The question: I lost my husband eight years ago unexpectedly after he took his life. We were married for 30 years and together for 34. I thought we had a wonderful marriage together, others may not agree. After 2 1/2 years, I remarried a man that has a totally opposite personality from the first. I love him very much. We have been married for five years. I still think of my first husband a lot and keep it to myself. We had three children who are now grown. We were a very close family. When I went to visit the graveside alone after telling my husband up front, he got angry with me. I don’t speak of him very often but his name does come up in conversation with my children and grandchildren. How should I respond and handle the angry fights this has caused?
The answer: I’m sincerely sorry about the loss of your husband and the conflict that memories about him are creating in your current relationship. Losing a loved one is difficult in any circumstance; losing someone who you shared three decades of a life and family with is not something anyone easily gets over or forgets; and certainly losing someone to death by suicide results in myriad of emotions and more complicated grief than death by a natural cause does.
First, you need to understand that it is absolutely normal and expected that even eight years later you would be thinking of your husband, wanting to speak about him, and honouring his memory by visiting his graveside. Sometimes people have an expectation that after some finite period of time that they should “get over” and “move on” after losing a loved one. I received some very good advice from someone after my father had died unexpectedly at a very young age: “you never get over the loss, you just learn to cope with it better over time.”
An important part of coping is finding ways to keep the person’s memory alive – through conversations, storytelling, and personal ways that you pay tribute to their memory.
It is unfortunate that your current husband is reacting so strongly to your healthy ways of coping.
Anger is an interesting emotion – more often than not, it is a mask for underlying fear or insecurity, particularly for men. Is his anger circumscribed to issues around your first husband? Or is he generally an angry man who wants to control you or your behaviour? If the latter, there may be more significant issues in your relationship that need to be addressed.
Assuming it is the former, I would suggest trying to having a conversation with him to explain where you are coming from. Try to also understand why he may be angry, with an eye to fear-based or insecurity-based statements. He may need to understand that you visiting your first husband’s graveside or speaking about him with your children does not in any way negate your love or care for him.
Let him know – kindly and gently – that you understand your actions make him uncomfortable, that it is in no way your intention to upset him, but that it is something that is important for you to continue to do and that your preference is to not lie to him about it. You may come to an agreement, as some couples do, to agree to disagree – for example, you may both decide that you will continue to visit on your terms, but that he simply does not want to hear about it when you do.
You may need to find a way to limit conversations with your present husband, and lean on others (friends, family, your children) for the times you wish to reminisce about your first husband so that you can maintain peace in your present relationship.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network’s Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV’s The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra
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