Relationships After Traumatic Loss


Relationships take a lot of hard work and require ongoing navigation, adaptation, and investment if they are to flourish.  Two people have to be equally committed to giving their very all to keep moving the friendship forward—even in marriage.  There are defining moments of choices for both people.  Two people can deeply care about one another, but be on a different plane in terms of what it means to be a couple.  Because I was married for so long and because there were no choices in how I became an unwilling participant in navigating the single life, I no longer possess certain skills.  As a widow from a loss in which there was no time to prepare, I think that I am like most widow/widowers in the same boat in that I put too much validity into a relationship far too soon and I am willing to fight too hard to stay in a relationship because I only know compromise, fighting fair, keeping the peace, and loving through the harder times.


Being a widow is different from being divorced.  I do not carry the baggage from  a relationship ending due to choice or to the erosion of confidence in another.  I fight fair because know what it is like to have years with another person and to realize that the power of words and actions last a lifetime.  Phil and I made choices.  The first came early on and it was the moment in which we both became equally committed to the relationship.  He had returned home from being with his mother who disagreed with Phil, 21, being with an older woman with three children.  I was excited to see him and he was distracted and not as communicative as he should have been.  I remember trying and knowing that I couldn’t keep trying to convince him to love me.  I got up and told him goodbye.  I was done.  As I got half way up the hall of his dorm, he chased me down and begged me to give him another chance.  It was a defining moment on every level.  From that point on, Phil was all in.  We eloped 5 weeks later.


Marriage was hard.  We had no money and so many people felt like we shouldn’t be together.  I had an ex-husband who didn’t help.  I remember our first fight.  I am really good at the quiet treatment.  The Berlin Wall (via pillows) went up down the middle of our bed.  I ignored him all night.  I will never forget the tear streaked face that greeted me in the morning.  From that moment on, we agreed to work things out before they escalated to that level and for 23.5 years, we stayed true to that promise even when things were difficult.


Phil could be distracted by work and he could be insensitive.  He told me something one time that wounded me as much as a statement said recently.  Phil told me that he could not be my friend during an especially low period of my life.  I was fighting for my life.  I thought I was going to die.  I had five children at home and I was 37.  Phil was consumed with work, school, trying to get a commission, five children, we lived overseas, and I could go on.  It was devastating to hear that my husband could not be my friend.  Did we come back from that terrible moment?  Yes, but it took a lot of work and two committed people.  I chose to stay and wait out the storm and he chose to chase me like crazy when he realized what he had done about 18 months later when he was at OTS.


When I became a widow, I didn’t want to date.  I knew that I lacked the skills to navigate the games or even choosing.  I felt like my life was over.  I stayed consumed with business and with not taking a chance.  And, then, someone came into my life.  Someone unexpected and someone I could not see myself with.  Through time and the gift of friendship—one that he pursued, I shifted my prisms and started to move the bricks that had protected my heart.  I began to lean into the possibility of what might come next and the hope of what might come, but as in any relationship, there are speed bumps.  I just do not see them coming and I have no skills to navigate them anymore.


When things get tough, I immediately go into fix and give mode.  I don’t know how to defend myself and I realize that I don’t know what is normal and what is something I should walk away from.  I realized lately that my widow cards are very different from divorced cards.  I go to the skills I learned to keep a relationship together where perhaps another person goes to defensive mode based on the hurts of a past disintegration of a relationship.  The problem is that I fight for a relationship when maybe I need to wave a white flag.


I am hurting and grieving.  I am not sure why conflict and making a decision is so difficult.  I am not sure why I feel so bad.  Why I feel like I am not worth it.  I have discovered that I am capable of loving another person, but perhaps I am not lovable.  I have discovered how full my life can be with that love, but perhaps it does not mean the same thing to another.  I lack the skills of reading the cues and I lack the confidence in my own abilities to navigate the dating life.  I feel so broken sometimes.  I know how to be a good wife and a good mom, but those skills don’t equate to knowing how to start a relationship, continue a relationship, or how to navigate the normal speed bumps.  I get paralyzed and stand unsure and afraid.    I am on my knees right now fighting for me….fighting for us…fighting for clarity and hoping that somehow my skills will matter.


  1. – ambardpl says:

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