New relationships after the death of a partner
Considering dating or starting a new relationship after losing a partner is a very individual and emotional decision
Losing a partner is one of the hardest and most painful experiences life can throw at us. Everyone’s experience is different, and it’s impossible to put any timescale on grief.
After time has passed some people wonder if they’re ready to introduce someone new into their life. Others do not feel ready for many years, or never. It’s important to do what’s right for you, but that can be tricky, both because feelings are very complex, and because other people in your life may have strong opinions on what you should do and when.
Different feelings about new relationships
- You might find that you want the companionship, intimacy and physical closeness which comes from having a partner again.
- You might want the excitement, escape and distraction of being with someone new.
- You might feel that you will never be ready, or not for many years.
- You might still feel very strongly married or that you are someone’s partner, even if they have died. Or you might prefer to build a meaningful life for yourself not based around another romantic relationship.
Whatever they are, your feelings are OK. It’s important to listen to them, and to do what is right for you, if and when you feel ready.
What does ‘ready’ mean?
It’s easy to say that you need to be ready, but actually knowing when that is can be a challenge. You may feel ready one day and then completely different the next.
Talking about how you feel can help to sort some of these feelings out. But it’s natural for feelings to change. Many people find it helps to take things slowly and check how it feels at each stage. It’s OK to change your mind. You could try something for a while and then go back to how things were if it’s not working.
Guilt is a common emotion to feel in any grief. Starting to consider seeing a new potential partner after someone dies can bring up those feelings strongly.
It’s not always easy to understand that it is possible to love and miss someone, while having room to be happy and involved with someone new.
It might help to think about how your partner would have wanted you to feel. It will also help if you can have an honest conversation with new potential partners, and explain that you will always have an ongoing relationship with the person that died. You will want to remember them, even if you have come to a point where you can love another person.
Other people’s opinions
Hopefully you have supportive and understanding people in your life, who will be ready for you to move on to new relationships (or not) at your own pace. Many people do find, though, that other people can have strong opinions about what’s appropriate when it comes to dating and new relationships after someone dies.
- They may have had a close relationship with the person that died themselves, and find the idea of them being replaced in any way difficult to come to terms with. It might help to explain that trying out a new relationship is not any reflection on how you felt or still feel about the person that died.
- Others might just have strong opinions about when (or even if) it is appropriate to ‘move on’. Some people can be judgemental and disapproving.
- Alternatively you may find that people try and encourage you ‘to get back out there’, possibly before you are ready.
It has to come back to what’s best for you. Although you can be considerate about how you tell people, at the end of the day this is your life. You have more reason than most to know how precious life is, and it’s up to you how you want to spend the rest of yours.
If you cared for children with the person who died you will need to consider what starting any new relationship will mean for them. What would it mean to introduce someone new into their lives?
The age of the children will also make a difference.
- If your children are young and living at home you will need to think carefully about when to introduce a new partner. They have already been through one major loss so you might want to think about the right time for them to form a bond with someone new, as well as you.
- Teenagers and older children may be starting to think about relationships of their own, and may not want to be reminded that their parent may also have these kinds of feelings.
- Adult children who have become independent and maybe left home will hopefully want their parent to be happy. But of course they can still have all kinds of emotions about the situation, and a new relationship for you might bring back aspects of their grief for their parent or caregiver.
- Whatever your children’s age, negotiating new relationships and blended families is always a challenge. You can’t replace the family you had before and no-one new can take the place of the person who died in your children’s life. A new partner will have a very different relationship with your children and you will need to negotiate the boundaries and responsibilities carefully. But with time and good communication a different kind of valuable relationship can be built.
Whatever the situation, talking and listening can help. Reassure them that any new relationships are not replacing the person they’ve lost. You seeing someone new doesn’t mean that they can’t carry on talking about them and remembering them in any ways you have done before.
You might also want to enlist the help of another friend, relative or counsellor for your children to talk to honestly about how they feel.
Talking to those who understand
However you feel, talking to someone can help to sort clarify your feelings. You may be lucky and have good friends or relatives who can help you work through things without any judgment. But not everyone does, and most of us sometimes benefit from talking to someone who is separate from our own situation. We’re here to listen at Cruse, either through our helpline or in our local branches.
You may also find that it really helps to talk to others who have had the same experience. WAY and Way Up are two organisations who can help you connect with others who have lost a partner.
And if you need a break from the ‘happy ever after’ narrative this Valentine’s Day, our friends at WAY have written a blog challenging the idea that we can only find fulfilment through a romantic relationship. They share some tips from their members who, in time, have found other ways to find challenge, meaning and happiness after losing a partner.