By Gloria Lintermans & Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.
The unimaginable has happened; you are a widow or widower. Mourning your loss has been the focus of your life for the past year or two. Finally, as you begin to surface from your profound grief, with a deep breath and lot or a little trepidation you find yourself falling in love again. Is this new relationship fraught with landmines? You bet! Here are important stepping stones to help keep you afloat along the way, Do’s and Don’ts as it were for widows/widowers beginning a new, loving relationship.
Perhaps you joined a bereavement support group, progressed through the stages of loss and are doing pretty well. And then, surprise … you find yourself attracted to someone of the opposite sex. Not just someone to hear your grief, but someone who makes your heart quicken. What to do? What feels right? You are still grieving, but you’re attracted and you want to date, you’re also lonely and crave company. And yet, you feel guilty, disloyal to your late spouse.
- Do take your time starting a new relationship; it’s not unusual to feel like an awkward teenager again.
- Don’t rush into romance, start with friendship.
How do I let my grown kids know that I want to date? How can I help them to react in a positive way? I don’t want to hurt them while they grieve their mother or father, but I also want to go on with my own life. How do I talk to them about my needs and be respectful of theirs? I know that they grieve on a different timetable.
- Do be sensitive to the feelings of your children; encourage them to “speak their truth” while moving on with your life in a positive way.
- Don’t flaunt your dating or sexuality in front of your children.
I meet someone I can see having a future with. She/he has furniture; I have furniture, how do we blend that? What do we do with family pictures?
- Do be respectful in valuing the treasures of your partner.
- Don’t discard family pictures; find a way to blend what is important to both of you.
How do I financially protect my new partner and myself? Do we do a prenuptial agreement? What is fair? I want to leave money for my children and I also want to protect her/him, how do I do that? It’s distasteful to seek the counsel of an attorney but I feel I should do that. I have a townhouse, she has a townhouse; which townhouse do we live in? What do we do with our extra “stuff,” how much do we give away?
- Do talk about your personal values, what is fair and what is important to you.
- Don’t rush into legal agreements, until you have explored your feelings together.
- Do listen to your partner, even if his/her ideas are different than yours.
All of these questions are common and very real. You might be asking yourself: Do we like each other enough to resolve these questions. Can we come out of our own chaos and have a mutual life?
- Do realize that you have two “containers” in your chest, one for your old life and one for the new. You’re adding, not subtracting. It is a tribute to your late spouse that you want another loving partner.
- Don’t compare your new love to your late spouse.
- Do accept that your new partner has different interest that will enable you to explore new areas of growth.
- Do accept that it can be an interesting and rewarding challenge to meet each other’s friends and children. They knew your new partner as a couple and it may take patience until they learn to see you as a new partner, but one who is not trying to replace your partner’s late spouse in their eyes.
A new partner and shared life is indeed a positive challenge. Many widows/widowers take on the growth and welcome new love, wanting to heal and move forward to a renewed life with joy, expectation and eagerness.
Marilyn Stolzman, Ph.D., L.M.F.T. is the co-author with Gloria Lintermans of “The Healing Power of Love: Transcending the Loss of a Spouse to New Love,” They are also co-authors of “The Healing Power of Grief: The Journey through Loss to Life and Laughter.”