Tell Me About It: ‘I lost my first love years 27 years ago, so I feel for him’
PROBLEM: I’ve met a guy and we both get on great with each other. He lost his wife 10 months ago. He has three daughters: one to his wife and the other two are from his wife’s previous relationship with another guy. He brought them up as his own. He likes me a lot, and me him.
However, he feels like he is doing wrong and he doesn’t want to hurt his kids, which I understand. I lost my first love 27 years ago so feel for him.
Can you give me some advice?
ADVICE: This is a relationship that has potential as both of you are sensitive to each other’s feelings. You are understanding and considerate for your friend’s concerns for his children and he is worried about his girls handling of a new woman in their lives. Patience is needed and a slowing down of things so the relationship can evolve in a natural manner. It is only 10 months since his life-time partner, the mother of his children, died (I assume that’s what you mean by “lost”) and this is a very short time in terms of bereavement for both him and the children.
Patience requires faith. In this situation, it means that your desire and wish to join totally with your friend/lover takes a back seat to the need of the girls to feel protected
Not only have two of these girls lost their mother but they may have had previous losses in terms of their birth father. Having someone to replace their mother so quickly may create huge vulnerability and fear in them, and this is what both you and their father are sensitive to. The girls probably feel that the only adult left who they can assume loves them unconditionally is their father (or father figure) and to have him fall in love with someone new might threaten their fragile sense of security at this time. This does not mean that you have to end your relationship, but it might require that you take a very long-term view of how you become integrated into their lives.
Patience requires faith. In this situation, it means that your desire and wish to join totally with your friend/lover takes a back seat to the need of the girls to feel protected and shielded at this time. The good thing is that if you do this, love will grow for all involved. The motivation for you to practise patience is that you believe in the long-term viability and goodness of the relationship. The girls will need evidence that their father will not choose you over them and the best way to ensure this is for you to demonstrate that you are not a threat to them.
Love gives us an expanded sense of capacity and that will allow you, and your friend to commit to the journey of creating a new blended family
Can you learn to love them too? Children can spot fake attention very easily so you can only proceed if you are genuine. Each child will have their own approach to you and it would be surprising if they all accepted you into their world with the same level of approval and timing, so do not expect this. Do you remember how long it took you to recover from your first love? Apply this same measure to these children as recovery from loss often takes far longer than we allow. If the girls see that you are invested in their lives, and that you are not discouraged by their moods or rejections, they may begin to trust that you are someone who will not abandon them. But this will take time and will need to be evidence based.
Your friend has dealt with difficulties in relationships before – look at how he took up the mantle of Dad when it may have been a tough thing to do. He has knowledge and experience that you can learn from, so the two of you should have conversations where the focus is on how all of you can heal and connect, rather than setting up a situation where it is you trying to break into their family.
This may be a tough process and it would be very important for you to have a place where you can talk openly and freely about your frustrations and feelings. Some sessions with a family therapist could help you to untangle the expected complex responses of five people trying to cope with loss, hope and an uncertain future. If you can understand where someone is coming from, eg resentment from a child, it helps you to respond to the underlying emotion rather than the anger that is being expressed. To do this will require huge awareness and self-confidence, and so investment in yourself at this time is crucial.
Love gives us an expanded sense of capacity and that will allow you, and your friend to commit to the journey of creating a new blended family. This family will have commitment, patience and devotion at its core and will be all the stronger because of the time you will give to its formation. Hold a long-term view, resource yourself, and have faith that the love you feel can grow to include all five of you.