Girlfriend Devastated by Ex’s Death

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Last week my girlfriend’s ex-husband passed due to an overdose. They were married 20 years. He left behind a 30 year old stepdaughter and a 19 year old daughter. Apparently he did not take the div very well and was very depressed. Five years into their marriage she had an affair which certainly did not help then or now. The div was final 2 years ago this month. Since the div he also kept himself from the daughter – rarely called her and didn’t want her knowing where he lived.

My gf and I have been living together for 17 months along with her 19 year old daugher. My gf is 50 and I’m 36. His passing last week has left them devastated.

I’ve tried to be supportive as much as I can. The first night my gf cried in my arms while laying in bed. It’s extremely difficult seeing her upset, let alone seeing her this way over her ex-husband. He has been the topic of every conversation for the last week and this too is very difficult hearing about on a 24/7 basis.

The ex-husband’s siblings are really no help to the daughter in this situation as they really didn’t get along with him. Because of this my gf paid for the services and the fact her daughter is only 19 and the next of kin feels like she needs to handle everything regarding his belongings, bills ect…My gf plans on going to his apartment to go through all his belongings and throw out what the daughter doesn’t want. She for whatever reason has decided to take on this role now, which I find very odd. She talks and acts like they were still married. She even has a difficult time kissing me because she’s afraid he’s watching. Sexually I need her but I’m totally turned off by everything that has happened and her need to talk about every aspect of his death, belongings and bills he left behind.

I’m finding this very difficult to handle especially since this is so close to the holidays. I feel so bad for the 19 year old daughter right now. I’ve been very supportive, mostly just a listening ear offering some advice here and there. The last thing I want to do it make this about myself and our relationship, but I realize I need to be her friend first in this situation. Nothing about the situation feels normal to me. The face she has taken on this role, the fact that she told me it’s going to be a rough few months in our relationship. I’m in desperate need of advice.

A few days ago I decided to step out and grab a drink with a buddy of mine for my own sanity and also to give her some space. She kinda gave me a hard time about it questioning why etc as she can’t understand why I’m so stressed. I’m assuming she is feeling very guilty hence her feeling the need to take on this role. To make matters worse, I feel like if the role was reversed and my ex wife passed she wouldn’t be there for me or as supportive as I am for her. Please help!

A: It’s to your credit that your girlfriend turns to you for comfort and support. You’re right that she needs your friendship and patience as well as your love. It’s not surprising that she can’t be intimate with you while she sorts out her feelings and takes care of things that undoubtedly stir up lots of memories good and bad about a long marriage. I understand that it’s hard to be compassionate when you have no reason to care about the guy and it’s difficult to feel her pull away from you for a bit. But it’s unrealistic and unfair for you to want this to be over in a week. It’s going to take some time. I doubt your girlfriend is feeling guilty. (I certainly hope not.) If you didn’t tell her you were going out to give her space, she might have felt abandoned. She may also be picking up on your disapproval.

I’m hearing some insecurity in your letter. It’s as if you think her reaction to the death of her ex is any reflection on her love for you. It’s probably not. You are also concerned that if the situation were reversed, she wouldn’t be there for you. If the circumstances with your ex are different, of course it would be different. If you don’t think she can be your best friend in a time of trouble, that speaks to a larger issue in your relationship that is quite separate from what’s going on now.

It’s normal for someone to want to talk out her grief when someone she once loved (and had a child with) dies tragically. It’s normal for someone to grieve what might have been. It’s absolutely normal for a mother to do her best to help her daughter process all that has happened. It makes sense for her to take on sorting through belongings and bills as a way to show her daughter how to be compassionate and responsible.

This is the kind of situation that tests what you are made of. If you can be loving, compassionate and understanding while she and her daughter work through their sadness and anger, they will be forever grateful. If you can’t, the relationship probably won’t survive. I hope you can dig deep and find a way to stay respectful, patient, and loving.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 4 Jan 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Girlfriend Devastated by Ex’s Death. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/01/04/girlfriend-devastated-by-exs-death/