Question 7: My New Partner Feels Threatened by my Late Husband

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Our latest question comes from Jaqui, who writes:

I am a widow and I think I am worth dating! I had 34 years of loving (and often working) with my husband. The pure joys of our early relationship and our later overcoming the trauma of infertility to make a different happy life together have left me knowing I am a strong woman with the capacity to love, to grow. I have great friends, some of them go back 40 years, some are newer friends.  I love my job and don’t look to a man for financial security. I keep fit riding. I have a sense of humor.

In fact there is a “new man” who seems to think so too, he’s kind and attentive. But he gets jealous of my past marriage, especially if I mention it now. Am I not meant to speak of my adult life from age 21 to 55, or the 4 years since I was widowed? All the years that have shaped this woman worth dating?

My new man is divorced and tells me stories of his three kids growing up. He hasn’t had much to say about his ex-wife. He doesn’t seem to need to talk about his past much, but then he hasn’t had to say final goodbyes. I go to his family celebrations and get along well with his family, including his ex-wife. But he seems to think I need to “move on” and would probably go along with the idea about references to a late husband being a sign of maybe not being “ready.”

Recently a group of my old friends visited for a long weekend. My husband, their friend, was mentioned just three times. Aware of new man’s sensitivities, I joined in only once. New man has been embraced by these friends, he’s met them several times, but after they were gone he complained that they/we spoke too much of the past and of my husband.

It seems to me that whether a new man remains “in competition” with a dead husband depends less on the strong (but sometimes sad) widow, his new partner, and more on his own capacity to accept that she also has a past and his being secure enough to accept that it may have been a happier relationship than any he has experienced with his previous, still alive, partners. If he can’t do that, maybe it’s him that needs to move on.  I’m still hoping.

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Dear Jaqui,

Your question resonated with me because my boyfriend of one year has also said that I need to “get over” my late husband.  Boyfriend feels that I talk about my late husband too much.

But how can we not talk about someone we were with for over thirty years?  Those years weren’t spent in a vacuum. They were spent in marriages where so many of  our actions and decisions involved our spouses.   How can we act like we were single during that time?

I’ve written before that it is unrealistic for new partners to expect those us who have lost spouses to act like they never existed.  Blog Post on Dating a Widow  Even widowed folk who have grieved and integrated their losses may still feel sad on occasion.  Many of us feel that we will always be our late spouse’s wife, AND, in time we can be another person’s partner.  Our past relationships have contributed to who we are today, including our capacity to love a new person.

Moreover, most older singles have suffered some type of loss, be it widowhood, divorce, the loss of our parents, or estrangement from adult children.  How would you feel if a new man asked you not to talk about a deceased parent whom you’d been close to?

The problems is that he sees your late husband as a rival.

Whether New Man’s concerns are justified depends on the frequency and manner in which you mention your late spouse.  No guy wants to be unfavorably compared to your former husband.  But it doesn’t sound like you’re doing this.  You’re making a few references to your past married life.  And it sounds as if you are doing so quite sparingly with concern for new man’s sensitivities.

So, what’s going on?

Does New Man need to be the center of attention in most social settings?  If so, his “concerns” may really be displeasure that he’s not getting enough attention.  I once dated a narcissist who needed to be the focus point of most gatherings.  The issue wasn’t what other people were talking about; it was that they were not talking about HIM.

New Man sounds insecure.  In which case mentions of any former relationship would make him nervous, regardless of how that partnership ended.   So, it’s time for a talk.  Tell him what you’ve written to me.

Your marriage helped make you who you are now.  Much of your history involves your late husband.  You are happy with new man.  You have found love again. (if that’s the case). Your late husband and he are not in competition.

You’ve been through different phases of your life.  You are trying to be sensitive, but you don’t want to feel censored from talking about your past.   You can’t shut your old friends out of your current life.  You don’t feel threatened by his past.  Couldn’t he feel the same?

Ask him exactly what concerns him when you mention your late husband and try to address those concerns.  Maybe your husband was a better provider.  Maybe new man feels threatened economically. Or he thinks your old friends don’t like him. You can reassure him that you are not making comparisons, that you love him for who he is, that your old friends embrace him and are glad to see you happy.

But, if he can’t deal with references to your late husband, your other option is never to mention him to new man, to see your old friends on your own without new man, and to otherwise make sure new man never hears about your late husband.

But that reflects very poorly on new man.

Can you really be happy in a partnership with someone where you have to edit yourself so much? And who is so insecure?  His inability to deal with mentions of your late husband is ultimately his problem, not yours.  You can be sensitive and reassuring, but he needs to be okay with your past, a past which you have reason to be proud of.

If he can’t deal with a partner’s past relationship, he may need counseling to overcome his insecurities. Any lady he dates may have previously been married.  You may want to suggest this if a few talks don’t help him to see he has no reason to feel threatened.

However, if he just can’t deal with your past marriage, you will have to decide whether it is, in fact, time to move on.  For his sake, as well as yours, I hope he sees that his insecurity is damaging an otherwise good relationship.

Let me know what happens,

Debbie

 

9 Comments

  • Nicky says:

    Excellent advice Debbie!!!

  • Quinnland23 says:

    While I totally agree with everything you said, in “New Man’s” defense, your current partner is usually the “best one yet”,… optimistically speaking. Past relationships ended for a reason; you can share those reasons and results from previous breakups and strive to be better with your new partner. Friends of your new partner recognize the upgrade you represent and root for your success as a couple. There’s a comfort knowing that you are both providing each other with something that wasn’t there before, a complete package.
    So yes, I know at it’s heart this is all just another way of explaining ‘insecurity’, but I think it’s important to note that its harder for a man to step into a role that was not intentionally vacated.

    • Debbie says:

      And that is an excellent point! I agree it is harder in some ways. A widow didn’t (usually) want her marriage to end.

  • Kevin says:

    1. Divorced means you chose, windowed means it probably wasn’t your choice. Bear this in mind when dealing with new paramours.
    2. Know that ANY date doesn’t want to hear about your ex.
    3. If you complain about your ex, your date will secretly (or not) feel superior.
    4. If they’re worth it, you can talk about them anyway, and it might bother them, but they’ll deal.
    5. Moving on means MOVING ON….
    6. See “Holiday Affair” .
    7. Get on the train and begin your new life.

  • Touche. Sound arguments. Keep up the good effort.

  • jacqui says:

    Hi.
    Thanks for the response, Debbie. Actually I was not asking a question – I thought I was responding to another topic,.but never mind.
    New Man is not an attention seeking type – he’s great company and always interested in other people. He knows my friends like him – they have told him so! And we have talked, but his position doesn’t change, he thinks I am the one who needs counselling. He wants us to live together, but I am not ready to do so – mostly because of what you call having to edit myself. In a way I think it’s actually him who is not ready – not ready to accept the whole of me.
    I think Quinnland has it – it’s hard for him as I didn’t come out of a relationship through choice, mine or my husbands, a relationship that was not working, but have to deal with the fact that I held my husband when he died, I told him he was free.
    New man once asked me what I would do if my husband walked through the door “right now” – I found this absolutely ridiculous and said, “If P could walk through the door right now that would mean he was alive, and so you wouldn’t be here, I would never even have met you, so there would be no choice to make.”
    I thought new man would have more insight as his father died when he was just a teenager, and his mum couldn’t cope and committed suicide a few years later. Maybe this is where his insecurities come from, but he doesn’t see it that way.
    Anyway, we have had a few days not seeing one another, time for some thinking. I am hoping he will decide I am worth dating and leave me some emotional space for my past.

    • Debbie says:

      I don’t know if it’s a matter of you bring worth dating, it’s that he can’t seem to deal with your past or probably any lady has a past she can’t just sweep under the rug. It truly does seem like this is his problem. But I hope he recognizes that you are fantastic and he needs to Stop expecting you to edit yourself.