The other day, I was talking with my best friend about how sad to hear about our friends having trouble in their marriages or divorcing. Some are trying to save their marriages. Others had divorce papers sprung on them by their cheating spouses. Others drifted apart.
They have those choices.
Being widowed can feel like a type of breakup–one you can’t control, didn’t expect, didn’t want. Sometimes I feel that way. But I also had the kind of marriage that was on the verge of divorce every single day. I was reaching a breaking point, despite his gaslighting and threats to destroy my life and take the kids from me.
In my own experience, some people wondered why I seemed to be able to move on with my life fairly quickly. Seriously, whoever is measuring “fairly quickly” is either stuck in the Victorian Era or is judgemental. At least one of my friends assumed my marriage was bad because I started dating less than a year later. Others saw my moving on as an indication of the “permission”* he gave me before he died. One person’s timeline isn’t going to be another person’s timeline.
*I didn’t need anyone’s permission to date, except my own and least of all a dead man’s. After all, death did part us.
I’ve read blogs and tweets from other widowed people who had beautiful partnership’s with their late spouses. One of my closest friends did, too. Sometimes I’m envious of those relationships. The surviving spouses have good memories to share with their kids. They celebrate the anniversaries and other special dates. They continue traditions. For me, the 20+ years of memories of abuse, which far surpass the good times, aren’t worth holding onto and commemorating.
My best friend told me about a study from a few months ago that looked at what methods a person can use to help get over a breakup with someone they loved and had a long-term relationship with. (I’m sorry I can’t find the link to it right now. I’ll update this when I do.)
This study made me think about my own experience as a widow of an abusive, narcissistic man. The study group was told to make a list of all the negative traits of their former partner and focus only on the bad stuff. They were also told to accept whatever feelings they still had toward that person (positive or negative) and distract themselves with activities not associated with their exes.
The people who focused on the negative traits had harsher reactions when shown a photo of the exes, but they were also the ones who seemed to overcome their breakup faster. The upfront pain of focusing on the things they didn’t like allowed them to overcome their situation and move forward quicker in the long run.
It made me realize that I’d done that to some degree. It was easy to focus on the negative traits of a former spouse when that person was abusive.
The expectation of a widowed person to express their constant love and devotion to their late spouse includes the assumption that their marriage was a good one and would still be a strong one. For my friends who had the kind of marriage I envied, I still love and support them when they share their stories.
For those of us who didn’t have that, it’s okay to make the lists of the negative traits and bad experiences as a way to help overcome our personal grief. It’s also okay to accept our emotions. It’s also perfectly all right to move on with “distractions” by doing new activities, rediscovering things we loved before marriage, or moving on with life however we see fit for ourselves (and kids). Creating new traditions is a great one.
I’ve realized how many of my friendships I gave up to maintain peace (and survive, as my therapist reminds me) in my marriage. I’m rebuilding those relationships. Also, I’m rebuilding relationships with my family, who can’t begin to understand the depth of damage my late husband and his family have caused.
Speaking of his family… There’s more breakup there. My former in-laws have very little contact with us since I’ve set healthy boundaries. At first, the secondary grief of losing that entire side of the family was as painful as my initial grief. I’m now just the mother of the grandchild since I no longer allow them to boss me around or belittle me.
If you’re a widowed person who doesn’t miss the one you survived, you’re not alone. I hope you find peace.