Help! My Girlfriend Freaks Out Whenever I Mention My Late Wife.

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 20 2012 5:45 AM

The Only One—Or Else

My girlfriend has a fit whenever I mention my late wife. What should I do?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
About five years ago, I lost my wife after a lengthy illness. The first year was hard, but I got through it thanks to my in-laws, who never stopped letting me know that I would always be part of their family. (My parents are no longer with us.) Six months ago, I met a wonderful woman I love and want to marry. My problem is that she is very twitchy about my relationship with my in-laws. We call each other frequently and I visit them, and their extended family, a few times a year, including holidays. But any time I mention them or my former wife—such as saying something she enjoyed doing—my girlfriend gets angry or very upset. She accuses me of still being in love with my late wife and not letting go of the past. I've tried to reassure her, but I feel that I have to constantly censor myself to avoid setting her off. I don't want to cut my late wife's family out of my life, and they are very happy I've found someone, but I fear an ultimatum is coming. What should I do?

—Found Love Again

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Dear Found,

You’ve been alone a long time, and I’m sure your girlfriend has many wonderful qualities. But the portrait you paint is of someone who is jealous, insecure, and mean. You say nothing to indicate that your emotional life revolves around your late wife or that your home is a shrine to her. Nor are you trying to remake your girlfriend, Vertigo-like, into your lost love. But she can’t stand it when you mention your late wife in the most natural way. And you feel you have to hide your relationship with your former in-laws; how ironic that they are thrilled you have found someone. I married a widower about five years after he nursed his young wife through a long illness. One of the things that drew me to him was how he had stood by her and that he continued to honor her memory. My husband remains in touch with his late wife’s sister, and it was moving for me to be included at the celebration of her daughter’s bat mitzvah. I wish your girlfriend understood that the love you will always have for your late wife, and the affection with which you hold your former in-laws, does not subtract from her portion.

You haven’t known your girlfriend very long, but if you’re going to know her better, tell her you need to clarify a few things. Say her accusation that you are dwelling on the past drew you up short and made you really examine whether that’s true. Tell her that in all honesty you’re convinced it’s not the case. Both of you are adults with pasts, and neither of you should feel a need to hide that. If Italy comes up, and she remembers something about a trip to Venice with her ex, then she should tell that story. Similarly, you are not going to edit your late wife out of conversation completely. Explain that while you and your former in-laws are bound together by your mutual loss, that is not all that is connecting you. They are simply wonderful people you are close to and you intend have them in your life. If that makes her uncomfortable, then you are sorry to hear that, but you are not going to sever the relationship. Maybe your girlfriend will have the capacity to reassess her behavior and make some changes. But if she can’t, take comfort that you have found you can love again. Then find someone who can open her heart to all of you.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Excessive Family PDA

Dear Prudence,
I don't like my breasts touched, and it’s affecting the enjoyment my husband and I have with our sex life. Usually a deliberate touch will make me want to hit the person touching them, doctors included. Once, while we were dating, my husband massaged them and I loved it. I was enjoying it so much that I didn't notice how he was doing it, and he's never been able to repeat the motions. My husband loves touching my breasts, so during sex I try to wait patiently for him to get his fill, and he thanks me before we move on to stuff both of us like. This doesn't leave either of us satisfied though, as he wants me to enjoy having my breasts touched and I just want it to stop. I've tried telling myself things like, “This wonderful man is touching you to show you how much he cherishes you.” But I've been unable to trick myself. Is there a way for me to condition myself to liking my breasts being touched?

—Angry Breasts

Dear Angry,
Oh, if only you and your husband could strap yourselves into a time machine and go back to that wonderful moment when your husband was caressing your breasts with an arousing, never-to-be-repeated stroke. Was it light tickling, circles with the palms, a fingertip outlining your aureole? The poor guy has been rubbing you the wrong way ever since while trying to recreate that magic touch. You have hypersensitive breasts, and the two of you (by this I mean you and your husband) are going to have to live with that. Still it’s not nothing that you’re able to let him get in some patty-cake time and endure it until he pushes on to something more satisfying for you. So explain to him that it’s enough for you that he enjoys it; asking you to like it, too, just adds unnecessary pressure. Emphasize to him it’s not his fault; it’s simply the way you’re wired. I do have a couple of suggestions. Maybe you’d be willing to put some towels under you and have your husband run an ice cube over your breasts. It could be erotic in a chilly sort of way, and as long as hypothermia doesn’t set in, a few minutes of numbness might allow you enjoy his fondling. If you watch the HBO show Girls, except for the bold Lena Dunham, one would get the idea that young women have sex with their bras on. So try having sex with your bra on. Get a nipple bra, or a water bra, or a combo. This could allow you to let your husband caress the burbling brooks of Frederick’s of Hollywood without you wanting to haul off and punch him in the nuts.

—Prudie

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