Should I Live with Photos of Widower’s Departed Spouse?

Dear Neil:  I am crazy in love with a wonderful man—a widower.  His late wife passed away eight years ago after 23 years of marriage.  We have been engaged for over a year now.  He has two grown sons, has another two sons (ages 10 and 12) at home and a special needs son that is 29.  I have the utmost desire and commitment in keeping their mom’s memory open.  There are nice family photos around my fiancée’s house, but the 10X20 of my fiancée and his late wife hanging in the dining room; small pictures of her stuck in the corner of every frame in the house; a “To My Wife” plaque hanging on the living room wall; their wedding announcement from over 30 years ago; a “To My Husband” card hanging on the refrigerator and over 40 photographs taped all over the hallway entrance—makes me feel like I am in love with someone else’s husband and family.  We don’t live together, but I cook meals for them and stay over three or four nights a week, and on the weekends.  I love being with them and doing things with them, which we do as a family.  But I don’t feel like I can be the lady of the house so long as his late wife’s belongings and pictures are everywhere.  He says (and I feel) he loves me very much.  Am I wrong in feeling this way?

Competing Against Memories in Ohio

Dear Competing Against Memories:  If I were in your shoes, I would feel in second position to his ex-wife also.  It’s one thing to be empathetic to a man and his children who lose their wife and mother.  It’s an entirely other thing to want to live with her picture and her memories staring at you from every corner.  Tell your fiancée that you are touched by his devotion to his ex-wife, and that you’ll do everything you can to honor her memory and her spirit.  Then tell him that if he wants you to be the new lady of the house after you marry, that he’s going to need to honor your needs and feelings also.  Then tell him that you’d like him to choose one or two of the photos of her and the kids that can stay hanging, but you’d like all the other photos, plaques and memorabilia to come down.  Tell him you’d like to build a new family, new memories and new future together, which will be harder for you to do if you are in constant competition with her memory.

I would call this a power/control issue.  If you can’t influence your soon-to-be home environment, you’re going to feel pretty impotent and powerless in that relationship.

Dear Neil:  How do you maintain a relationship with your children when your wife ends your marriage and then repeatedly verbally degrades you to the children?  My brother is suddenly confronted with this situation.  To further complicate matters, there is a sick child  (she had a four hour surgery recently, but the mother didn’t let the father know about it).  Do you have any advice for him on how he might be able to preserve his relationship with his children?

Wanting to Help in New Zealand

Dear Wanting Help:  The situation you’ve described is exactly why a large number of divorce/custody cases end up in the court system.  Your brother should get a court order forcing his ex-wife to communicate about the children’s health and well-being.  But he would also be wise in talking with (texting, e-mailing) his kids every day or two, so he keeps himself connected with them and with what’s going on in their lives.  If they are too young to communicate on their own, there needs to be a legal intervention that protects his relationship with his children.

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2 comments on “Should I Live with Photos of Widower’s Departed Spouse?

  1. Hi, I am a 6 yr widow after 40 years of marriage dating a 4 yr widower. We both had long marriages. He says that he feels comfortable at my house and I have told him that I don’t feel comfortable at his house. We have been dating for 18 months and talking about moving in together in a rental until we are sure we are ready for marriage. His house is like a museum to his deceased wife . She has many collections of kick knacks and every corner and shelf if filled with her things. I had to get emotional to get him to remove large picts of them and even pillows and blankets with their pictures on them. He had his daughters move her clothes from their closet and there are clothes in other closets with personal items. My fear is that he finds comfort in them although he says he doesn’t (red flag?) I don’t want to move to this neutral house until he has dealt with some of items. He says none of the things & momentos mean he is carrying a torch for her and that I am not a sub. I have tried to embrace all her stuff but it is not me and now he says he is going to get his 5 adult kids together and see if they want any of her things. It seems after 4 years they might have all ready done that. They all have large houses but I think they like their parents house to remain the same as always. I like his kids but if I push him, they may resent see him donating her things to a good charity. I had to go through my husbands things so I do understand. I told him that I won’t move in with him until he has gone through and disbursed the personnel things. I am no talking furniture. He is a great guy and I don’t want to hurt his feelings and I feel like a nag. I am 67 years old and I don’t want to make the wrong judgement call here. any ideas? We currently live 2 hrs apart and visit each other every other week or so.

    • You are not wrong! It’s distespectful to you if – after you have been brave enough to tell him how you feel – that nothing is being done about it

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