Today Mike and I are writing together about a topic that our Friday writer Kelley asked about recently. Most people assume it is easier to be in a relationship with another widowed person when you are widowed. And it's true, a lot of things are simplified when you understand each other's loss. Kelley was curious to know what some of the specific challenges are when you have two widowed people in a relationship, so we thought we'd write a few posts on the topic...
The first thing I thought of in relation to this question is that your widow card is basically canceled out. There is no way to leverage that card to your advantage during a fight when your partner has been through exactly as horrible of a loss too. I do know from others who have dated or married someone non-widowed, that it’s extremely tempting to use that widow card to trump their arguments and opinions. When I was with Drew, there were times that I used my “dead parents card” to trump him in fights or conjure up some extra pity and attention for myself. They aren’t proud moments, but I think it’s a very normal temptation to want to use victim tactics when you’ve been through a lot.
That doesn’t work in a relationship with two widowed people. Even at times when we do try to lay down the widow card to trump each other, it doesn't really fly. We both have experienced losses in very different ways that are unfathomable to the other person… so there’s no hiding behind trump cards to manipulate a situation in our favor.
Sometimes, I do wish the widow card worked on him! Sometimes, it does feel easier to be able to just shut down an argument with a “well you don’t know what it’s like to be widowed!”. And although it’s a good thing that we can’t hide behind that card, it also means we are challenged to be more honest with ourselves and each other. We can’t blame widowhood if we do something that hurts the other. We can’t explain away bad behavior with grief when it really isn’t true. We can’t shut down a fight with pity if we get angry. We can try! But ultimately, we have to be honest, own up to things, and work it out.. Because we can call bullshit on each other and we both know it.
Sometimes, that does feel harder! I do think it is helping us learn how to really communicate more honestly and fearlessly when we do have issues come up or have a fight, but it certainly is challenging to practice!
To be fair, we each do have “trump moments”. Megan’s birthday, Drew’s birthday. Each of our anniversaries with them. It IS very tempting to resort to those days as being an excuse when we’re stressed or otherwise having a disagreement around those times. But in the same breath, Megan’s birthday is no different than Drew’s...just on a different day.
The flip side to that is that I really do “back down” when I know that it’s a particularly memorable date or week for Sarah. As much as mother’s day is a hard one to think about for me, I know, or at least feel like it’s doubly hard for Sarah...especially now that she’s a mother herself because of this whole complex sequence of events, where each step was outside of her control.
I know her triggers. She knows mine. But we don’t avoid them...we approach them with the understanding that it will possibly be hard for the other person, but we will be there to support and understand.
In effect, though “pulling the widow card” may carry less weight than it would had one of us not been widowed, we also allow each other to pull it...all the time. Counterintuitively, I can be guilty of thinking “oh, that’s just the widow talking” if she becomes visibly agitated when we’re disagreeing about something, when really, it’s just my fiance talking to the man she loves. Sarah is not even TRYING to drop her widow card on the table.
Just like a deck of cards, there are different suits. The various cards have different colors, values, and faces. Depending on the game one is playing, an ace can be worth one, or eleven. A joker can be useless, or it can be a wild card. Our widow cards are much the same. There are 52 cards in a deck, and 52 weeks in a year. Regardless, we’re each holding half the deck, and usually, whichever card may be played, the other player has one to trump it, making no card worth more than any other.
So we don’t play cards much.