Entering into a New Relationship after the Death of a Life Partner

The Crow and the Butterfly

How many photos are too many?

One of the most charming questions I ever received in one of my second year spousal loss classes came from a middle-aged man named Sam. He said, “If I were to invite a woman over to dinner, how many framed pictures of my deceased wife would be too many?”

His question was a good one. Sam, like most people who have lost a mate, had increased the number of framed photos around his house so he could feel his late wife’s presence. I answered his question with one of my own: “If you went into a widow’s home, how many photos of her deceased spouse would it take for you to feel uncomfortable?” He laughed and said it was time to dismantle the shrine. He went on to say that he was going to invite a woman over to his home for dinner because he missed having a meaningful conversation with the opposite sex.

The void created by “not belonging to another”

Social connections are key to emotional health. They remind us of our value. Research supports that those of us who are socially connected are healthier, have fewer stress-related problems, and recover from trauma and illness faster. Yet many widows and widowers are reticent to seek a new partner because the quality of the relationship – long term- is uncertain. Occasionally, a class member is brave enough to express her or her apprehension by saying, “What happens if I remarry and find I’m unhappier than I am living alone?” It’s a good question and a valid concern.

However, I recently sent a questionnaire to 90 widows and widowers I have worked with over the years. Of the 60 percent who responded, more than half are happily remarried or in a committed relationship. Many reported that their current relationship was more loving and rewarding than the one they had with their deceased mate.

The touchy subject of dating

You might say that you are not interested in a committed relationship because you are not interested in being a caregiver again. However, that same relationship can become a positive when you think about another person caring and supporting you.

Let me list a few of my own observations about widows and widowers, and the subject of a new relationship.

·         When the building of a relationship is rushed, it often fails, throwing the individual back into a grief cycle. I often draw a round peg in a square hole on the white board to remind people that a round peg can be put into a square hole if you make the round peg small enough. In other words, you can make yourself fit into someone else’s world even when it isn’t a good fit for you over the long term. But does that sound appealing?

·         The thought of dating can be paralyzing, but seldom do people understand that it is often more the fear of dating than the idea of a relationship that scares them.

·         Many who insist they are not going to date change their minds immediately after meeting someone interesting.

·         A few individuals strongly believe it is morally wrong to commit to another relationship. They wrestle with thinking they should remain alone because of their prior commitment. When I hear this I ask them to review the last lines of their traditional wedding vows: to love and to cherish till death do us part. Wisely, no restrictions were placed on how to live after they have completed their vows.

No matter what you want or don’t want, expect people to talk to you about dating. Try to understand and be kind. Now that you are without a companion, it is normal for others to think you might be interested in another relationship.

Lastly, what you ultimately decide you want and don’t want to include in your life moving forward—is most likely be the right thing for YOU. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you are not interested in committing to a new relationship. Period.

 

 

Vicki Panagotacos, PhD FT

More Articles Written by Vicki

Vicki Panagotacos, PhD. FT is a Grief & Loss Counselor and Life Transition Coach in private practice in Los Gatos and La Selva Beach, CA. She also facilitates grief groups and conducts local workshops. Ms. Panagotacos holds various professional certifications and is an ADEC Fellow. In addition to founding www.bestgriefbooks.com, she writes for her blog, TalkingGrief.com, and has authored the following: Effect of Multigenerational Family and Social Systems on Meaning-Making (2010); chapter Defining and Envisioning Self in Techniques of Grief Therapy: Creative Practices for Counseling the Bereaved (edited by Robert Niemeyer, 2012, and Gaining Traction: Starting Over after the Death of a Life Partner, 2014.

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  • Elly says:

    I go back and forth with the new relationship thing.

  • Julie says:

    I struggle with this issue. My husband of almost 28 years passed away six months ago and when he died, I said “there’s no way I would want another man to put his hands on me and I will not be lucky enough to find two wonderful men in one lifetime so therefore, I will never date.”. I noticed about 5 months after my husband died I was praying and I said “God, if you see fit to bring another man into my life, I would be open to it”. Things and feelings change with time. I have two adult children, my daughter is 26 and does not want to hear anything about me dating and says “just go buy another horse and stay home” and my son who is 24 says “Mom, you are too young to be alone”.. I am 50 by the way and my son understands. I am doing my very best to be sensitive with my children’s hearts at this time but they do have to realize, this is my life and I need to continue moving forward… they know I loved their father, they know I have no regrets with their father and even though yes I am still grieving, I have to move forward and be happy. Life is for the living.

    • Anonymous says:

      I also struggle with this. My wonderful wife of 38 years passed away 15 months ago. We were high school sweethearts and she has been the only women for me forever. I miss a women’s presence but can’t bring myself to think about dating. I am 60, so maybe it is too late anyway.

      • Kelly Hutton says:

        I am almost 60, and I lost my husband of almost 36 years to Cancer 31/2 years ago. I struggle with loneliness especially in the evening and bedtime. I miss the companionship, romance, holding hands etc. I wonder if the lonely feelings will ever lessen. I’m very close to my two daughters, their significant others and my grandson, but I miss having interactions with someone close to my age.

        • Starting over is, indeed, difficult after decades of being with a partner. Yet meeting someone can happen when you least expect it.

          Join activities and volunteer for what interests you, and you will have a better chance of meeting someone compatible – or meeting another person who happens to know someone they think you should meet.

          A lot of my clients’ grown children post their parent’s profile on Match.com, etc. A thought that might make you shudder. Yet I know of many widows who met someone they came to love – by being online.

          Vicki

    • Tony turner says:

      Hi my partner died 6 months ago and I know how y feel. I am 51 and need another women x

  • Gregg Jones says:

    So a new relationship after wife and soulmate dies? No betrayal? Still love your late wife while moving into new relationship ok? How do you proceed and not feel guilty? My wife died 8 months ago

    • Eight months is not much time in the general scheme of things. If you are enjoying the woman you have met, why don’t you do just that. Enjoy her!

      Regarding a commitment, it would be wise to wait 18-24 months before living together or marrying, and I would weigh in on the 24-month side. Infatuation can feel like compatibility. You both could be wonderful, well-balanced people, but it takes time to know if two wonderful well-balanced people are well-suited for a committed relationship.

      Regarding betrayal. It sounds like you are pretty clear on what your late wife meant to you, what she contributed to your life, and what the loss means to you. It is important to have this continuing bond in place before moving forward.

      Keep in mind that regret is a painful process, and you something you don’t want to entertain right after losing your soul mate.

      Vicki

  • Dee says:

    My fiance of 4 years passed away suddenly in an ATV accident almost 15 months ago, I am 27 years old and he was 29. I have started seeing a new man for a few months and know to keep things slow but now I am struggling with missing my fiance more (if that is possible) and almost looking for things to push this new man away. I struggle with the questions: why get too invested to be hurt again? What if my fiance is mad? What if it doesn’t work out?

  • Gregg says:

    I have really missed my wife after her passing this past January. Her best friend of 33 years has touch my heart over the months since the passing. She lost what was a sister to her and I lost my soulmate. God took her home. I have developed a nice friendship and a relationship that seems to be enjoyable. This friend happens to be insync with my feelings and allows me to talk often about the lose. I am fortunate to have her in my life now. Unfortunately she is 2000 miles away in another state. can this be a good situation and is this the right feelings to have?