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Dating a widower: How not to be a 'substitute wife'

Older couple in affectionate pose; man with beard is looking ahead.

(Photo: Flickr/Ian MacKenzie)

Dating a widower: How not to be a 'substitute wife'

February 13, 2013

Q: I am currently dating a man who lost his wife through breast cancer 5 years ago. He has photos of her in every room, and I got quite uncomfortable when he took me to his house. I'm not the jealous type, but he keeps telling me how much loved Eileen. He said he is in love with me, and I remind him of Eileen. Am I a substitute? I don't want to be.

A: I'm sorry to hear that you're experiencing this at present. He sounds as if he would want to move on but clearly hasn't as yet from Eileen. She played a huge part in his life it seems, and to lose someone through those circumstances must be very hard for him.

I'm uncertain how long you have both been dating but it seems you and he are both keen on each other.

It might be worth you communicating to him how much you, too, care for him and would love to progress things further -- but you would like him to gradually begin to let Eileen go if he could see himself doing that.

You could explain that your observations indicate from his home that she is a constant presence there still and a reminder for him of her loss. You're right in your stance to not wanting to be a substitute and you have to hold that thought firmly, as you will be hurt otherwise in the process.

See how talking to him one-to-one about this in a calm manner perhaps goes. The choice is yours; if you want to pursue this relationship further, then it sounds like you will need to work on it before you can totally allow yourself to "let go" seeing as it is a new relationship.

Good luck and I really hope he sees the person that YOU are and certainly not the previous person he was once attached to. You have a lot to offer him and perhaps you could convey this to him, too, and that if he wants to pursue this with you, he too, needs to take a chance and let go.

Here is a resource by 'Kubler-Ross and Kessler' that might help you (and him) to understand a way of looking at grief and how he could begin to let go.

-- Answer from Karin Samms, a counselor on JustAnswer.

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