by Amy Morin, LCSW Marrying someone whose first spouse passed away is much different than marrying someone who has simply been divorced. It’s important to be aware of your spouse’s needs when entering into a marriage with a widow or widower. Unlike when there’s been a divorce, the first marriage didn’t end because it didn’t work out. Therefore, there are some extra things to take into consideration.
Accept Your Spouse’s Past
Don’t pretend your spouse’s first marriage didn’t exist. You’ll need to embrace your spouse’s previous life. In fact, many people who marry a widow say they feel like their marriage includes the first spouse in some way.
In a divorce, the ex-spouse takes their possessions. When someone is widowed, their first spouse’s belongings are still around. It’s important to recognize that years after someone is widowed, their first spouse’s belongings may still be present.
Recognize the sentimental value in these item. Try to refrain from demanding that they be removed or thrown out. Instead, communicate with your spouse about your needs. For example, if your husband insists of keeping his late wife’s dinner plates and you want to use your own, discuss your options. Perhaps saving the former set for a special occasion or using both sets might be a good compromise. Don’t insist he throw them out or get rid of everything.
Educate Yourself About Grief
Your spouse will grieve even after getting remarried. This isn’t a reflection of not having enough love for you. Instead, it is important to recognize that grief is a process. It is normal to experience grief after the loss of a loved one, even when falling in love with someone else. It is possible to grieve one person and love another simultaneously.
Learn as much as you can about stages of grief and what to expect. Read books about grief. Do some online research. Consider seeing a counselor for yourself if you have questions or concerns.
It is important to know what to expect. For example, although holidays may be a joyous occasion, it may also be hard for your spouse at times. There are also going to be days that you may not be familiar with, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and the anniversary of the death, that may initiate a lot of grief for your spouse. Be patient and ask what you can do to be helpful. Sometimes a spouse may want extra support and at other times, may want extra space.
Give Your Spouse Permission to Talk about Grief
It is important that your spouse be allowed to talk about the grief process and the loss of their first spouse. Your spouse may not feel comfortable bringing this up, so by asking questions sometimes you may be giving your spouse permission to begin talking about it. It may be difficult to hear at times, but know that it can be very helpful to your spouse.
Be Patient with Extended Family
If your spouse has children, they may struggle to accept you. It likely has nothing to do with you. It just may be a difficult part of their grief process.
Be aware that extended family members may struggle to accept you as well. This is especially true of your spouse’s former in-laws. They may have a hard time seeing their son or daughter-in-law in a new marriage.
Fight the Urge to Compete
Remember, that it isn’t a competition. Try not to compare yourself to your spouse’s first husband or wife. Know that you may have to endure hearing stories about how “Jan was the best cook” or “Bill was so funny.” Don’t be offended when you hear these stories. Instead, recognize that it is a good sign that people feel comfortable talking about it and it can be part of the healing process.
It is important to recognize how you may have some similarities but will likely have plenty of differences. It’s unlikely that your spouse was looking for a “clone” of their first spouse. Instead, consider it a compliment that your spouse had such love the first time around that it was worth doing all over again! Know that it’s likely the love and the type of relationship is going to be different and it would be like comparing apples and oranges.
Create New Memories
Don’t be afraid to create new memories with your spouse. If your spouse always vacationed in Europe with his first wife, suggest going to Hawaii instead. Don’t feel pressure to fall into the same old habits. Instead, encourage your spouse to try new things and begin some new adventures together. Create new traditions at holidays and make lots of new memories together.
Communicate About Your Feelings
Be willing to speak up when your feelings are hurt. Discuss how to negotiate certain things that may be bothersome. For example, if you don’t like it when your husband refers to you as his “second wife” or when he often talks about “my first wife” see if you can come up with a plan. Sometimes there are creative yet simple solutions that can solve these problems. If the two of you struggle to talk about these things, consider seeking help from a counselor. A marriage counselor can help you learn how to work together on developing solutions for your marriage.