How do |I go on?
September 24, 2008 4:19 AM   Subscribe

If my partner, a widower, wants some space to try to get over the death of his wife of 20 yrs, yet he can't tell me how long it will be, what am I meant to do?

I have been seeing my partner for approx 18tmonths his wife died 22 months ago from cancer. We get on so well together and I have given him all the understanding he needs. On family occasions he sinks into another world and remembers and misses his wife. Don't get me wrong I am not saying this is a bad thing, its just that he knows he still has not moved on fully. He says he doesn't want anyone else and we talked about retirement and me going with him wherever he wants to live. Then 3 weeks ago we went away for a few days for the first time together to his family. We all got on great. The only thing was He was with me, but not with me in mind a lot or so I felt. It was the first time he had flown without his wife. He has been to his family a few times without her though. I was a bit quiet on the phone after we got back, because no matter how much understanding you have, you can't help feeling a bit hurt sometimes. He seems to have taken this as he is hurtin me and he dosen't want to. So he has said he needs some space to come to terms with things, that he thought he was dealing with the loss of his wife but he isn't. He says he is very happy when he is with me, but when he isn't he goes back to being sad and remembering. He says he can't contemplate not seeing me again, and I said I will give him some space. The trouble is now I feel in limbo land, I miss him so much it hurts and I don't know whats going on really. I don't know when I will see him again. I want to be with him. I feel for him being alone, he said I was the only person he opened up and talked about his feelings with.
posted by ffazniah to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
you guys got together four months after his wife died?? I think that may have been too soon for anyone. I'm sorry.
posted by chickaboo at 4:37 AM on September 24, 2008 [9 favorites]

My dear, I feel for you -- but if you met him only four months after his wife died, then there is a very, very strong chance that he wasn't done grieving for her. It takes a long time to recover from that kind of loss.

And as wonderful as he is with you now, he is not going to be a completely fit match for you until he HAS recovered. All those times he was "somewhere else in his mind" were indeed about how he was missing his wife -- and, think about it, of course he would. She was his WIFE. He won't recover from that overnight.

You want someone who isn't always thinking about someone else, right? He's not that person right now.

He needs the time to heal. He's said he needs to take that time. The hardest thing is that there's no guess how long it will take, and that he also may want to move on after he has healed, but the fact that he's told you what's going on with him is something to be glad for -- he's told you what's in his heart, and he's been up front about why he can't be a good match for you right now.

I also know that worry about him being alone when he said you were the only person he opened up to. But you are not responsible for healing him, and he's probably realized that.

I can't say how long he will need, and I can't say he will come back. It's possible he will. But I do know that if you both didn't let him recover from this, it would continue to be something that bothered you both and would come back later.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:46 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry that you're in this situation. I think it's best though if you break up with this man and tell him he may contact you when he's ready though you can't make any promises about being available at that time. It's just not a good idea to try to stick it out with someone who is not in the right frame of mind to be with you, no matter what his reasons may be.
posted by orange swan at 5:21 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ditto he hasn't finished grieving. You don't need to carry him, however, he can only do it on his own. This means that you need to find something else to keep you occupied, and that may also mean someone else. Fade out for the time being.
posted by ptm at 5:36 AM on September 24, 2008

My wife died eighteen months ago. There are days when I feel OK and days, frankly, when I feel rotten and think about her all the time. You cannot say that it will be better in one year, two years, five years. Others with whom I have discussed this say you never completely get over it. Basically, as other posters have said, he needs time but he cannot say how much time. With your help, it should be easier but there is never going to be one day when it is suddenly OK. You have to decide whether you are prepared to live with this but please don't expect miracles and please don't expect a deadline when it will suddenly be OK.
posted by TheRaven at 5:42 AM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

You have your own life to lead. You can "be there" for this person, but you'll find yourself walking a fine line between trying to build a relationship, and holding back or being pushed away.

Your partner has asked for distance, you should respect that as any amiable, justifiable split up.

Move on.
posted by wfrgms at 6:09 AM on September 24, 2008

You won't want to hear this, but your partner found you, sadly, too soon after the death of his wife for this to run smoothly. People are human, and sometimes they don't know what they want, and they rush into things too quickly. That may have happened here. Anyone suffering from grief is generally advised not to make any other major life changes, including a serious relationship, for a year or so after the loss, because they just can't think clearly with all they are going through.

He may very well sub-consciously associate the time you got together with his loss, since the two are so close chronologically, and that is causing him problems when it comes to "moving on."

Grieving is a long and difficult process. He's known you less than two years, he was married for *twenty*. If something happened to you, don't you think he would grieve for a while? Now imagine you had been a fixture in his life from the time he was a young man, just learning about life himself, through all of his successes and his failures as he grew older. You don't mention if the two of them had children, but if he did, add guilt to his grief as well--no matter what his family thinks of you, he may feel that he is betraying *them* by being attracted to someone other than the mother of his children.

He's right to suggest you two have space. He needs to get his head together and figure out where he wants to go in this relationship and if he can handle it at all, and he can't do that with you pressuring him. Maybe you don't feel like you are pressuring him, because to you it's been a year and a half and by that time in your other relationships things have already progressed past the stage where the two of you are now--but you have never experienced the loss he has experienced, and you can't feel what he is going through. And he can't fully share it with you without making you both feel worse.

Give him time, give him space, and be prepared--this may not end well for the two of you. The timing is just all wrong.
posted by misha at 8:05 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

This man started dating you very soon after his wife died, possibly as an escape from feelings of loneliness and grief.

I´m not really sure what you can do about your own feelings at the moment, but as this man is still alive you may take some solace in the possibility that he may one day return to you, however I think you should be ¨just friends¨ and give him his space while you open yourself to dating other people.

In the future it might be best for you to think about whether men you are considering dating are really emotionally available, 4 months is a very short time after a partner´s death to begin dating. If the grieving process is pushed aside like that it is very likely to come up later on.
posted by yohko at 8:17 AM on September 24, 2008

Best answer: His kind of loss can't be gotten over or even properly processed in four months. Iwas married for 15 years and we split up in 2005 and were divorced in 2006. I was a mess for quite a while, more than a year. (I still have some anger, but much less now.) I continued to date while I worked through my grief and anger, which in retrospect may not have been the best thing for me to do. I do feel that it helped me process my feelings, though. I was not looking for any sort of long term solution. I was honest with myself about my feelings of loss and anger, and made no secret of them to the women I was dating. (I didn't go on and on about my ex -- I try to be a forward-looking person.) I got me some therapy. I called my friends when I needed to talk. All of that helped.

Last November, more than a year and a half after the divorce, I met a woman I had been acquainted with for a couple of years, and we started seeing each other. We did a lot of talking about my ruined marriage and her own baggage. We took a road trip together to visit a friend of hers in Virginia for Thanksgiving after dating for less than a month. I knew that the holiday might be a bit hard for me, but I was able to tell her this ahead of time, and when I did experience some blues she understood and gave me the space I needed (which wasn't much, just an hour or so) and didn't get defensive or worried. I was immensely grateful -- it had been hard for me to tell her that I might indeed have a problem with the holiday season. But her willingness to deal with it was very very helpful to me and helped me continue to heal.

The upshot is, we are living together now and doing very well. We talk about everything that comes up. Talk -- that's the key. And I do know that it easier for some people than others. Your man will be sad for a while yet. It sounds to me as if he has a hard time with feelings. If you can handle that, good. Be understanding, give him time.

I hope it works out for you.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:02 AM on September 24, 2008

Best answer: Good points have been made by all, and you might want to consider that, in my experience, the second year is often the hardest. The first year is full of "firsts" such as the first Thanksgiving, first time tackling what would have been a shared project, and so on without the loved one. By the second year, however, it just becomes the way it is and the way it will always be. Your life and everyone else's just moves along without this monumentally important person and the finite and quiet way that happens can be just as heartbreaking as the moments that are generally recognized as significant in the first years of grief. Be there for him if you can, but take care of yourself, too. I don't think this relationship is necessarily a lost cause, but it will require patience and an unfortunately unpredictable period of time before you can settle into whatever normal would be for the two of you. Best of luck.
posted by katemcd at 9:28 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: So he has said he needs some space to come to terms with things, that he thought he was dealing with the loss of his wife but he isn't. He says he is very happy when he is with me, but when he isn't he goes back to being sad and remembering.

It sounds like in some ways, he's allowed his relationship with you to be a pleasant and necessary distraction from dealing with the full depth of his grief. Even though you two have had this meaningful, loving relationship of more than a year, I think you have to allow for the possibility that for him the grieving process perhaps has been left arrested a that very early stage. As painful as it is for both of you, he needs to do this.

It's a brave and compassionate act to honor his need to go deal with this onslaught feelings he's been avoiding. Trust that you two have made the right decision, and so that you can address the grief you are feeling over this relationship instead of dwelling on what he must be feeling over his own losses.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:18 PM on September 24, 2008

I'm getting married this weekend and this is the scariest thread I've read in a long time. I can't even imagine losing my partner or recovering from it. My cousin died unexpectedly 16 months ago, and I'm not over that, and I hadn't even seen him in a few years. I can't even fathom what it'd be like to lose your partner of 20 years, but I know it'd take me much longer than 22 months to recover. I agree with others that he probably started dating you too soon after, has grown attached to you and doesn't want to hurt you, but also can't reconcile his feelings for you with his grief over his wife. I suggest you get counseling to deal with this. I'm going to assume that he's had some sort of grief counseling, but if not, please recommend it to him. I don't suggest that you go together at this point. I think he needs to talk to someone else about his loss. It's completely natural that you would feel somewhat awkward hearing stories about his wife.
posted by desjardins at 2:39 PM on September 24, 2008

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