Deceased Ex Wife Sharing our Marriage
May 8, 2012 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
I was married 2 weeks ago to Jim. He is a good man and is good to me. He works off shore so he is going 10 days and home only 5. My problem is this: He was married to “donna” and had one child. They divorced and she remarried. Donna then died of cancer when the child was 11. Her parents helped him raise this child who is now 18. In fact Dona’s mother has complete control of Jim’s checkbook. He promised this is going to change but it has not even though I have been added to all of his accounts. Donna’s sister, "Jan" and her bf were 2 of only 5 ppl at our very informal wedding. After the wedding, Donna’s sister pulled out the old wedding album from Jim and the Donna. I heard how beautiful she was from Jim and how tiny she was. After listening to them go down memory lane for almost an hour I walked outside. Jan's bf apparently realized things were not going as they should be and insisted that they put up the book. Jim and I discussed it and I was able to let him know just how badly that hurt me. I believed that this was the end of it. This weekend he calls Jan. I hear him tell her that Donna was the "ultimate wife" and he has "had" to move on. I probably handled things entirely wrong but that hurt badly. We discussed it later and he said that yes she would always be his ultimate wife even though they were divorced and both had remarried when she died. He says he still thinks of her all the time..she has been dead for 8 years. He says he doesnt want this to become a problem between us. I feel as if I am sharing my marriage with a ghost and I do not know what to do.
Haunted in Mississippi
This is a very tough situation and I do understand your pain. Don't worry. Relationship advice is on the way!
I have a couple of thoughts. The first is that I don’t believe him when he says that his deceased EX wife was the ultimate wife. If that were true, why did he divorceDivorce is a legal dissolution of the marriage bond. Many couples divorce themselves from each other on an emotional level long before a legal divorce is sought. As I say in my book, Till Death Do Us...(Click for full definition.) her!
This thought leads me to the second idea. I’m thinking that your husband has an intimacyAn intimate relationship is a particularly close interpersonal relationship. It can be defined by these characteristics: enduring behavioral interdependence, repeated interactions, emotional...(Click for full definition.) phobia. In other words, I think he’s using the ghost of Donna to dilute the connection and intimacy between you two. Any time you bring in a third party into your relationship, dead or alive, it has the effect of driving a wedge and creating emotional space.
The fear of giving oneself fully to another person is universal. We all fear suffering the pain of loss due to death or rejection.
On top of that, many people fear giving over to love because they are afraid to lose their freedom, something that is especially common for younger men. But when an older man avoids or sabotages connection, then we are dealing with a deeper issue than fear of loss of freedom. In this case, we are talking about a fear of the loss of one’s very identity or self. The latter fear of losing one’s identity/self comes from having been raised by an intrusive or controllingExamples of controlling behavior include within an intimate relationship include: one partner isolating the other from his/her friends or family; not letting ythe partner go out of the house, to the...(Click for full definition.) parent; this results in an underdeveloped sense of self or what we call in shrink land “weak ego boundaries.” When the ego is weak, there is a deep fear of being swallowed up, taken over or eaten alive by a partner/spouse. Oftentimes a person with this kind of upbringing will both yearn to be controlled (because it’s familiar) and at the same avoid intimacy. Being in a relationship with this kind of person can make his/her partner feel like a human yo-yo.
If you notice, Jim exhibits the problem I describe to a tee. He gives up control by allowing his former mother-in-law to control his money, and then he creates space from you by talking about his ex in front of you. Also, look at the work he’s chosen. There’s built-in space galore!
Knowing what’s really going on will help you to not take his behavior personally, which will help you to stop feeling so hurt by his triangulating and diluting behaviors. The point is, you don’t need to misinterpret his words and actions as signs that he doesn’t love you. When you aren’t feeling personally wounded, you will have more creative energy available to deal with him.
I’m thinking it's best to not focus directly on his behavior, which could easily make him feel defensive, which will only cause him to protect himself more and increase the upsetting behavior. Instead, I would go at the issue in an oblique fashion, by addressing the feelings that are fueling his behavior. You see, feelings create internal pressure. They need to come out in words or actions. What we want is feelings to be described in words rather than be acted out, because actions are invariably destructive and break our connections with others. As you see, the way he is acting out his feelings of fear, the behaviors that he’s engaged in, are very destructive of your connection.
So what we want is to get him talking about his feelings.
You could start talking with him about how he felt growing up. Ask him what his relationship with mom felt like. Be interested in him and listen.
In time, he may start to describe how he felt drowned by his mother’s controls.
Then you could get him talking about his ex. What didn’t work in that relationship?
Then, little by little, you can get him talking about how it feels with you. Do you give him enough room? Do you smother him?
Talking about his feelings will create magic in two ways: 1) Resolution often results simply by talking; 2) And, when feelings are put into words they don’t need to be put into action. In other words, if he can talk about his fear of being taken over, he won’t need to act out his fears by talking about his ex to create space.
You have your hands full here.
If you need further help, don’t hesitate to contact me in my private consulting division.
"If anger and fighting are ruining your dream of a happy marriage, Dr. Turndorf’s conflict resolution program is for you."
-- John Gray,
Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
"This well-researched book offers a thorough, step-by-step program that provides tools for couples to heal even the most troubled relationships."
-- Dr. John Mack
Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
“This book is mandatory reading for every couple that wants to build lasting love.”
-- John Bradshaw,
Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Homecoming
"Dr. Turndorf is an amazing individual who has wonderful advice to offer men and women of all ages and in all types of relationships. Ignore her counsel at your peril!"
-- Bill Hammond III,
Winner of the Best Historical Fiction Award, 2012
"You are awesome Dr. Jamie. You really are. The best part about you is the way you translate complex psychological stuff into easy to understand and actionable insights."
-- Kajay Williams,
Producer Relationship Advice Cafe
"Let me tell you why you're extremely important now. I really believe your message is there. You're spot on. More and more people should be taking advantage of what you're offering."
-- Michael Dresser,
Syndicated Radio Host
"Good stuff. Great insight. I love your approach. Who doesn't need more healing. I love your idea of using your partner as a healing agent. That's such a great way to see your partner. You give great labels and patterns to look for. I love your method. You make it sound so easy. You have a great website with lots of great information and resources. These are the tools we all need."
-- Dr. Matt Townsend,
Host, The Matt Townsend Show