Why Siblings Of The Deceased Often End Up With Their Family Member's Widow

Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images.
Yesterday, news spread that the late Beau Biden's brother, Hunter Biden, is dating his widowed wife, Hallie Biden. Former Vice President Joe Biden told Page Six he's supportive of the relationship: "We are all lucky that Hunter and Hallie found each other as they were putting their lives together again after such sadness," he said. "They have mine and Jill's full and complete support, and we are happy for them."
When you consider the unthinkable grief the Biden family has gone through, it doesn't seem strange that Hunter and Hallie would have a strong relationship. In fact, it's not uncommon for the sibling of a deceased family member to end up with their loved one's widow — according to therapists, it kind of makes sense.
"When you go through a traumatic experience or a highly emotional experience, that can be a bonding experience," says Kristen Zeising, PsyD, a couples and sex therapist in San Diego. And if there's any kind of attraction, it's not surprising that two people in this scenario would end up together, Dr. Zeising says. "Their grief was probably matched in certain ways and in aspects that most other people would never be able to understand," says Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in grief.
Dating after a tragic loss can be really difficult, and although some people feel ready to jump into a relationship again, for others the hurdles are tougher to clear, Dr. Zeising says. "Some have a hard time being alone if you've been with someone for so long — you want a partner," she says. "But you certainly don't want to find just anybody to fill the space." Dr. Zeising says it's important to step out into the dating world again from a grounded place, and not a reactive one, so you don't end up settling. With a scenario like Hallie and Hunter's, it can be beneficial that they've been close with their families for many years, because it's almost like they're already "pre-vetted."
That doesn't mean these situations are without challenges, and in any blended family, telling the kids what's going on and where they fit into the mix of this new set up takes planning, Dr. Zeising says. The couple also has to decide how they "come out" to their friends and family, and they can't be blind to the fact that it will have an impact. "In order for such a high profile family to come forward with this news, I imagine the Biden family dynamics are very supportive, especially considering there are children involved," Dr. Derhally says. The children's reactions all depend on the family dynamic, too. "I also imagine Beau's children had that degree of familiarity where Hunter was able to step in and fill a role that was such a huge void," she says.
Amid the well-wishes from his family, there were a few people on the internet who couldn't help giving their unsolicited advice, suggesting that they "see a shrink in the future" or making jokes about "keeping it in the family." Passing judgment about someone's relationship is wrong no matter what the circumstances are, but it's particularly troubling to think about the fact that haters have no qualms speaking out when the Bidens finally have some good news.
At the end of the day, in a scenario like the Bidens', the only thing that really matters is that they have love and support. "I think it's beautiful that there are two people who feel a connection, love, and bond — you can't get in the way of those emotions," Dr. Zeising says.

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