Advice on when to move on after a spouse's death and how to get a partner's attention.
My wife died 10 months ago, and I’ve been dating a woman for seven months. Due to distance, we see each other only weekly or biweekly. She has said she loves me once, but most of the time I can’t get an affectionate word out of her. I also feel as if I’m walking on eggshells a lot so I won’t say the wrong thing. But we have fun when we are together. I’m not sure how far I should go with this.
Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor at Large of Psychology Today and writes the magazine's advice column, Unconventional Wisdom. Her newest book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, grew out the groundbreaking Psychology Today article A Nation of Wimps.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
The better question might be: how fast? Being with someone fun is great, especially after a spouse’s death. You are lucky to have found that. But perhaps you are rushing the demand for affection and, in walking on eggshells, working too hard to get it. Hurrying to get back into the woodwork of love leaves no place for the dust to settle.
Steadily dating three months after a spouse’s death is fast work. Is it too fast? It depends on what’s going on inside you. Have you given yourself enough time to absorb the loss and to appreciate what you loved in your partner and how the partnership worked for (and likely changed) you, so that you can make a good new choice when the time comes? Unless you gained some self-knowledge, you head into the mating world without the benefit of valuable information.
Did you move quickly into dating because you do not have friends with whom you can spend time? Or do not like being alone with yourself? Or need the reassurance of others that you are likable, lovable? People are most desirable when they can tolerate being alone with themselves but make the free choice not to, and when they do not need frequent reassurance from others that they are lovable. No doubt, you need companionship. Everyone does, especially after a loss. Making friends might be worth pursuing more than dating right now.
Enjoy the friendship of your new relationship and let it take its own course. Use the distance as your ally, to give you time to think about why you need the verbal assurances of affection.
In the Shadows
All my life, I have lived in the shadow of my sister. Unlike her, I followed the rules and did what was expected of me. In my mid-20s, I finally told my parents that I felt ignored. All they talked about were my sister’s issues.
“The squeaky wheel always gets the oil,” they said. Now, in my mid-30s, I need support more than ever. My husband and I are unable to have children, and we find ourselves pushed to the margin in both our families. I want to feel important to someone, but I don’t want to sound like a child by telling our families that. When I try to talk to my husband about it, he gets defensive. What can I do?
It might be futile to expect more from your families, but not from your husband. Now’s the time to feel like true partners, supporting each other, not like separate players in larger family dramas. His defensiveness may stem from feeling under attack by your complaints, not knowing how to give you what you want, or needing soothing for life’s disappointments himself. You can address all three with a simple change of approach. Instead of declaiming how unimportant you feel, ask him for what you need. First, you have to articulate it to yourself, and that may be the hard part; you may be too used to feeling the effects of its absence.
Much of what you need likely boils down to two words—attention and affection—which often come as a package. The catch is, in telling him what you want, you have to demonstrate it. Pick a good time for a private conversation, or orchestrate one, and find your own words to say something like this: “I love feeling close to you. I feel I need more of that these days. I know we’re busy; still, I’d like it if we did more X, Y, and Z. How about if we plan X for this weekend?” Having to ask for what you need doesn’t make getting it any less gratifying.