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By: Jane Milardo, LMFT

Love trust affection

The loss of a spouse leaves us overwhelmed with many feelings. One of the most frequent issues that arises among widow/ers is determining when it is appropriate to begin dating and explore another relationship? The answer depends on you, your feelings about the circumstances of the loss itself, and your readiness personally to do so. There are many variables and there is no right answer for everybody. These thoughts and examples that might help you decide for yourself. 

First of all, there is no rush. It is your decision alone to decide to date again. For some, it’s never right. But give yourself the space and time to process what has happened, how your life is changed, and where you want to go from here. Being on your own is not always a bad thing. In fact, many people find that a period of being single is what they need to find themselves again and to discover a new direction. It can be a very freeing experience.

Let’s think about the example of a man who has been married for 25 years and unexpectedly becomes widowed. Besides the obvious shock and grief, he had never planned on going through the rest of his life without his wife. They were planning to do lots of things together that they never could do while they were raising their children. They looked forward to traveling around the country after they retired. He’s not used to being alone, and he can’t imagine going with anyone else. But after a year or more, he has grieved as much as he can handle. He begins to accept the loss and to think about what is next for him. He is lonely, and his children are grown and have their own families. He thinks about finding a lady friend, but feels as though he is somehow betraying his late wife if he does so. His intellect knows that it isn’t true, since he is now a widower, but he can’t shake the feeling that it’s wrong.

Whether and when he moves on to another relationship depends on a number of factors. Since his wife died suddenly and unexpectedly, he needs time to process the trauma he has suffered, and it’s best that he not move on until he has done so. Rushing into a new relationship might be comforting in the short run. But in the long run he may find himself not able to give his lady friend the love she deserves, as he finds himself still in love with his late wife. While he will always hold his late wife lovingly in his heart, he needs time to process and accept the way his life has changed before he is ready to begin a new relationship.

Ask Jane

In addition, his children, friends, or siblings may be uncomfortable with his sadness and encourage him to become more social before he is ready to do so. Conversely, some adult children have their own issues about a parent beginning a new relationship. They may be the ones who see it as a betrayal of their late mother. They may resent his future lady friend, and it may cause hurt feelings in the family. For this reason, it may be a good idea if, before introducing his adult children to his lady friend, he have a conversation with them. Give assurances that this is a new relationship, having nothing to do with him not loving their mother, nor does it replace her. Then it is more likely that his children will realize that their father’s lady friend makes him happy, and perhaps that will make them happy too.

Let’s consider another example, this time of a woman in her fifties whose husband dies after a series of strokes and heart attacks over a period of 5 years. He recovered from the initial stroke reasonably well, but over the next few years he has more of them and gradually suffers congestive heart failure and paralysis. By this time, he may have been in a nursing home for several years.

His wife has had five years to think about the future if she loses him, and she has grieved the potential loss of him, even as he lives in his hospital bed. It is not only possible, but common, to grieve for someone who has not yet died. In this case, however, the woman may be more ready to move on to a new relationship after his death than the man mentioned earlier, as she is farther along in the grief process at the time of his death. She has had time to experience what life will be like without him, and she is better able to let go of any loyalty conflicts she might have. She may have already given herself permission to begin to live again for herself, perhaps with a new partner.

This is a good time to consider what we’ve learned from our first marriage. What parts of it did we love, and what might we learn from our mistakes? Any learning that we can do will improve our chances for an even better relationship in our future. This introspection takes time, and this time is a good investment in our future.

If these questions are uncomfortable I suggest you consult a Grief Counselor or a Marriage and Family Therapist to help you sort through the factors related to your situation. When you are ready to move on, make a list of all the qualities you can’t live with in a potential partner, and then another list of the things you must have in a partner in order to be happy. Then use those lists to decide who you should date, and if you stick to them, your next relationship may be better than you ever thought possible. Good luck!

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