As Mothers’ Day approaches, I get a surprising number of questions about whether older widowed people should remarry. The obvious answer is, of course, yes – if they want to. But some widows and widowers feel it’s disloyal to their late spouse; not to mention issues with wills, inheritance and so forth. Some are concerned that their children will never forgive them for “replacing” the lost parent. All of these feelings are understandable, but they’re just emotions, and as such, not necessarily correct. If you want to live a happy life, it makes sense to be more rational and a little less sentimental.
Nobody can tell a person to remarry or to not remarry, but the possibility shouldn’t be ruled out. Widows and widowers considering remarriage may face conflicting emotions, but finding love again can give a new attitude on life. That step, if taken, should be celebrated.
There are of course sensitive factors, and one should remind children and family that all people are different, and that remarrying will never make you forget or replace your lost spouse. If you’re a grown adult and your parent wants to remarry, remember that it’s NOT about you. Don’t deny happiness to someone you love, and don’t claim to know what’s best for him or her either. What if somebody tried to decide for you if you should marry? Few decisions are as profoundly personal.
No two relationships are the same. What you gain in one relationship isn’t necessarily what you might gain in a different one. People who are happily remarried often tell me, “It’s like apples and oranges. They’re two completely different experiences.” Happiness in the second love takes nothing away from happiness in the first.
I can’t emphasize how important it is to BE in a situation before you can fully understand it. An old friend of mine (whose husband was still alive at the time) was downright condemnatory about her middle-aged friend remarrying after the loss of his longtime spouse. Sadly, and perhaps a little ironically, not long after her diatribe she lost her husband unexpectedly. Well, wouldn’t you know it: She dated and is now comfortably remarried. She had no business claiming what was best for her friend, since she had never been in that situation … until then.
Many times I’ve heard, “I don’t feel guilty about remarrying, but my children don’t approve. I think it might be money.” I ask the person whether he or she wants to leave their estate to their children or to the new spouse. Usually the answer is, “Oh, my children, of course. I’m remarrying for love, not for finances. I want my children to get everything just as if I’d never remarried.” Then the solution is simple: Call your lawyer and get it in writing. And make sure the kids know you did that. It’s an effective preemptive strike against needless conflict. Money is a perfectly legitimate concern, and it can be reassuring to know there won’t be fights down the road.
I’m pretty hard on my clients’ grown kids in requiring them to accept the remarriage and the parent’s need for continued happiness. But I also know that a family’s acceptance of a new marriage doesn’t always happen immediately, and that good communication is essential to ease the transition. Just as parents tend to accept what their kids do, once they see it makes them happy, grown kids will do the same, assuming they love their parents in an emotionally healthy way.
Romantic love is one of life’s greatest experiences, and the loss of a spouse is one of the worst tragedies. But how wonderful to be renewed by a new and different love – one that might be just as strong in its own way. You will always grieve the lost loved one, but that’s no reason to lose love altogether.
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