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How The Death of an Ex-Partner Affects a New Stepfamily.

Part 1

“The grief journey of someone you love dearly never ends. It goes from one of presence to one of memory.”

We know that the death of a partner in our past relationship will affect how we manage life with our new partner.

Let’s look at grief and mourning after the death of a partner.

Your grief is affected by:

-The unique relationship you had with your partner.

- The stresses in your life

- The support you have from family and friends

- Your cultural upbringing

- Your spiritual beliefs

- Your health generally

- How much loss you have had in your past

-How your partner died

Here are 10 facts about grief:

  1. You need to come to terms with your past love in order to love someone else.

  2. Your pain of the loss will get worse before it gets better.

  3. You will be overwhelmed by grief when you least expect it. There is no telling when something/someone will trigger your grief.

  4. There will be feelings of, anxiety, fear, confusion, shock and disbelief, irritation, sadness, regrets and sometimes guilt. Often you will experience emotional outbreaks.

  5. You will need to find out who you are without this person in your life and this is going to take time.

  6. You might have to look at what life means to you and maybe reconsider you spirituality.

  7. You will want to accept help from those family members or friends that love you. Grief is heavy work and it is hard to move forward alone.

  8. Friendships often change because some people are unable to manage or accept your grief. However, you will likely make new friends that understand what you are dealing with.

  9. There truly is something called “grief brain” where you can’t remember what you were doing or where you put things for example. You may be confused and sometimes it will feel like your life is out of control.

10. Restless sleep, poor eating, low energy, headaches, and feelings of emptiness are just a few of the physical side effects of grief.

There are so many losses attached to the death of your partner. They include the loss of your future as you saw it, loss of your support person, maybe a loss of financial security, loss of identity, and loss of the family unit, just to name a few.

Having listed some of the ways grief affects your life you will see that getting into a new relationship right away might not be a good idea unless you are ready. They say you should not make any major changes in your life for at least a year and two years is even better. This is so true because it will complicate your grief and make it hard to give your new relationship the time and effort you need to concentrate on your new partner and stepfamily. There are many good reasons not to take on a new relationship too soon. They say you will never “ get over” a significant loss but learn to integrate it into your life. Remembering the partner you love allows you to still build a new but different relationship with him/her. That past relationship lives on no matter who you are with in the future. It is important to be able to include your lost partner as you move on in your new family.

This new relationship can’t be just like the last one because you change while you are grieving. Also, it is impossible to love two different people in the same way. However, we know that you can love more than one person... maybe differently but still well.

So here is the question…. Since a new relationship in a new family requires you to be present and capable of making it work, how will you know you are ready?

In his book Understanding Your Grief, Alan Wolfelt lists some ways that suggest you might be ready to move forward in your life.

Here are just a few:

- You will accept the reality that the death is final.

- You will have new meaning and purpose in your life.

- You will not be preoccupied with thoughts about the person who died.

- You will be looking forward to the future and making goals for change.

- Your health will improve and you will be sleeping and eating normally again. Your energy level will be better.

- You will understand that you are different now after the experiences of grief. You will accept and like yourself this way.

- You will feel confident that you have grieved and have survived.

- You will know what you need in order to take care of yourself.

- You will find new and healthy relationships.

And in order to have a happy life in a stepfamily I would add:

- You are willing to discuss what you need in order to remember your lost partner while starting a new family.

- You will want to provide information and education to help your new partner understand what you have been experiencing. Be sure to explain that it is normal to have setbacks now and then.

- You are willing to accept a role change in a new family.

- You can help your children deal with their grief around the loss of their father/mother and all the losses that go with forming a new family.

- You have room in your heart not just for your new partner but for his/her children as well.

- You can manage the adjustment and changes that will be necessary for living with another person and possibly their children.

- You feel confident in your communications, conflict management and problem solving skills.

- You understand that creating a new family takes time and you are willing to give it a chance.

- You know how to have fun again and are able to laugh at the little things that happen in stepfamilies.

A Story of Love Lost

Susan’s partner Tom had a heart attack one terrible night. She was stunned with grief and unable to cope with her two small children. After a period of time, her mother took the children while she went away to a resort for a few weeks. Susan was alone and didn’t know anyone at the resort. She was looking for some comfort from her grief and while there she met an interesting man and they hit it off. A few months later she moved with her children to his city. Susan said she liked him very much but most of all she wanted to stop being so lonely. It was shocking for her to discover she was still in love with her husband Tom. Her new partner became tired of hearing about Tom and all their adventures. He felt that he couldn’t compare to Tom and the relationship soon ended. Susan went home to her parent’s house in the hopes of putting her life back together again. It took a few years for her to grieve the loss of Tom and the broken relationship she attempted afterwards. Today she is happily married to someone who understands what she has been through and is willing to accept that Tom is a positive memory within the family.

The message from this story is that getting into a new relationship before you have grieved the last one can be very difficult.

A Story of Hope

Sam lost his wife Betty to cancer. It was a long and painful journey. Sam was very lonely and lost without Betty. After a few months he called Judy who was an old friend. Judy was divorced so they got together and married six months later. Judy moved into Sam’s house.

Sam has four adult daughters who were very upset about his remarriage. They were shocked about how quickly he found another partner. Judy has two adult children who were delighted for her. Judy’s children embraced Sam and were encouraging and supportive. Sam’s children, however, would not speak to Judy or come over to their house anymore. Judy tried her best to include the girls and their husbands. Although Judy was very sad she couldn’t change how his girls felt and so she encouraged Sam to see them without her. Eventually Sam began to see his girls and their families by himself.

Judy understood the process of grief and encouraged Sam to talk about Betty and to remember her. They celebrated Betty’s birthdays and remembered her during holidays. They went to the graveyard together and sometimes Judy put flowers there by herself. Judy loved to cook Betty’s favorite meals and they put a picture of Betty on their table in the living room. Judy wanted Betty’s memories to be part of their lives as well. She was not threatened by the memories of Betty.

Sam told his girls how much Judy was supporting him in his grief. He gave them examples of how they remember Betty at their house. It took time for Sam’s girls to grieve for their mother and to understand that Judy was not trying to replace their mom. After about a year or so his four girls began to accept Judy. They were thankful that Judy made their father happy, and they began to feel comfortable visiting their father and Judy at their home.

The message here is that grieving children of all ages will often respond in different ways when their parents begin a new life with a new partner. However, many of those that are reluctant to accept the new situation, with patience and passage of time, will come around and accept their parent’s new situation.

Joining with a partner and forming a stepfamily is another chance to live your life fully. Remember, “the pain of grief is a sign of having given and received love. Where the capacity to love and be loved has been before, it will be again.” Taking what you have learned through grieving gives you the courage to move forward. Including your ex-partner with you on the journey in a stepfamily is a positive and brave step in living your life fully. You are entitled to be happy, to live for yourself, the children, new partner and lost partner. You can do it all!

Chose a stepfamily when you are ready, have grieved your ex-partner and know yourself well.

“ By listening to the music of the past, you can sing in the present and dance in the future.”

- By Alan D. Wolfelt

All the best,




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