Tell Me About It: My late wife’s friend and sister are offering me sex
I’m on a cycle of pleasure, followed by doubt, then guilt, before it all starts again a few weeks later with a call from one of the women
Q I am deeply ashamed of my behaviour. My wife, the mother of my young children, died in tragic circumstances nearly two years ago. Illness came upon her almost without warning; her decline was rapid and shocking.
I was emotionally numb for months. After that, any emotional space that developed I reserved for my kids. However, I guess my needs as a man began to slowly re-emerge. This left me confused and more than a little ashamed.
In the meantime, the family and friends of my dear wife had stepped into the breach, helping out in all sorts of ways. And therein lies my problem. With all the practicality of offering to do a load of laundry or cook up a casserole, a couple of women from that group offered independently to see to my needs. One was a school friend of my wife, the other my former sister-in-law.
Initially I blustered around and did nothing about it. Both were single at the time, so no one else would be hurt, or so I convinced myself. When the offers were repeated, to my shame, I gave into the temptation. In both cases, we stopped short of full sex.
I’m on a cycle of pleasure, followed by doubt, then guilt, before it all starts again a few weeks later with a call from one of the women. I feel like I’m betraying my dead wife and hoodwinking the two women (neither of whom knows of my relationship with the other).
Sometimes I just about manage to convince myself that what I’m doing is a rational response. But mostly I just feel perverse and sad. How can I make myself stop?
A Intense grief is like sleepwalking: you appear to be functioning, when in fact you are stumbling along in a kind of emotional slumber as your unconscious mind struggles to come to terms with a terrible new reality.
“Grieving takes time and is a different path for everyone; sometimes during this process we think, feel and do things that seem to run counter to what we would expect ourselves to do, but it is a time of immense turmoil,” says Teresa Bergin, a psychotherapist specialising in sexuality.
“It is completely natural that you would have emotional and sexual needs; these needs cannot be shelved away and are in no way a betrayal of your wife or your history together.”
Be gentle with yourself. You wouldn’t be the first vulnerable widower whose piles of ironing proved irresistible. For the sister and best friend to offer comfort that leads to more isn’t as unusual as you might think.
“The two women you are seeing are adults who have chosen to be sexual with you and are indeed fulfilling their own needs. Because you had a prior relationship with them through your wife, you feel safe to be sexual with them, but may also feel that you are being ‘unfaithful’ to both in addition to being unfaithful to your wife’s memory,” says Bergin.
Now that you are waking up from grief a little, you see that this situation cannot last, not just because either woman may learn about the other, but because you don’t want it to last. The anxiety is outweighing the benefits.
You could meet each woman individually and explain that you have been acting out of grief and confusion, and while you appreciate the solace and practical support, you don’t think it’s fair on anyone to continue with the sexual aspect, as lovely as it is. If there is fallout, anyone with half an understanding of humanity would see that you were unguarded.
“It may be time to consider socialising or even dating,” suggests Bergin. “This would give you the opportunity to form friendships and perhaps in time, a relationship that could have a clear boundary and be separate to your prior history.”
Bereavement counselling could help you towards another happy and fulfilling relationship. Right now you need to think about moving on.
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