‘It’s like she’s still there’ (Picture: Neil Webb)
‘I met my boyfriend on a dating site six months ago.
‘He is loving and caring, and although he is 14 years older than me, the age gap doesn’t seem to be a problem.
‘My dilemma is that his wife passed away three years ago and he still hasn’t removed her things from the house.
‘We spend most weekends there and everything is so intact, sometimes it feels like she is away for a few days and will be back. It’s like she’s there.
‘I understood when we first started dating but I wonder if he will ever clear them away.
‘Should I gently ask him? Or should they stay?‘
The grieving process is so unique to each individual.
While some people choose to remove all traces of their deceased partner immediately, others carry out this very difficult task much later.
‘But as with everything that is challenging, the longer you put it off, the harder it is,’ says Dr Angharad Rudkin.
We suspect your boyfriend has reached the point where removing his wife’s belongings feels like a final acceptance of her death.
‘This may feel unbearable to him and I don’t imagine he has considered how you’re feeling,’ Rudkin continues.
We each bring our personal history to new unions and family is always part of the deal, says Rupert Smith.
‘But nobody with an ounce of self-esteem would be happy having a relationship in what is effectively a shrine to a deceased partner,’ he says.
So although you can’t ask him to remove her belongings, for this to be a healthy relationship, you do need to have a conversation about the grief he is currently navigating.
‘Don’t tell him what you want,’ says James McConnachie. ‘Tell him how you feel and let him find a solution.’
Gently reflect on how this situation feels to you, using the same words you have used with us, suggests Rudkin.
‘Ensure that you don’t come across as critical in any way and that this is merely an observation,’ she says. ‘Be clear that you’re not asking for his reassurance as you are not in competition with his wife and although you should expect him to respond defensively, he equally may feel comfortable opening up to you.’
You say ‘it’s like she’s there’ and the truth is that she always will be – in your boyfriend’s memory, his personality and his heart.
‘A good marriage lasts until death makes a parting – and I mean the death of the last of the couple to die,’ says McConnachie.
‘So it’s also important that you both discuss his wife in other conversations too,’ Rudkin adds. ‘He will always love her but that doesn’t mean he can’t find space for you in his life as well.’
Finally, we wonder whether splitting your time somewhere where you don’t feel uncomfortable might be helpful too.
‘But whatever happens, you and his wife are going to be housemates in his heart,’ says McConnachie, ‘so you’re going to have to find a way to get along.’
Rupert Smith is an author and counsellor
James McConnachie is the author of Sex (Rough Guides)
Dr Angharad Rudkin is a clinical psychologist
Got a sex and dating dilemma?
To get expert advice, send your problem to email@example.com.
Rush Hour Crush – love (well, lust) is all around us
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.