I never dreamed in a million years that someone with whom I had had a romantic relationship, much less a marriage, would pass away at a relatively young age. Okay, he was middle-aged, but still seemed young to me. So, one can imagine how stunned I was to hear the unexpected and sad news, from a third party, that my previous husband had died.
After I took some time to digest the information I had received literally “out of the blue,” I started asking myself the following questions:
How did this happen?
Had he been ill?
Was he involved in a fatal accident?
Where was he living at the time?
Was he alone when he passed?
Did he have a partner, or was he remarried?
All of a sudden, a person I hadn’t thought of in months, or even years, was front and center in my mind. I actually cared. I actually cried. I even wanted to reach out to him, but I couldn’t do that. He was no longer a living, breathing human being on this earth, somewhere out there… as I somewhat naively expected he always would be.
What was even more disconcerting was that my Ex actually had passed away almost two years before I found out the news, as I chose to have no contact with him, his family or his friends once we parted.
As luck would have it, my sister, with whom he had worked at one time, received an online company newsletter that listed Alums who were deceased. My Ex’s name and date of death were listed in the middle column. Out of curiosity and sadness, my sister immediately began the search as to the whats, whys, whens, and hows of his death. When a few scattered details came flowing in from another former co-worker of my Ex’s, I shed even more tears. Apparently, my former husband had been ill, had suffered and appeared to be in less-than-healthy financial shape. He was remarried, though, so at least he had someone to care for and comfort him. I was relieved about that.
As I regrettably looked in the rear-view mirror at our somewhat-brief marriage, I acknowledged that those years had not been tumultuous. A simple analogy would be that ours resembled an “empty suit” marriage, one devoid of any substance. Most conversations revolved around the weather, food choices for meals, and shopping excursions. My Ex didn’t choose to discuss work matters, world events or subjects with any depth, and neither did I…strange as that may be. Ultimately our marriage didn’t survive because there was no excitement, no alignment of common interests and values, no desire to nurture and grow the relationship, and no mutual goals. That’s a hefty list of “nos” that needed to be “yes’s!” We had chosen one another rather impulsively, out of a need for companionship. So, when I suspected, and then corroborated, that he desired someone else, I simply “exited the marriage stage left” and moved on.
Needless to say, it was an unemotional and swift divorce process, as the marriage had been fairly short-lived. We both moved on after the divorce decree was finalized. We had no verbal closure, and there was no opportunity to acknowledge the relationship’s issues because neither one of us wanted to confront the other or correct the issues. We never even tried couples’ therapy because it didn’t seem worth the effort. We never had contact until several years later, when I received a phone call from my Ex expressing condolences upon my Father’s passing. Our mutual third-party connection had shared the family news. Believe it or not, I was very appreciative. It was good to hear my former spouse’s voice, although I was long over him, emotionally. After that, I lost track of his whereabouts, as I didn’t want to intrude upon his life. “Let sleeping dogs lie” was my mantra. Somehow, I naively thought he would continue on his life’s journey forever, with or without me.
So now, speaking as the Widow of an Ex, I would like to share some lessons (which have been very long in coming) that I have learned from this experience:
1. Schedule a closure discussion with your partner when ending a relationship
Unless you have been involved in a verbally or physically abusive relationship, it is wise to have a clear and compassionate closure discussion (preferably in person), so you both can acknowledge the pros and cons of the relationship. Such a conversation will erase any uncertainty as to why the relationship is ending and will provide awareness as to certain behaviors or actions that could have been be avoided in the past — and certainly should be avoided in future relationships.
2. Keep your partner’s dignity intact
It’s important to remember that we are all human beings who deserve to be treated, decently even though we have different viewpoints, lifestyles, personalities, wants and needs. Relationship finalities are difficult enough emotionally and can often affect an individual’s self-esteem, temporarily or long-term. So, rather than making your exit points with a sledgehammer, gently point out only the positives in your partner. Wish him or her well as your Ex embarks on a new life without you.
3. Discuss whether “infrequent” contact is desired and appropriate
Ask your about-to-be-Ex-partner if, once the emotional storm has passed, he or she would like to be in contact on an infrequent basis, e.g., an annual holiday greeting, a LinkedIn career-related message, or a check-in email. Or, ask if there is a family member or friend who could be a point of contact, should a major life-changing event occur for either of you. Both parties should mutually agree to the terms discussed; an intrusion into one another’s future life is a definite “no-no.”
4. Forgive, then forget and then forgive again
Despite the upheaval a parting of the ways will cause, it is important to tell your almost-Ex that once you both acknowledge your behaviors and actions, and accept personal responsibility (It Takes Two to Tango), that you are willing to truly forgive at some point and then forget. Forgiving is about releasing the burden of hurt and anger. If each party is willing to learn the lessons from their relationship missteps and then move on, both individuals will benefit from not carrying unnecessary baggage on their next journey.
5. Leave the relationship, knowing that you handled the breakup with resolve and kindness
If there is indecision on your part, you may not be ready to end a relationship. But, if you have done everything possible to “right the ship” and you simply can’t get on a steady course, then be confident in your decision and take the proper steps to move forward with your life. Remember, though, you don’t have to be a complete jerk in the way you treat the other person you once loved with whom you shared your hopes and dreams. Be honest and kind with that person, while staying true to yourself and following through on your decision. Keeping an open heart and wishing the other person well will most certainly guarantee you a much clearer conscience about the past.
Well, these are my lessons learned — albeit very late after the relationship had ended. Take them for what they are. One never knows what lies ahead, for ourselves or for those we have loved. It seems strange to be labeling myself as the Widow of an Ex. That’s light-years away from being a Merry (as in Merry Widow) emotion. Hopefully, you won’t ever find yourself in this situation. But should it happen, I hope you can reflect with wisdom on the way you handled the breakup with your partner — knowing you were your “Best You” at the time and that you let your partner go on with selfless, thoughtful, graceful and humane good wishes.