Dear Dr. Love,I have am involved in a wonderful relationship with a great man. He is a widower, his wife died 3. 5 years ago (a sudden, unexcepted death). We have been dating for approximately 2. 5 yrs. and really have a good relationship. We are even talking about marriage within the next year.The problem. . . there are still lots of pictures of and personal belongings of his first wife in the home. I know in the beginning he left the house unchanged because of the children (2 girls. . . 22 &19), but after three years and with a NEW woman in his life I think it is time to ‘throw out the old and make way for the new’.I sometimes feel very uncomfortable in his home because there is still so much of her there. We have discussed this and I think he is trying to understand, but doesn’t really get it. He has made some changes, but they have been small, slow coming and not the ‘clean sweep’ that I would like.I appreciate the memories and do not expect him to ‘forget’ her or their life together. . but I feel there is a better place for her things than ‘in my face’, especially since he knows it makes me uncomfortable.My question to you is this: Am I being unreasonable or expecting too much?Is his reluctance to change things a sign that he is not ready to move on? As mentioned, we have discussed this and agreed that we need an objective opinion. . me because I’m having difficulty dealing with remnants of his past relationship, and him because he doesn’t mean to make me uncomfortable, but doesn’t deal with the problem. I look forward to your response.
You ask if you are being unreasonable to expect that your boyfriend clean sweep the remnants of his past.It would be more productive for you to understand why you feel the way you do, rather than label your feelings. Keep in mind that feelings aren’t wrong or right, reasonable or unreasonable. They are simply messengers that need to be heard, respected, and understood.You have made a behavioral request (that he remove her belongings). He is resisting making the behavioral change that you want. The problem here is that you both are overly focused on behavior (will he or won’t he get rid of the belongings) and not sufficiently focused on understanding the feelings motivating your request for behavioral change on his part, as well as understanding the feelings that make it hard for him to remove her belongings.For now, drop the demand and focus on feelings. Talk about how you feel about the belongings being left out. Do you feel hurt, second-classed, unloved? If he trashed the relics of his past how do you think you would feel? Is there a way that he could make you feel like his number one girl without his having to destroy the reminders of his past life?I think that part of the problem here is that you are personalizing his need to keep her belongings around. You interpret his wish to keep the belongings as being directed at you personally. You said that you feel that he is shoving her in your face. Is this his intention? Or is he merely trying to cope with an abrupt loss that he wasn’t at all prepared to face?She was ripped away from him without warning. To be stripped of her photos and belongings would feel to him like another trauma. By removing her items bit by bit, he is trying to adapt to the loss in a more gradual fashion, which feels less traumatizing. In other words, he is adapting to her loss in at his own pace.If you can get him talking about why he leaves her things around and how he would feel if he had to remove them all at once, you will be on the path to helping him to work-through the trauma of her loss. I also think that you need to examine why you want him to ‘throw out the old and make way for the new.’This request feels like you are expecting him to annihilate his past and pretend that you are the only woman who ever existed in his life. The fact that you wish for this is surely tied up with an unmet need that you are carrying from childhood. Did you feel neglected or pushed aside, perhaps when a sibling was born?If so, then you never felt adequately loved, which would explain why you want him to literally get rid of all signs that he loved another and make you his one and only love. There are a lot of layers to this issue.If you want to resolve it, you are both going to need to dig deep, access your feelings, and understand how the feelings relate to childhood wounds. I hope that you both can resolve the issue in a way that is satisfactory to you both.I suspect that if you stop riding him to get rid of all traces of his former wife, that he will do so on his own in his own time, as he adapts to the loss and adjusts to his new life with you.