Never Will I Ever
A message arrived yesterday from someone I will call "Alice". Alice's friends keep asking her when she is going to put herself back in the dating game and try to find somebody new. She says never! She says her husband died three years ago, of colon cancer and she has no intention of ever finding, or even of ever looking for another partner.
Alice is 38 and has one child who will be going to college next year. She has a satisfying career as a real estate agent and supports herself and her son adequately, or better, depending on the market. Her husband lived for eighteen months after his diagnosis, but it was a stressful, painful and miserable time for all of them. Alice mentions that she was pretty traumatized by the experience of watching her husband go through so much pain. She was pretty exhausted too, trying to keep up a cheerful front for him and for her son.
Alice says her marriage with her husband, whom I will call "Chet", was nearly perfect in her eyes. They fell in love when they were both 15. They were inseparable. Alice describes Chet as a loving, giving and positive partner and says he was a perfect husband and father. Alice says they were very compatible in every way, came from similar backgrounds and supported each other's dreams. When Chet took ill, she felt their dreams were shattered. Alice can't even imagine loving another man or finding one like Chet. She says nobody could ever compare to him and would always suffer by comparison.
When Chet died, Alice went to a counselor for a time. She suddenly had fears she had never experienced. Alice mentions that her fears have mostly calmed, but she has never wants to feel so vulnerable as she once did, or to go through that kind of loss again. She sometimes wonders if there is something wrong with her, because she is still young and doesn't want to consider another relationship.
Coach Iris Responds:
Once again, I have to repeat that there is not just one way to "do grief". There are some people who never even think of marrying again. There are others who want that soon after losing a spouse, or who at least think about it. There are people who are adamantly against finding anyone new, even for a casual relationship and who even judge others who do.
There are people who need years to feel ready and those who avoid actively putting themselves in situations where they might ever meet a suitable partner. I don't know Alice well enough to offer an informed opinion on her position, or on things that might be going on with her.
However, I do hear a few things that help me offer Alice some insights and some questions to reflect on.
Alice and Chet pretty much grew up together and experienced some of their adolescent and early adult stages of development together. Sometimes people who are with each other for a long time grow in maturity together. Sometimes they seem to stay stuck in those earlier stages of their relationship and especially in their adolescent ideas about love and marriage. That is not to say they don't mature in other ways.
Alice feels that she and Chet survived the pitfalls that can be experienced when people marry quite young. Many young marriages fail because of partners hanging on to the idea of a fairy tale that just doesn't exist in real life. When real life and its problems enter, the fairy tale is challenged. I wonder if Alice finds it comfortable to continue to stay with that fairy tale because anything else is too scary, or just because it is a very familiar habit? I would ask her to think a bit about that.
When people engage in "all or nothing" thinking, or thinking in absolutes, they may be unable to see solutions, alternatives, or any middle ground. Often fear is at the basis of this type of thinking and sometimes guilt plays a role.
When Alice speaks about not wanting to feel as vulnerable as she did during Chet's illness and soon after his death, I would point out that this is a pretty understandable thing for a widow to feel and to not want to keep feeling. Confronting fears of vulnerability and being helped to look at the worst that could happen, as well as positives that might occur, can be helpful.
I would ask her if she is truly content with keeping things as they are. If so, I would inquire if she would like to find a comfortable way to respond to people when they bring up the topic or dating again or marriage.
I would ask if having a response for others would help solidify her position, and make her feel more secure in it. If not, then how would she like to feel and what could she do to begin to feel that way more of the time? Since she mentioned she wonders if there might be "something wrong with her", I would be curious about that and would try to get into that more, if Alice were willing to explore it.
I would ask her if she could try to imagine herself five years or ten years down the road and might do an exercise with her to help her do that. There is more to Alice's life than just being a widow and I would ask if she wants to work on some other parts of herself that have either been unexplored to-date, or that she would like to rediscover.
All questions or discussion topics have been submitted to Coach Iris for publication on this blog, or have been shared with Iris in the past and permission has been provided to use the situations disclosed here. When contributors don't wish to be identified, initials or pseudonyms are used, and circumstances may be camouflaged to protect their privacy.
Naturally, any answers or input provided here are just opinions and without knowing the person and situation better, may or may not be a good fit for the contributor, or for every reader. The intent here is to cover topics that are typical and that come up often in the widows' community. Nothing here is meant to take the place of more in-depth work or help that some may wish to consider. Responses should not be construed as psychological, medical or legal advice.
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