By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published January 29, 2022
“Many individuals approach remarriage with a “let’s get married and work out the details later” attitude. Some couples remarry long before they have finished grieving their loss, worked through their issues or developed a healthy single lifestyle. —“Looking Before You Leap … Again!”
There are more than 13.7 million widowed persons in the United States, over 11 million of these being women. (American Association of Retired Persons 2001) Female survivors have been outdistancing their male counterparts by a continually widening margin and now represent approximately 80 percent of the widowed population in the United States, according to the Marriage and Family Encyclopedia.
Part of the reason is that women have a longer life expectancy than men. In the U.S., female life expectancy is 81.1 years versus 76.1 years for men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that life expectancy may vary by race and ethnicity and the global pandemic may skew the data.
However, men are more likely to remarry after losing their spouse; more than 60 percent of men but less than 20 percent of women are involved in a new romance or remarriage within two years of being widowed.
My attorney lost his wife to cancer after 25 years of marriage and seven children. He was remarried a short six months later. Part of the explanation for the quick remarriage is that he was not comfortable living without a companion in his life.
When a married person loses their spouse, there is a period of necessary grieving while adjusting to a new single lifestyle. The potential for loneliness and lack of companionship is very real. The guideline should be to take whatever time is needed to heal before making any long-term commitments.
I am familiar with the issue since my father died in his early 50s and my mother remarried some 15 years later. I learned a great deal about the challenges that remarried couples and families experience.
The message in this column is NOT to discourage widows and widowers from considering remarriage. The message for the widowed who are considering remarriage is to avoid rushing into a relationship before all of the issues are understood and discussed.
One of the major issues facing the families involved in a remarriage is the acceptance of a new family member. It is rather common that the family will compare the new member to the deceased family member, both strengths and weaknesses. This comparison within a newly blended family can cause a great deal of difficulty and could contribute to the fact that 60-65 percent of remarriages end in divorce, according to marriage counseling experts.
Another challenge involves financial resources. A close friend experienced the grief of losing his wife. After two years of grieving, he remarried. His children were not supportive of his remarriage. At issue was a sizeable estate and concerns the sons and daughters had about possibly losing their share of the estate when their father deceased.
The issue came to a head when the father named his new spouse as the primary beneficiary in his estate plan. The children filed a lawsuit in an attempt to ensure that they received what they believed was their expected inheritance. The family was torn apart and the remarriage suffered greatly.
The issue of inheritance should have been one of the key discussion points before the remarriage so that the entire family understood the intent of their father and new family member. Both families should be included in the discussions to ensure that all concerns and issues are addressed.
Dealing with grief first
The moral is that both partners and families must deal adequately with the grief surrounding their loss and then identify and discuss all the issues in advance that affect their personal and family relationships.
The reality is that introducing a new member into a family is not easy. It requires that both families try very hard to accept the strengths and weaknesses of the new family member and approach the relationship with an open mind and a desire to make the remarriage successful.
One of the factors that drives remarriage for many widowed is the potential for loneliness. A widowed or bereavement ministry in the parish can provide an outlet to work through grief and learn how to deal with companionship and loneliness. The grief-sharing ministries are beneficial because the participants share a common bond, the loss of a spouse or family member. Not only do the participants gain support and understanding, they form new wholesome relationships.
The wisdom I gained from my mother’s remarriage provided me with this insight: If a relationship progresses to the possibility of remarriage, take time and give initial priority to developing a happy and wholesome single lifestyle and then address all the issues that affect the total family before you say yes to a proposal.
For those widows and widowers who decide to remain single, there is a great opportunity to devote themselves to creating a stronger relationship with God. In this intimate union, God becomes the focal point of one’s life, as it should be. The creation of this relationship has enormous benefit for the widowed and their families.
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send thoughts to Bill, email email@example.com.