of sharing a home with your husband that was once shared with his deceased wife can be a delicate one. We’re here to help by providing three actual real-life scenarios & the advice to help navigate it all.
Scenario 1: Currently Living in the House Previously Shared
I am divorced and recently married to a widower who lost his wife to cancer about a year ago. The problem is that we moved into “their” house, which was already decorated with all their family pictures all over the walls of almost every room in the house, all their furniture, pots, pans, everything that they shared together remains here for me to now use and live with and it is extremely hard because I feel like a guest in my own home.
There are stepchildren, ages 19, 15 and 12. I have talked with my husband about this and he says that he feels it is good for the children to see the pictures of his wife/their mother when she was healthy and doesn’t feel like it would be in their best interest to take them down and replace them at this time. I feel like my feelings are not being considered and feel guilty for feeling this way.
I told him that I don’t wish to take down all the pictures, but would at least like to move some of them to the children’s bedrooms, and it is the pictures that bother me the most, they are huge and take up whole walls in the family room and living room. We did have some pictures of our wedding placed on a wall in the family room and living room and hall.
My husband also wears his wedding band from his previous marriage on his right hand and this also bothers me. I know that I am the person he is with now, and that our relationship is different, I am different and I understand that he is capable of loving me with all his heart while still having feelings for his deceased wife and I am good with that. I am not, however, good with continuing to live with someone else’s things.
I feel like I should be able to choose our things together as any new couple would do. I feel like the changes need to be made by him and that if or when the pictures come down it should be because he chooses to, I feel that if I make the changes, he might resent me for that. It is very difficult for me to continue to live this way, but I love my husband very deeply and want to be completely happy in our marriage.
Your feelings are completely valid, but we suggest that you tread lightly enough not to hurt anyone else in the house – specifically, the children. Have you considered family or couples’ counseling? This would be beneficial for everyone involved in this life change. These experts will have more concrete advice and strategies to navigate the transition.
Other Expert Advice
From Dr. Meredith Hansen
I agree with our moderator, this is a difficult situation and it is probably best to tread lightly. I also completely understand your feelings to move forward in your new marriage.
I think it is important for you to keep in mind that the loss of their mother/wife was only 1 year ago. They have been through many changes with her being sick, passing away, and now a new marriage/step-mother. Allow time for everyone to heal. Your needs are definitely important, but you have chosen to marry someone who is likely still grieving and has children who are still grieving. This is where they are emotionally and that has to be honored.
I also agree that counseling could help. Whether it’s couples therapy or family therapy, having a space to process your feelings and hear the feelings of the other members of the family will help you all come together as a new family down the road. Grief is experienced differently for everyone and your willingness to support them through this difficult time will create a strong bond in the future.
Dr. Meredith Hansen, Clinical Psychologist & Relationship Expert, Helping Engaged And Newlywed Couples Build Lasting Marriages.
Scenario 2: Moving Into the House Previously Shared
For the past four months, I have been seeing a very nice man whose wife died about a year ago. I have two questions:
He is already talking about marriage and if that occurs, he would like to have me and my teenage children move into his house. The house has his wife’s own furniture and wallpaper choices, photos of her everywhere, etc. How do we create our own identity as a couple if we are in “her” space?
How fast is “too fast” when it comes to discussing remarriage after widowhood? Thank you!
Don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with. If you’re still questioning if he’s ready (or you’re ready) takes things slow and see what unfolds. Counseling – for each or both of your – is always a great option to gain concrete, professional insight as well.
Other Expert Advice
From Yvonne Kelly, MSW, RSW, Certified Stepfamily Counsellor And Coach
You said that his wife had passed a year ago and that you had been dating for four months and were discussing marriage within a year of her death. If anything this could be perceived as somewhat on the early side, but more importantly, the deciding factors have more to do with the two of you as individuals and the personal circumstances.
For instance, if you’ve known each other for a number of years beforehand, this would give you some preparatory ground for the basis of a relationship, and moving ahead sooner than later with marriage would not be as much of an unknown because you already know the person very well. Your partner needs to know himself and where he is at in the grieving process for his late wife.
Grief happens in a number of stages and occurs differently and at a different pace for each person. Those who remarry too soon however, before they have really allowed themselves enough time to grieve, often rush into and struggle in their subsequent relationships and those relationships are not as likely to succeed.
If you are truly concerned about where he is at in terms of his grief and not being ready to move on in his life, this would be an important place to begin the discussions that will ultimately help both of you decide when and if marriage is the option for you.
I expect that you will want to have the kind of relationship with your life partner that will allow you to discuss these issues, and by beginning in this way, you will start out your relationship on an open and honest playing field. By asking him these things, and/or even suggesting that he may want to talk with a professional to help him figure it out for himself, you are only being supportive.
You are not questioning his love and concern for you by having this discussion and you can explain that to him. You are simply wanting the best for both of you and are not willing to leave any stone unturned in order to have this.
Also, it sounds like he is the one who initiated the discussion around marriage. Have you asked yourself if this is what you truly want, should he be ready? If you don’t feel the need to move to that level at this time and feel that it may be rushing things for whatever reason, trust your intuition.
You have other options in front of you that allow you to continue the relationship; waiting until you’re completely sure that you’re both ready is absolutely a must. If and when you are reassured that this is what you both want and are ready and prepared for it, then, by all means, go ahead and be happy.
Remember too, that you will now be a stepfamily. You didn’t mention children on his side, but either way, you will become a stepfamily and with this comes another set of unique challenges and the potential for extra family members on his deceased spouse’s side.
If you are interested, there are many good resources that can be recommended, to prepare both of you as you enter into this new family situation.
As for your first question regarding his home, which is still very much his late wife’s home in terms of decorating, furniture, pictures, etc., this is another area that needs to be negotiated.
I’m sure you don’t expect him to erase all memories of her, but in order to get a fresh start on a new life, you will definitely want to make your home together, a reflection of who you are and who you are together as a couple. The problem many people get into is worrying about and stressing over these issues and never discussing them with their partner because they are afraid it is too sensitive and someone’s feeling could get hurt. The worst thing you can do is not discuss it and try to accommodate, which over time will turn to resentment.
Once you are serious about moving in together, if this is what you should decide, then beforehand you need to talk about how you can make the home a reflection of “both” of you, meaning you need to have input into making changes and adding to what’s there already. This may be a negotiation process or your partner may be simply quite happy to have you make as many changes as you need in order to feel comfortable.
You won’t know until you discuss it but be honest and let him know how important it is for you to feel that your home, is your home. You also have teenage children to consider and changes will no doubt need to be made to create spaces for them and accommodate their needs.
This can be a fun and healthy process, if negotiated from the beginning and both of you agree to hear what is important to the other person(s) involved and to make concessions as required. It’s all about building a new life together, and although reorganizing/redecorating the home may seem like work that just needs to get done, think of it more as creating something together that will be a special place for your new family. Of course, there is another option which some people choose – selling and moving into a new home that is new for everyone and optimizes your chances for a fresh start.
This is not always logistically or financially realistic though. Once again, consider all your options, and make sure that you are not simply following his lead – it does seem that all of the ideas are coming from him. That may be fine, but you need to listen to what you know you need and want as well and be willing to share that with him. I wish you all the best as you begin these important discussions which could be the foundation for a healthy and successful relationship.
Yvonne Kelly, MSW, RSW, Certified Stepfamily Counsellor And Coach, Co-Founder And Director Of The Step And Blended Family Institute
Scenario 3: Holding On or Honoring the Past?
Hi! I am a widower for 2 years now. I met a wonderful lady shortly after my wife passed away. A year later we got married. I have a couple of questions in regards to if I am holding on.
I keep a picture of my dead wife in my wallet and on occasion like our anniversary, her birthday, or the anniversary of her death I take it out in private just as a gentle reminder of us. I never take it out in public or near anyone.
One day my present wife and I were comparing pictures in our wallets and she happened to see the picture. Later that week and once a month after that she tells me I am hanging on because I keep her picture. We live in a house that was from my past marriage and most of the furniture in it is from my past marriage.
My wife tells me it is not ours and often gets mad about it telling me we need to buy new furniture and sell the house because it is not ours. At the present time, I can not afford to do this only because I have three kids requiring money for school and my wife is back in school. Please help?
Firstly, it’s not a bad thing for you to still have good, sentimental feelings about your wife who has passed away. And we do believe that it is possible to love her and still cherish the relationship alongside your current.
Try to see her point of view, she probably feels a bit insecure knowing that you keep a photo in your wallet and she is living in the same house you once shared with your passed wife. When and if you are able to, think about starting fresh with something new – not to erase your old memories but to create new ones.
Other Expert Advice
From Emily Bouchard, MSSW, Life Coach, Speaker, Trainer, & Author
This is a very important discussion and one I encounter often in my practice. Not just around the loss of a spouse to death, but also when a divorce happens and there are children involved.
The past is an essential part of our lives and has brought us to our present moment. Honoring the past in ways that make the heart feel good and connected with lost loved ones is healthy and important. “Hanging on” only becomes dysfunctional when it keeps us from moving forward and causes us to deny our present reality.
I also know about this topic intimately from two very different perspectives.
I was truly blessed to have a stepmother who understood the importance of honoring the past. My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was 14. My father remarried soon after and my new stepmother did her best to honor my mother while also becoming an important part of our lives. She looked through photos of my mother with my dad and chose the most recent, flattering one and made high-quality duplicates for each of the children, and put the photo in lovely frames for us.
She also found some old home movies and had them salvaged and put onto videos so each child could have our own copy. She even figured out how to get still shots from the movies that captured our mother playing with us in ways we didn’t have in photos before. Brings tears to my eyes to think about it.
Our family is Jewish and every year, during the New Year celebrations, a special prayer is said for deceased loved ones, and there’s a special service at the cemetery as well. My stepmother fully supported my father in attending these ceremonies and accompanied him when he asked her to (and respected his privacy when he wanted to go alone).
I’m a grown woman now, and a stepmother as well. When I moved into my husband’s home with his two teenage daughters, I hated the photos on the wall of his ex-wife and her family. I tolerated them, knowing that the girls absolutely needed them there, and I knew how important it was for them to have those photos around. The problem was that they were in the hallway to our bedroom — the girls rarely saw them, if at all.
Yet, when I suggested that we move them to go on the wall leading upstairs, a place that the girls passed every day, they were furious with me — for wanting to change what was sacred to them, from their past and their present. Even though their mother moved out of her own choosing, they still needed her presence in their lives to be honored in their home. And it was not my place to suggest a change.
Enough about my experience.
Trust your own. You share a very respectful and healthy way to honor your past and your love that has not diminished for one wife, even as you have moved on and embraced the love of a new wife.
I do think carving out a place in your home that could feel like hers and yours together would make a lot of sense. I recommend the bedroom as a place to start. Perhaps choosing a new bed together, or redecorating the room, or getting new curtains, or even a new dresser. Something that the two of you do together to claim your new life together. Don’t just leave it up to her, as she wants to have a place for “us”.
And, you can certainly get closer to your current wife by seeking to understand more fully what happens for HER when she thinks you’re hanging on. I encourage you to be curious with her and explore with her what it brings up for her that you still have your first wife’s photo in your wallet.
My sense is that something’s been triggered for her — some fear or insecurity perhaps. The photo has set off something for her that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with you — and may actually give you two an opportunity to get even closer.
Emily Bouchard, MSSW, Life Coach, Speaker, & Trainer At Blended Families, Author, “Conquering Conflict: Techniques And Strategies For Resolving Blended Family Conflict”