Monday, September 04, 2006

Dismaying Story #46: Till Death Us Do Part

Today's question comes from a post by Kacey, who has a blog called Cookie's Oven. You can find her full post here and the following is my shortened version:

Dear Andrew,

Early on in my marriage, I had lofty ideals that if, (God forbid) I should suddenly be run over by a speeding train or any other such catastrophe -- my dear husband would have to remarry, because he was so happy with me. Actually, I think I wanted someone to mother my children until they could fend for themselves. Deep in my heart, I knew that I couldn't stand the thought of him whispering sweet nothings into another woman's ears. The ugly little voice said in my ear, "What if he tells her about all your shortcomings?"

In my late thirties, a good friend died from a really nasty cancer and her husband told a few of "the guys" some of her intimate details. I cried at this betrayal. Another friend lost his wife a couple of years ago and is blissfully married to another woman and people are saying things like, "John is so much more fun with his new wife than he was before." My brother's widow of three and a half years is getting married next month. While I am extremely happy that she has found someone to be a companion, I harbor this nagging little thought: "You can't do this. You are my sister-in-law and your children are my nephews."

My husband has been with me as long as I can remember and I would hate to die and have him find out that some other woman would have been a better wife, lover, companion. There should be a pre-nuptial that says you cannot tell your new spouse the longings of your previous mate's heart.

Am I selfish or just losing it?

Signed, Kacey

Dear Kacey,

I think you are neither selfish nor losing it. Many people struggle with this same issue. (Some readers may remember an earlier post where I mentioned Jeff Foxworthy's take on the matter.)

After all, who among us cares for the thought of our spouse being with someone else? Sure, we can try to rationalize that we would be no longer be around if that were to occur, but at a gut level, right now, this is still a difficult image to bear.

Your fears go even deeper. You wonder if you might somehow come up lacking in comparison with the new model, and whether this would tarnish your husband's memories of you. It's bad enough to think about being gone, but you would at least want to be remembered well.

These are natural feelings and you shouldn't condemn yourself for having them.

To me, these worries are wrapped up in self-confidence and trust. You are insecure about how well your husband's feelings for you might survive after you are gone. You wonder if you can trust him to use common sense and decency when deciding what is appropriate to share with others about you.

Let me ask you this: Are you confident in your husband's feelings for you right now? Do you trust him not to run out with the guys this weekend and start discussing intimate details that should remain between the two of you? If so, then I suggest you have no need to worry about what he might do if you should happen to pass away first. His personality will not change, nor will his IQ suddenly drop. If he shows good sense now, then you can expect that to continue. Your good friend's husband showed poor judgment after she passed, but I wouldn't be surprised if he displayed a similar lack of common sense while they were still married.

Don't forget that when a widow or widower hooks up again, their new partner often faces a significant challenge. They must compete with a ghost, an idealized, blemish-free memory of the former spouse. You might be surprised to learn of the insecurities this could cause if your husband ever had another partner. Given his lifelong strong feelings for you, there is a good chance she would be quite threatened by his memories of you.

And yes, it's okay if that little voice just popped up in the back of your brain and said, "Good!"

This is always a difficult issue to contemplate. We may be torn between hating the thought of our spouse being lonely, versus hating the thought of them with someone else. In your case I hope you can have faith that the good man you are married to now would continue to be a good and decent person if the unthinkable happened to you.

All the best,

If you haven't already done so, don't forget to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my favorite response on Saturday with a link to the winner's blog.


  1. Interesting question and response.

    Let's say a boy and a girl are in love. After some time, the girl leaves the boy because she is now in love with a different boy. She says to her now x-boyfriend, that she still loves him and that he is still her best friend.

    Some time passes as the x-boyfriend copes. Then the girl starts mistreating him and resenting him while she pursues the other boy.

    This is getting confusing, but the point is, I've seen this happen. I think once people move on, they stop really caring about the person before. If they feel there's no obligation to care and that they need to focus on their own interests, they tend to become inconsiderate and hurtful to the one that left. In the case of death, maybe the widower or widow blames their deceased beloved to the point of resentment. It's just easier to transform grief into hatred.

  2. Most men who have lost a loving wife will be respectful enough not to tarnish her memory. Everybody has faults...not a one of us are perfect. But if you are with a man who talks about his X or his wife who has passed away....just remember...he will probably do the same to you someday. Theres something to say about a man who knows how to keep his mouth shut. But would I worry about what he is going to say after I passed away???? nahhhhh. Its his word against mine and even if I am gone my friends will stick up for me. lol. I mean what can he say???? you were a dirty housekeeper? you werent good in bed?? his new wife does it so much better??? Well that new wife hasnt gone though all the years with him that you have. And in time she will realize that. Dont lose any sleep over it.

  3. Shan: That's an interesting insight, and I can understand that you could see that with dating couples. This part, though: "In the case of death, maybe the widower or widow blames their deceased beloved to the point of resentment. It's just easier to transform grief into hatred." I must admit I've never seen that sort of thing happen. I grant it might be possible (and I don't want to rain on your parade because I'm really glad you took the time to share your thoughts), but I bet the thought of that happening might push someone like Kacey into even more insecurity. I guess I feel obligated to point out that I think anger toward the departed is not the norm. My experience has been that widowers tend to be VERY respectful of their departed wive's memories.

    Catch: I think you can echo what I just said...

    Thanks to both of you for chipping in.

  4. While I feel that I myself would never remarry, I do fervently hope that should I pass away my husband would. I guess it doesn't bother me for the very reason you've stated.. I know that he loves me unconditionally with his whole heart so I'm quite sure that even the bad memories of our time together will be remembered with a ruefull shrug and smile and cast in the very best of all possible lights.

  5. Thanks Andrew for choosing my blog to be a dismaying story. Perhaps the people reading this would understand more, if I said that we have been married for almost fifty-three years and I am seeing many new marriages among widows and widowers. They are happy and compatible, but I feel like the hubby and I are truly one in spirit. He is the only life I have known since I was seventeen and the new marriage of my s-i-l just awakened some strange thoughts for me. I'll let you know how the wedding goes!

  6. I don't mean to sound harsh, but what difference does it make? If you're dead, you won't know if he chats you up or tears you down, and you certainly won't be able to control it. I am not invalidating your feelings, but it's sort of like worrying constantly about whether or not a tornado is going to hit your house. You have absolutely no say in whether it does or not, so no point in tarnishing the day you have now by worrying about it.

  7. funny that this topic came up since the other day my husband and i were just discussing this ... for me i would love if he doesnt marry anybody else after i'm gone ... and for him it really doesnt matter since he said he's dead anyways ... hehehehehehe ...

    but now that i'm really looking at the matter intently i would want my husband to have somebody who he can share his desires, passion and love with ... he's such a wonderful person that i think he deserves to be loved the way he can love. It hurts to think about how his relationship would be with another woman but i'm so grateful on the way he's loving me now that i could not ask for anything better than give him happiness even if he finds it with somebody else (taking into great deal that I'm dead and not when i'm still alive and kicking! hahahahahhahaa!)

  8. I got hooked on the part where the widower shared "intimate details" of his deceased wife with the boys. It was crass and classless, but, I think, understandable. Often when we lose someone close to us with whom we shared secrets, we lose the intimacy that comes with that and long for it with someone else. Perhaps he was sharing those details in order to establish some sort of intimacy and secret-sharing with his pals (however misguided), as opposed to betraying her. I agree it was hurtful, but perhaps it was more of a coping mechanism than an intentional slight. Grief is a nutty thing.

  9. what happens after your death should not worry you now.You have both gone thro' the thick and thin of life and I feel that the question should never have come up in the first place.He'd mostly remarry if at all for companoinship and I am sure he will not say anything distasteful about you.The revelation that you've been married for 53 years has helped me to view your case in a better light.Just one more question.What if he should die before you and you decide to marry just for companionship.Would you bad mouth him.i bet you won't.Then why would he?But he'd be wise not to lavish praise on you for that would ruin the rest of his life!

  10. well Andrew I kinda skimmed over what you said and got right to the question!!! LoL