Living In The House My Husband Shared With His Deceased Wife

Question: I am divorced and recently married to a widower who lost his wife to cancer about a year ago. The problem is that we moved into “their” house, which was already decorated with all their family pictures all over the walls of almost every room in the house, all their furniture, pots, pans, everything that they shared together remains here for me to now use and live with and it is extremely hard because I feel like a guest in my own home.

There are step children, ages 19, 15 and 12. I have talked with my husband about this and he says that he feels it is good for the children to see the pictures of his wife/their mother, when she was healthy and doesn’t feel like it would be in their best interest to take them down and replace them at this time. I feel like my feelings are not being considered and feel guilty for feeling this way. I told him that I don’t wish to take down all the pictures, but would at least like to move some of them to the children’s bedrooms, and it is the pictures that bother me the most, they are huge and take up whole walls in the family room and living room. We did have some pictures of our wedding placed on a wall in the family room and living room and hall.

My husband also wears his wedding band from his previous marriage on his right hand and this also bothers me. I know that I am the person he is with now, and that our relationship is different, I am different and I understand that he is capable of loving me with all his heart while still having feelings for his deceased wife and I am good with that. I am not, however, good with continuing to live with someone else’s things. I feel like I should be able to choose our things together like any new couple would do. I feel like the changes need to be made by him and that if or when the pictures come down it should be because he chooses to, I feel that if I make the changes, he might resent me for that. It is very difficult for me to continue to live this way, but I love my husband very deeply and want to be completely happy in our marriage.

Remarriage Expert

Dear Wow –

I am widowed and understand the situation, though I was on the other side of it.

I did have all of my photos up and wore my wedding ring on my right hand too. I eventually moved the photos into my children’s rooms and, after some time, removed my wedding rings completely and am now saving them for my daughter.

We ultimately moved into a home we purchased together, however, my children really never knew their father, so all of the memories and such were not an issue for us. If it were not for the 12 year old I might suggest doing the same. But, perhaps, there you just tread lightly. have you considered some family and couples counseling? It might be a good idea.

I’m sure our step family and relationship experts will have some more concrete advice, but i just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone, and your feelings are valid.

Keep the lines of communication open. Don’t forget, it’s still a fairly new change in their lives, both the death of their mother and the remarriage of their father. new for the husband too. You all have grieving to do.

Thank you so much for the advice and for letting me know I am not alone. I do feel better about my feelings now and I do love my stepchildren very much and would not want to hurt them. The 12 year old is a girl and her and I are just beginning to bond.
Again, Thank You!

Dr. Meredith Hansen, Clinical Psychologist & Relationship Expert
Helping engaged and newlywed couples build lasting marriages.

I agree with our moderator, this is a difficult situation and it is probably best to tread lightly. I also completely understand your feelings to move forward in your new marriage.

I think it is important for you to keep in mind that the loss of their mother/wife was only 1 year ago. They have been through many changes with her being sick, passing away, and now a new marriage/step-mother. Allow time for everyone to heal. Your needs are definitely important, but you have chosen to marry someone who is likely still grieving and has children who are still grieving. This is where they are emotionally and that has to be honored.

I also agree that counseling could help. Whether it’s couples therapy or family therapy, having a space to process your feelings and hear the feelings of the other members of the family will help you all come together as a new family down the road. Grief is experienced differently for everyone and your willingness to support them through this difficult time will create a strong bond in the future.

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Living in the widower’s house. For the past 4 months, I have been seeing a very nice man whose wife died about a year ago. I have two questions: (1) He is already talking about marriage and if that occurs, he would like to have me and my teenage children move into his house.

The house has his wife’s own furniture and wallpaper choices, photos of her everywhere, etc. How do we create our own identity as a couple if we are in “her” space? (2) How fast is “too fast” when it comes to discussing remarriage after widowhood? Thank you!

Yvonne Kelly, MSW, RSW, Certified Stepfamily Counsellor and Coach, Co-Founder and Director of the Step and Blended Family Institute

To answer your second question first, there are no hard and fast rules about how soon one should remarry after being widowed. You said that his wife had passed a year ago and that you had been dating for four months and were discussing marriage within a year of her death. If anything this could be perceived as somewhat on the early side, but more importantly, the deciding factors have more to do with the two of you as individuals and the personal circumstances. For instance if you’ve known each other for a number of years beforehand, this would give you some preparatory ground for the basis of a relationship, and moving ahead sooner than later with marriage would not be as much of an unknown because you already know the person very well. Your partner needs to know himself and where he is at in the grieving process for his late wife. Grief happens in a number of stages and occurs differently and at a different pace for each person. Those who remarry too soon however, before they have really allowed themselves enough time to grieve, often rush into and struggle in their subsequent relationships and those relationships are not as likely to succeed.

If you are truly concerned about where he is at in terms of his grief and being ready to move on in his life, this would be an important place to begin the discussions that will ultimately help both of you decide when and if marriage is the option for you. I expect that you will want to have the kind of relationship with your life partner that will allow you to discuss these issues, and by beginning in this way, you will start out your relationship on an open and honest playing field. By asking him these things, and/or even suggesting that he may want to talk with a professional to help him figure it out for himself, you are only being supportive. You are not questioning his love and concern for you by having this discussion and you can explain that to him. You are simply wanting the best for both of you and are not willing to leave any stone unturned in order to have this. Also, it sounds like he is the one who initiated the discussion around marriage. Have you asked yourself if this is what you truly want, should he be ready? If you don’t feel the need to move to that level at this time, and feel that it may be rushing things for whatever reason, trust your intuition.

You have other options in front of you that allow you to continue the relationship; waiting until you’re completely sure that you’re both ready is absolutely a must. If and when you are reassured that this is what you both want and are ready and prepared for it, then by all means go ahead and be happy. Remember too, that you will now be a stepfamily. You didn’t mention children on his side, but either way, you will become a stepfamily and with this comes another set of unique challenges. If you are interested, there are many good resources that can be recommended, to prepare both of you as you enter into this new family situation. As for your second question regarding his home, which is still very much his late wife’s home in terms of decorating, furniture, pictures, etc., this is another area that needs to be negotiated.

I’m sure you don’t expect him to erase all memories of her, but in order to get a fresh start on a new life, you will definitely want to make your home together, a reflection of who you are and who you are together as a couple. The problem many people get into is worrying about and stressing over these issues and never discussing them with their partner because they are afraid it is too sensitive and someone’s feeling could get hurt. The worst thing you can do is not discuss it and try to accommodate, which over time will turn to resentment. Once you are serious about moving in together, if this is what you should decide, then beforehand you need to talk about how you can make the home a reflection of “both” of you, meaning you need to have input into making changes and adding to what’s there already. This may be a negotiation process or your partner may be simply quite happy to have you make as many changes as you need in order to feel comfortable. You won’t know until you discuss it but be honest and let him know how important it is for you to feel that your home, is your home. You also have teenage children to consider and changes will no doubt need to be made to create spaces for them and accommodate to their needs.

This can be a fun and healthy process, if negotiated from the beginning and both of you agree to hear what is important to the other person(s) involved and to make concessions as required. It’s all about building a new life together, and although reorganizing/redecorating the home may seem like work that just needs to get done, think of it more as creating something together that will be a special place for your new family. Of course there is another option which some people choose – selling and moving into a new home that is new for everyone and optimizes your chances for a fresh start.

This is not always logistically or financially realistic though. Once again, consider all your options, and make sure that you are not simply following his lead – it does seem that all of the ideas are coming from him. That may be fine, but you need to listen to what you know you need and want as well and be willing to share that with him. I wish you all the best as you begin these important discussions which could be the foundation for a healthy and successful relationship.

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Hanging on to momentos of deceased wife after getting married again.

Hi I am a widowed for 2 years now. I met a wonderful lady shortly after my wife pasted away. A year later we got married. I have a couple of questions in regards to if I am holding on. I keep a picture of my dead wife in my wallet and on occasion like our anniverary and her birthday or the anniversary of her death I take it out in private just as a gentle reminder of us. I never take it out in publc or near anyone. One day my present wife and I were comparing pictures in our wallets she happened to see the picture. Later that week and once a month after that she tells me I am hanging on because I keep her picture. I do not bring it out or anything and that day we were comparing pictures I did not show her she happened to spy it. We live in the house that was from my past marriage and most of the furniture in it is from my past marriage. My wife tells me it is not ours and often gets mad about it telling me we need to buy new furniture and sell the house cause it is not ours. At the present time I can not afford to do this only because I have three kids requiring money for school and my wife is back in school . SO am I holding on or what please help .

Remarriage Expert

As a widow myself, there are many reasons why someone might hold on to a photo. There is a country musinc song that’s called:

“God Blessed the Broken Road that Led Me to You”. Try searching for the lyrics to that song online. It’s by Rascal Flatts and has a really interesting message for y’all.

It’s not awful to have good feelings about someone from your past and I do believe it is possible to still love your deceased spouse in many ways and still cherish the relationship with the living, breathing man in my life.

I don’t keep photos out now but when my kids were small they liked having the photos of their dad around. But they also understood that their dad was gone and a new man could also be a father to them. My fiance doesn’t feel threatened by the photos nor does he doubt my feelings for him just because we might speak of my former husband.

We did go ahead and purchase a home together for a new start but not to remove old memories…to MAKE new memories!

Emily Bouchard, MSSW
Life Coach, Speaker, & Trainer at Blended Families
Author, “Conquering Conflict: Techniques and Strategies for Resolving Blended Family Conflict”

This is a very important discussion and one I encounter often in my practice. Not just around the loss of a spouse to death, but also when a divorce happens and there are children involved.

The past is an essential part of our lives and has brought us to our present moment. Honoring the past in ways that make the heart feel good and connected with lost loved ones is healthy and important. “Hanging on” only becomes dysfunctional when it keeps us from moving forward and causes us to deny our present reality.

I also know about this topic intimately from two very different perspectives.

I was truly blessed to have a stepmother who understood the importance of honoring the past. My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was 14. My father remarried soon after and my new stepmother did her best to honor my mother while also becoming an important part of our lives. She looked through photos of my mother with my dad and chose the most recent, flattering one and made high-quality duplicates for each of the children, and put the photo in lovely frames for us.

She also found some old home movies and had them salvaged and put onto videos so each child could have our own copy. She even figured out how to get still shots from the movies that captured our mother playing with us in ways we didn’t have in photos before. Brings tears to my eyes to think about it.

Our family is Jewish and every year, during the New Year celebrations, a special prayer is said for deceased loved ones, and there’s a special service at the cemetary as well. My stepmother fully supported my father in attending these ceremonies, and accompanied him when he asked her to (and respected his privacy when he wanted to go alone).

I’m a grown woman now, and a stepmother as well. When I moved into my husband’s home with his two teenage daugthers, I hated the photos on the wall of his ex-wife and her family. I tolerated them, knowing that the girls absolutely needed them there, and I knew how important it was for them to have those photos around. The problem was that they were in the hallway to our bedroom — the girls rarely saw them, if at all. Yet, when I suggested that we move them to go on the wall leading upstairs, a place that the girls passed every day, they were furious with me — for wanting to change what was sacred to to them, from their past and their present. Even though their mother moved out of her own choosing, they still needed her presence in their lives to be honored in their home. And it was not my place to suggest a change.

Enough about my experience.

Trust your own. You share a very respectful and healthy way to honor your past and your love that has not diminished for one wife, even as you have moved on and embraced the love of a new wife.

I do think carving out a place in your home that could feel like hers and yours together would make a lot of sense. I recommend the bedroom as a place to start. Perhaps choosing a new bed together, or redecorating the room, or getting new curtains, or even a new dresser. Something that the two of you do together to claim your new life together. Don’t just leave it up to her, as she wants to have a place for “us”.

And, you can certainly get closer to your current wife by seeking to understand more fully what happens for HER when she thinks you’re hanging on. I encourage you to be curious with her and explore with her what it brings up for her that you still have your first wife’s photo in your wallet. My sense is that something’s been triggered for her — some fear or insecurity perhaps. The photo has set off something for her that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with you — and may actually give you two an opportunity to get even closer.


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