For the majority of humans, when we take our vows on our wedding day, we genuinely believe ‘til death do us part’. We don’t tend to think that death parting us will be around the corner any time soon. For some, this becomes a stark reality much earlier than we’d hope, yet once some time has passed they may feel ready to love once more and open their heart to someone new.
With that said, dating after heart-wrenching death can be uncomfortable and awkward. Sometimes the feelings of guilt and betrayal may rise to the surface as they feel torn between honoring the memory of the deceased and pursuing their own happiness. Dating a widow or widower will take patience, a willingness to embrace the spouse who has passed, and commitment to being cautious and delicate when it comes to introductions to their close circle. So, while this is a rocky road for a widow(er) to navigate with emotions aplenty, there are things you can do to be better equipped for dating a surviving spouse.
Allow the relationship to develop at its own pace. Ask about their loved one and listen to their stories. Just because the widow(er) is open to another romantic relationship doesn’t been they’ll forget about the last.
Their deceased spouse was obviously a massive part of their lives, and regardless of what the future has in store, that fact won’t change. By allowing them to be open and lending an ear when they feel they need or want to talk about their late partner will help them on their journey.
Free them from their guilt and get to know about their life. Of course, they might not want to talk about it, so be gentle and kind in your approach and respect whatever decision they make. If it’s something you can’t get used to, dating a widow(er) just might not be for you.
Losing a partner is not easy. The pain your new love interest has endured will most likely be unfathomable to those who’ve never been in that position. And with grief, comes a ton of confusing and complex feelings. Even though the widow(er) in question has begun their dating journey, it does not mean that those feelings simply vanish into thin air.
They’ve been through a traumatic experience, so there are bound to be things that will set them off. Some things that might seem minor to you could cause an emotional reaction in them, and if you haven't realized, you've nominated yourself to bear the brunt of it. For example, if you don’t respond to a missed call or text in a reasonable time frame, widows and widowers have been known to frantically call and text their new partner. It’s irrational but maybe their last experience of no reply was when their partner died. Be kind and be considerate. It takes time for emotional scars to heal.
The thing with grief is that it never goes away, it just gets smaller. That means that waves of grief will come and go. It may be around particular dates, birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. A specific movie, song, or even a trip to the garden center could trigger those moments. Remember those moments will pass - it’s just part of being human.
Never pressure your partner to ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’. Hold their hand and wipe their tears. They need your comfort in those times, and your supportive presence will be the anchor for your partner as they get past those waves of grief.
If you’re yet to go through a profound loss in your life, take the time to educate yourself on grief. Learn about the abundance of emotions it stirs up and the multitude of ways it affects different people.
Gaining an understanding that a deep loss such as losing a spouse is completely life-altering, and something that nobody will ever ‘get over’ will strengthen a healthy emotional bond between the two of you. Your partner will teach you about strength in surviving tragedy, and as you learn more about them you'll be in awe of how they were able to pick themselves up and continue to thrive. By taking initiative and broadening your knowledge, it will do wonders for your relationship.
Your new partner has been through unimaginable pain and suffering. They’ve learned life lessons earlier than most. They know how precious life can be and how quickly it can be lost.
Be grateful that you have this person. You are with someone strong enough to endure the worst, and someone wise and appreciative of life – traits that only intensify from surviving this kind of pain.
Although your new partner might talk about their late spouse regularly, they might keep photos of them near, or they frequently feel waves of grief, they have chosen to open their hearts and spend their lives with you. Don't forget that they’ve chosen to risk loss again in order to love you and to be loved by you.
You shouldn't feel threatened or overshadowed by their late partner. The decision they made to be with you was probably not one they chose lightly. You’ve become a safe space for them to truly be themselves - joy, grief, and all. Remember that their relationship with their late partner lead them to you and shaped the person they are today, the person you admire.
Often when the surviving spouse decides to move forward, their loved ones may feel confused and offer their concern. This can make it uncomfortable for them to introduce their new partner to friends and family, as those close to them have also suffered the loss of their late spouse.
Don’t let this cast a dark cloud over your relationship. Be patient and let your partner judge when the time is right for you to meet all members of their inner circle. With that said, if you feel like you’re being kept secret, discuss this honestly with your partner and find healthy ways to move forward that are comfortable for both of you.
If you wish to gain a broader understanding of the complicated emotional journey a widow(er) embarks on, you should check out this month’s book club: 5 Touching Memoirs For The Surviving Spouse.
These authors have eloquently and poignantly penned their own experiences of losing their partner. Even though you may not be able to relate first-hand, it will expand your mind to what your loved one went through and continues to face each and every day.
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