Dating While Widowed: New Relationships are NOT a Form of Grief Therapy

English: Comfort in Grief

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There is an unsurprising, yet disturbing, number of dating and remarried widowed folk who seem to feel that coupling again is part and parcel of the “healing process”. It’s something to be done for distraction’s sake, or to ease the emotional aches and pains. They regard new partners as means rather an ends, who should give way to urns as centerpieces, constant chatter about the past and memorabilia of all shapes and sizes.

Let’s be clear. Dating is about seeking new companionship – casually or for the long-term – and can only really be about the two living people engaging in the relationship. Your late spouse is not part of the equation in any active sense of the word.

Recently a commenter voiced the common lament of many widowed back out in the dating trenches,

If you truly love us, you would embrace our lost love as much as we do.

And if you loved them, you’d not expect such a thing because though a new partner can be understanding, sympathetic and even feel bad for what you’ve been through – grieving isn’t a date night activity. They can’t feel what you feel and to ask them to periodically put the brakes on their romance to cater to your heartbreak over someone else is cruel.

At some point, in order to truly be ready to open up to love and a relationship, a widowed person needs to deal with the past and then put it away. In some cases, this packing up includes tangible objects. No one should expect his/her new love to live in a museum to a dead love or to man up daily against feelings of jealousy or inadequacy.

There is nothing obvious in our home that points to the fact that both Rob and I have deceased spouses. We are five years into a relationship that with luck has decades to go. In order for our relationship to flourish, it needs its own space to grow. It needs to be free of shadows, comparisons, and artifacts that speak of past marriages.

Even though we both understand that memories linger, you won’t catch either of us expecting the other to share feelings about a past with which the other wasn’t privy.

Expecting a new partner to listen to endless references or stories is unfair to them and ultimately unproductive if the aim is building a new relationship. Don’t use someone. You are not entitled to make yourself feel better at someone else’s emotional expense. And if you aren’t ready to put your late spouse in your past where he/she belongs, don’t date. You aren’t ready.

A new love should inspire you to make room and dream about the future.


11 thoughts on “Dating While Widowed: New Relationships are NOT a Form of Grief Therapy

  1. For the past 2 months, I’ve been in a “somewhat” relationship with a 52 year old widow who was married 22 years. I’ve been a widower for 22 months after a wonderful 47 year marriage. I’m 74. Age doesn’t seem to be the problem. Now she is having “issues”, and these articles are extremely helpful to me. I believe I may have been pushing too hard because of MY age, but she is worth waiting and patience. I would hope that she reads this, to know I’m sincere.

    1. I am glad you are finding them useful. The important thing is that you are feeling good about waiting and being patient. Just remember that your feelings are important too. Good luck.

  2. As a 42-year-old widow of 10 years, now in a nice relationship with a compassionate man, I just want you to know how happy I am to have found your site! It’s great to read the perspective of the not-newly-widowed. There’s a lot I agree with here, especially this post.

  3. Agreed! We all come with baggage of one kind or another into a relationship. What makes grieving over a lost spouse any more appropriate to hang around our new partner’s neck than any other issues we have to work on? A new relationship needs air to breathe so it can grow. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s LIFE!!

    1. Exactly. There is no shame in admitting that you have issues that need to be resolved before you can get into a serious relationship. There is nothing awful in stating upfront that you can only handle/or are interested in casual dating (or even sex). There is plenty wrong with expecting a prospective date or new partner to engage in emotional games or think that your emotional needs take top priority.

      People who are ready to date generally take the happiness of the other person into equal consideration and are grown up enough not to place unrealistic expectations on them.

      1. I agree wholeheartedly. It’s the difference between living our lives as perpetual victims and taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions. I like to think we should be shooting high and expecting as much out of ourselves as we can!

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