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.