Dating After the Loss of a Spouse
Braving the new frontier.
Posted Jan 13, 2019
One of the worst things imaginable has happened to you: You have lost your spouse. According to the Holmes and Rahe Scale of major stressful life events, losing a spouse is rated as the most stressful.
You are deep in mourning. You can’t eat, sleep, or concentrate. You are overwhelmed and stressed out. You feel as though you can barely function. And just when you feel that things could not get worse, friends say, “So when are you going to start dating again?” Or perhaps they say, “Don’t you feel like it's time to move on?” You may not have considered any of these things—but now, it's possible that you feel pressure from your friends who want you to get out and meet someone new.
When people are in mourning, there are others who feel it is somehow acceptable to judge and criticize them for the way they mourn. Much of this behavior stems from people’s own discomfort being with someone who is grieving. Many people in this camp seem to believe that if you just get out and date again, you won’t mourn anymore—thus alleviating their discomfort.
Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case. Dating after the death of your spouse is often fraught with strong emotions, not the least of which is guilt. I have worked with those who have had their dying spouse encourage them to find someone new. However, even knowing their wishes does not diminish the guilt that the remaining spouse felt. They wondered what their spouse would really think of them, now that they're venturing into the dating world. What about his or her parents—or the couple's children?
There is no specific time frame for dating after the loss of a spouse. We all grieve differently and must respect our own process. Some will decide never to be in another relationship. Others may want a relationship but are afraid of getting attached to someone new; the relationship doesn't work out, it results in yet another loss. The latest available data from Pew Research on remarriage, from 2018, indicates that men are much more likely to remarry after the loss of a spouse than women.
One of the deciding factors in whether to seek out new companionship is loneliness. As pain from the loss decreases over time, many of us decide to become re-involved with life. Many may begin by meeting with friends, volunteering, or joining clubs. At some point, however, some begin to feel the need to connect with someone on a deeper level to combat the loneliness. In my experience, people say that the days are not so hard to get through but that evenings and nights are lonely and painful for them.
Only you can determine if you are ready—not your well-meaning friends. Deciding to date again usually comes months, if not years, after a loss. But sometimes, a connection unexpectedly comes early into the mourning period. For example, I knew someone who decided to join a bike club several months after his wife’s death. Unexpectedly, he met someone for whom he came to care for deeply. The relationship progressed rapidly and intensely.
However, he was torn between the love and devotion that he still had for his wife and his feelings for his new companion. He was so overwhelmed by guilt that he decided he needed to put some distance in the relationship until he could sort out his feelings. He was just not ready to date.
It is not uncommon for those dating after a loss to experience conflicting feelings of love and guilt. When these feelings are overwhelming, it is time to reevaluate your emotional state. It does not mean that you should never date again, only that you may need more time.
If and when you decide to start dating again, you need to understand that it is possible to be happy in a new relationship even though you are still having thoughts and feelings for your deceased spouse. Expect the relationship to be different. Your relationship with your spouse was unique. It cannot be replicated. Open yourself to the uniqueness of the new person in your life.
Remember, too, that loving and grieving can happen at the same time. Your guilt will lessen in time. Keep in mind that when you are in a new relationship, friends and family members will offer their opinions (often unwanted) as to whether you should or should not continue in the relationship. This is your life and your relationship. Do what is most comfortable for you.
 Holmes,Thomas and Rahe,Richard (1967). Holmes and Rahe Readjustment Rating Scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research VII.