Sage Advice: Husband Resents Wife's Grief Over Ex's Death

By Amy Dickinson | September 12th, 2018

Is her grief valid, or is his annoyance?


Dear Amy: My wife and I have been together since 2010. Our marriage has never been perfect, but we have managed to stay together. We’ve both been married before and have kids from our first marriages.

Last weekend, my wife’s ex-husband (father of her 14-year-old son) died — either from an overdose, or by suicide.

Instead of her son being distraught, he is taking the news well. His dad has not been in his life much, since the dad has been in prison multiple times.

My wife, however, is torn up over his death. She has said things such as, “I can’t believe he is gone; why would he do this to us…?” She has been crying practically nonstop.

This is taking a toll on our already challenging relationship. I feel as though she is still in love with him and is going to miss him.

I feel the opposite way about my ex-wife (mother of my kids). If she died, I would be throwing a huge party. I’d celebrate, not cry.

I can’t imagine anyone being this upset over someone they haven’t had a relationship with in 10 years. He has never paid child support, so there is no financial attachment.

I can’t help feeling that because she is so upset about this death, that maybe there was more going on between them over the years, during the time we’ve been together.

Am I wrong for thinking there is something wrong here?

– Befuddled

Dear Befuddled: Yes, there is something wrong here. With you.

Perhaps your wife is crying and carrying on because she is basically begging you to notice and to talk to her about her feelings. Not for you to tell her how to feel, or expound on how you would celebrate your ex’s death (that’s nice, by the way), but to comfort her, and ask her to describe her own emotions, even if you don’t understand or share them.

Maybe she would emote a little less if you emoted a little more – or at all. Yes, she should probably dial down her emotions, while you should dial up your own.

The person you should both be paying close attention to is this 14-year-old boy. Kids this age never express sadness or loss the way adults do. They suppress their emotions and feel anger, confusion, depression, guilt – and sometimes relief (and then guilt about their relief) when an absent and/or troubled parent is out of their life forever.

You stepson also has to deal with a mother who is grieving, weeping and feeling victimized and abandoned – and a stepfather who has decided to be judgmental and jealous.

I suggest you keep your eye on the ball and pay very close attention to this teenager. He needs to feel supported by the two adults in his life. Right now, he seems to have no one.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2018 by Amy Dickinson

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