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One must allow enough time to pass after the end of a relationship so that they can comfortably be in the present in the new one.
One must allow enough time to pass after the end of a relationship so that they can comfortably be in the present in the new one. (TITOVA ILONA/Dreamstime/TNS)

Q. This sounds like a movie script, but my wife of three years has received a Valentine from her deceased husband every year since we have been married. I guess he set it up with a service or something before he died, but, like clockwork on, or the day before, my wife receives a Valentine’s Day card proclaiming her deceased husband’s undying love. Sounds pretty ironic, doesn’t it? I want it to stop! But, how? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. OK, you win. I have never heard of this one in real life — it does sound somewhat like the movie, “P.S. I Love You,” however. I have no idea how to make something like this stop, or if it’s even necessary. You have to ask what exactly is it about these cards that is upsetting you? Is it that she was once close to someone else, because most people have had past relationships. I have to say, it’s a pretty romantic gesture — and a hard act to follow.

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With that in mind, I hope your wife allowed enough time to pass after the loss of her first husband before you two were married. Sometimes people just want to get on with their lives and move too quickly. They don’t give themselves enough time to grieve. A little time passes, and the grief hits them between the eyes. Then they regret marrying so soon. The fallout is tough to overcome, especially if there are children involved.

Then there are those who nursed a terminally ill spouse for months, even years before the passing and much to the dismay of family members, meet someone new rather quickly. In these cases, the surviving spouse may have done much of their grieving while their deceased spouse was still living, and onlookers feel it’s disrespectful when they announce they’re marrying again. Even in these cases, although understandable, I caution couples in moving too quickly. There’s an ebb and flow to grief and bereavement. It goes and comes without warning — sometimes brought on by holidays or hearing a particular song, and it’s difficult on both partners to openly face that level of sorrow for one when you have already married another. It would not be uncommon for the new partner to take the attachment to the past personally. One must allow enough time to pass so they can comfortably be in the present in the new relationship.

Honestly, being in a relationship with someone whose spouse has passed can be a two-edged sword. On one hand, the deceased spouse may be almost deified and if you place yourself in competition with a memory, rarely will you come out on top. If they had children, you may always be compared to mom or dad. But the good news is that people who had a good relationship prior to a spouse’s passing are more willing to marry again and are open to being close to another companion.

Finally, unless your wife is carrying a torch and sobbing into her soup every year, you could use it as a catalyst to get even closer to her. Talk to her, find out how she truly feels about the passing and about receiving these cards. Get some couples counseling together. If she feels like she has to hide her feelings, that will fester and drive a wedge between you. Be a soft place to fall and it could be helpful for your own communication and ability to stay close. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.

©2020 Jann Blackstone

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