Woman Nervous About Dating Widower

Question from a reader: I’m at the very beginning of a potential relationship with a guy who I’ve reconnected with after many years (we knew each other in high school). His spouse of 27+ years passed away four months ago, after a very long (21 years) battle with Multiple Sclerosis.  He still grieves for her at times when he’s reminded of her, but he is moving on with his life.  I’m nervous about getting involved with him too soon.  He says he started grieving his loss of her before she even died since she’d been bed-ridden for two years, and he knew he’d be saying goodbye.  They discussed openly his finding someone new to spend his life with since they both knew he wasn’t very good at staying alone for very long.  As I said, we are at the very beginning.  We live several states apart from each other, so for now our relationship is mostly on the phone and whenever he can come up for long weekends.  I don’t want to make any major moves (me or him) at least until the first anniversary of her death, but I do want to enjoy him in the meantime.  Anything wrong with this?

Marty Tousley, owner of the website www.griefhealing.com, responds: I certainly appreciate your concerns about developing a relationship with a man so recently widowed, but you know yourself and this man better than I do, so in the end, only you can determine whether there is “anything wrong with this.”

I can tell you that the relationship your man had with his wife and whatever ongoing attachment he feels toward her, both now and in the future, is unique to him,  and how he reacts to this loss will be unique to him as well.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is no specific time frame.  Everyone grieves differently according to their age, gender, personality, culture, value system, past experience with loss, and available support.

It is also true that, while this man’s loss is fairly recent, it sounds as if he and his wife had experienced a long and probably very difficult decline in the quality of their life together, and he may be feeling a great sense of relief that this heavy burden finally has been lifted from his shoulders.  At the same time, he may be feeling very guilty for feeling so relieved.  This is but one example of the sort of conflicting feelings a person can have in the aftermath of the death of a loved one.  Such feelings are perfectly normal (and therefore predictable) — but can be quite confusing and even disturbing, both to the person experiencing them and to the person observing them, unless such feelings are acknowledged, understood, worked through, accepted and released.

In general, men differ from women in how they experience grief and in how they express their reactions to loss.  Failure to understand and accept those different ways of grieving can result in hurt feelings and conflict between partners during a very difficult time. Although there is grief work to be done, behaviors can be misinterpreted, needs may be misunderstood, and expectations may not be met.

That’s why learning about normal grief and talking with trusted others about one’s experiences in grief can be so helpful.  See, for example, my articles, Grief: Understanding the Process, and How We Mourn: Understanding Our Differences.

Since your man is not the one writing to me, I’m not in a position to evaluate where he is in his grief process, but I would encourage you to do some reading about what is normal in grief, so you’ll have a better idea of how he is doing, what to expect and how you can be of help.  See, for example, the articles and resources listed on my Web site’s Helping Someone Who’s Grieving page.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the work of Julie Donner Andersen, but I encourage you to visit her Web site, which contains some of her writings, as well as information about her book, Past Perfect! Present Tense: Insights from One Woman’s Journey As the Wife of a Widower .  (If you just click on the title, you can read Amazon’s description and review of her book.)  Julie was the girlfriend and is now the wife of a widower (a “GOW” and now a “WOW,” in her words), and she has much experience, wisdom and advice to offer people in a position such as yours. When I discovered Julie’s Web site, I was so taken with her experience, wisdom and candor that I ordered a copy of her book, and now that I’ve read it, I can say that it is by far one of the best I’ve read on the subject.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I hope this information helps, my dear, and I wish you all the best.

© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

Reach Marty through her websites, http://www.griefhealing.com and http://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com.  She blogs weekly at Grief Healing  and can be found on Twitter, LinkedInFacebook and Pinterest.

Marty Tousley

More Articles Written by Marty

As both a bereaved parent and a bereaved daughter herself, Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC has focused her practice on issues of grief, loss and transition for more than 40 years. She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ as a Bereavement Counselor in 1996, and for ten years served as moderator for its innovative online grief support forums. She obtained sole ownership of the Grief Healing Discussion Groups in October, 2013, where she continues to serve as moderator. A frequent contributor to health care journals, newsletters, books and magazines, she is the author of Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year: Second Edition, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet, and Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping. She has written a number of booklets for Hospice of the Valley including Explaining the Funeral /Memorial Service to Your Children and Helping Another in Grief, as well as monthly columns, e-books and online e-mail courses for Self-Healing Expressions, addressing various aspects of grief and loss. With her special interest in grief and the human-animal bond, Marty facilitated a pet loss support group for bereaved animal lovers in Phoenix for 15 years, and now serves as consultant to the Pet Loss Support Group at Hospice of the Valley and to the Ontario Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada. Her work in pet loss and bereavement has been featured in the pages of Phoenix Magazine, The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune, Arizona Veterinary News, Hospice Horizons, The Forum (ADEC Newsletter), The AAB Newsletter, Dog Fancy Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine, Woof Magazine and Pet Life Magazine. Marty’s Grief Healing website and blog offer information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether a person or a cherished companion animal. She is certified as a Fellow in Thanatology (Death, Dying and Bereavement) by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, as a Distance Credentialed Counselor by the Center for Credentialing and Education, and as a Clinical Specialist in Adult Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Practice by the American Nurses Association. Marty and her husband Michael have two grown sons and four grandchildren. They spend their winters in Scottsdale, AZ and Sarasota, FL, and enjoy their summers in Traverse City, MI. Marty welcomes reader questions and comments, and can be contacted at [email protected] or through her Web sites, at GriefHealing.com, GriefHealingBlog.com, and GriefHealingDiscussionGroups.com.

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  • Donna Burns says:

    I am also a girlfriend of a man that I had dated many years ago (high school), broke up and went our seperate ways. His wife passed away after 16 years of marriage after a short battle with skin cancer. At times, it was very trying and I had wondered as our relationship progressed if we really had a chance. I searched the website for local support groups as all of my friends were divorced and didn’t have the slightest clue what it meant to date a widower. The rules are different when dating a widower, whose marriage ended because of an accident or illness, as opposed to dating someone who has left a marriage willingly. Then, I found Julie Donner Anderson and her book. I truly believe that if it weren’t for Julie and her insights into this life with a widower, we still wouldn’t be together. Julie’s book as well as her blog (she’s on Facebook also now) is helpful and give insights to your feelings and living with the LW memory.