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Shidduchim And The Former Well Spouse

(*Names and situations changed as requested)

 

When one loses a spouse, it sometimes does not take very long for people to play matchmaker. “Only a stone should be alone.” Is a phrase often bandied about as widowed well spouses are encouraged to start dating again. Many in this situation relish their time to themselves, which has been an elusive dream for so long and are not ready to start the process. Some however, would like to remarry, and helpful friends begin to look for a shidduch for them.


 


What people tend to sometimes forget is that matching up adults for a second marriage needs to be done differently than for younger people just beginning the dating process. Care giving may have changed what a person is seeking in a mate in a way that is incomprehensible to those who have not been through it. Most adults wanting to remarry know what they are seeking in a partner. It is absurd to leave them out or not involve them in the process, and treating them as if they were 18.


 


A good friend of Miriam* invited her for a Shabbos dinner because she wanted her to meet a widowed relative, I’ll call him Harold*.  She felt that the two had a lot in common and what better way to meet than over Friday night dinner with lots of family and friends in attendance. Miriam, now in her mid-50s, had started dating about six months after her husband passed away. She had nursed her husband for many years through his chronic illness, mourned his passing and now she felt that she was ready to move on.


 


As hoped, the couple hit it off. They went for coffee, to lectures, exchanged e-mails and phone conversations. It was during this “getting to know you” process that Miriam discovered that Harold was 15 years older than she was. He looked much younger and she had never thought to ask his age. Miriam stopped the process immediately. “I could not go through those years of care giving again,” she said. “And if I marry someone that age, chances are that I will.”


 


Miriam’s friend tried to convince her that Harold was in good health. But Miriam’s husband had been in excellent health until he became ill. Then her friend tried to sell her on the fact that a few or hopefully many good years would be worth it. But her friend had never been a caregiver. She had never experienced the years of sleepless nights and painful days that caring for another who is chronically ill involves.


Miriam was not willing to take the chance. She preferred to be alone than to marry someone of an age where illness can be just around the corner. Her friend could not understand and refused to “set her up” with anyone after that.



At a bar mitzvah celebration, Janice*, age 50, was sitting with friends when a gentleman came over to say hello to a mutual acquaintance. Discovering he was single, Janice’s friend immediately sized him up with Janice in mind and started to collect information about him. Though they appeared compatible initially and alike in many areas, her friend decided that though he was religious, he was a ba’al teshuvah and not appropriate for Janice. And so without saying a word to Janice, she dismissed him as a potential shidduch.


 


Meanwhile, another woman at the table had the same idea and also came to the same conclusion. This woman however, decided not to make decisions for other adults and asked Janice if she would be interested in meeting this man. To her surprise, Janice was very much interested. They have been married now for many happy years.


 


Adults, looking toward a second marriage, approach shidduchim very differently than they did when they were young. They may be looking for things that people who are still married cannot understand. Well spouses bring their history to a potential second marriage, and that history colors what risks they will be willing to take and what experiences they choose to avoid.


 


Their priorities have changed from the last time they dated and may not even be recognized by those closest to them; even those closest to them may be totally unaware of these changes.  Deciding who is an appropriate match, based on what you think they need and want, instead of what they know they need and want, is foolish. As adults, they need to be asked and involved, and not have decisions made for them.


 


Further, accept that a well spouse has gone through experiences you cannot even imagine. If there is something they feel they cannot risk experiencing again, your job as a friend is to accept that and not attempt to convince them to feel differently. We all take different paths in life. Our travels determine who we are and what we want. Each path is very unique and most of it – the essence – is unfathomable to those who haven’t been there.

 

You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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