Dating after the death of a spouse

How to know if you’re ready, and ways to cope with the many emotions and lingering loss

Special to The TribuneJune 4, 2012 

Your dear spouse passed away several years ago. You want to start dating again. But the dating scene seems terrifying and strange. You’re just not sure where to begin.

Dating after the death of a loved one is a complex process. Unlike divorcees, who are often eager to start seeing other people, widows and widowers are reluctant participants in the matchmaking process. They didn’t choose to be single. They still want what was taken away.

Dating inevitably brings up uncomfortable issues. Widowed folks may feel they’re being disloyal to their departed mates. They question, “Does falling in love with a new person discount the wonderful years I had with my spouse?”

Children can be unhappy when Mom or Dad starts to date. Depending on their ages and the length of time since their parent’s death, they might not be ready to invite a new person into the fold. Perhaps they worry about their parent’s financial decisions or fear they’ll be displaced in their parent’s life.

It’s normal for this new stage of life to feel daunting. You’re entering uncharted territory. But there are steps you can take to successfully navigate rough water.

Start by giving yourself lots of permission to experience unsettling emotions. They don’t mean you shouldn’t start dating. They’re signs of impending growth and change.

Expect to feel guilty about what you’re doing. It seems wrong to have fun when your spouse has died. But remind yourself gently that your loved one is gone and you’re still living. You don’t love that person any less by connecting to another person.

If the roles were reversed, you’d want your mate to be happy. He or she wants the very same for you.

Assess your current needs and goals. Are you simply trying your hand at the dating game? Or do you seek a partner to help raise the children? Be honest about your intentions so you can convey your plans to possible candidates.

Start slowly. There’s no need to rush the dating process. Go at a pace that is both comfortable and safe. Time is your ally when it comes to establishing relationships. You’ll avoid unnecessary drama and angst.

Discuss your actions with your kids. Let them know where you are on the dating timeline. Be ready to listen to their concerns. If your children still live at home, they have a huge impact on your decisions. If they are grown, they have less of a say.

Give yourself permission to love again. You were fortunate enough to find true love once. Perhaps it is possible again. Whatever the eventual outcome, you’ve said “Here I come!” to life. That can only be good.

Advice on how to re-enter the dating scene

Ready to re-enter the dating arena? Put these tactics into play:

Honor the past. Value what you had with your spouse. Cherish the memories that only you two shared. Know that a new relationship will never undo what you had together.

Explain your story. Tell new relationships about your past. That allows them to “know” your deceased loved one and to understand where you are in the grieving process.

Be emotionally available to your partner. Don’t expect your dates to serve as your therapist. They deserve your attention and your time. Care about what’s important to them. Ask questions about their careers and families. Shift the focus away from your loss to other people.

Find common interests. A key to any relationship is shared activities. They provide the perfect opportunity to have fun, make joint friends, and start new memories.

Get involved. Not sure where to meet available singles? Join like-minded groups that have active social calendars. The more you are available to others, the more likely you are to connect.

Create a new present. What you once had is no longer possible. But endless opportunities await you today. Decide who you want to be now. Then seek experiences that make that happen.

Avoid comparisons. No one can replace your deceased spouse. Expecting that only sets you and your relationships up for failure. Instead, look for the best in the people you meet. And embrace all the happiness and love they have to offer. Good luck.

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