Relationship Connection: I’m struggling to date after the death of my spouse

Stock image, St. George News

Question

I am a widow. I was married for 20 years before my husband died. The last 10 years of the marriage were really rough due to his failing health and horrible behavior. Even through all of that, I love him (although I still get upset when I recall his horrible behavior which made my life miserable).

He’s been gone for two years and I’m lonely. I have jumped into the dating pool, but when I go out on dates, I feel like I am cheating on my dead husband. How do I overcome this? Is this a common issue for widows? Do divorcees also have this problem? The prospect of being alone for the rest of my life is disheartening.

Answer

You’ve been through some tough experiences in the past several years, so please know that your reactions and questions completely make sense. You lost your husband during a time when he wasn’t on his best behavior. You’ve started dating again, but feel mixed about loving someone else. I’ll do my best to share some thoughts on how you can move forward in this new chapter of your life.

It’s okay to have mixed feelings about your husband. In fact, your ability to hold space for opposing emotions is a sign of good mental health. It’s understandable that you feel both love and hurt when you remember your husband. It sounds like there was unfinished business when he passed. He had repairs to make in the relationship that weren’t resolved. The love you shared with him was just as real as the hurt you experienced.

It’s difficult to lose a loved one when there are unresolved issues. Conversations and scenarios get replayed in your mind seeking some form of closure. I wonder if it’s difficult for you to move forward with forming new relationships because you never had the chance to finish the relationship with your husband. That lack of closure can leave you feeling unsettled as you navigate new relationships.

If you’re mentally referencing your relationship with your husband to seek resolution, it’s not going to leave much room in your brain and heart to let in someone new. Take some time to focus on making peace with your marriage. Even though your husband isn’t here to help create closure, there are things you can do to move that process forward.

For example you can write letters to your deceased husband, write in a journal, create a closure ritual, talk through your feelings with a trusted friend, or seek professional counseling to help you reach a place of acceptance and peace with this relationship. You can’t really begin a new relationship until you have found peace and resolution with your previous relationship.

You may want to fight these feelings, telling yourself that it’s pointless because they’re in the past. My belief is that they’re very much in the present and continue to block your ability to freely move forward. Allow yourself to feel the full measure of your grief and sadness for the loss of your love, the years of hurt, and the loss of what could have been. These emotions won’t harm you, but refusing to feel them can be harmful to you mentally and even physically. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “After all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”

When you are in the company of a friend, a pastor, or professional, your feelings will be easier to process and will likely produce more closure than if you grieve only in isolation. Make sure you open up about your struggle and let those close to you hear what this is like for you. We can face just about anything if we have support.

Please don’t put a timeline on when you’ll feel ready to date. There is no correct way to venture back into the world of dating after the loss of a spouse. The discomfort of opening up your heart in a romantic way to another person is completely normal. You gave your whole heart to your husband, even when he wasn’t careful with it. You clearly are a loyal and dedicated woman, so you’re not going to easily jump into a new love without some emotional turbulence.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

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10 Comments

  • Sapphire February 22, 2017 at 8:14 am

    Older people are fixed in their ways and don’t change. It takes time to figure out if the other person is sincere or a phony since people can say all the right things and do the wrong ones. Loneliness can kick common sense out the door and leave one needy and clinging. Realize it will be hard to find someone in your age group that doesn’t have a history and possibly a criminal, abusive, or financially irresponsible past. Statistics have shown that in the U.S. 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. Most of the good ones are still happily married, so it usually takes a lot of time and effort to find a decent partner that doesn’t have a trail of problems you don’t need in your life. If you have children, it is better to not drag them through more drama.

    • ladybugavenger February 22, 2017 at 6:51 pm

      There is no statistic listed for 4th marriages. Bob’s 4th marriage should be a success LOL

      • .... February 22, 2017 at 11:48 pm

        She was just desperate lol !

        • Real Life February 23, 2017 at 11:29 am

          11:48 pm? Gonna be a long day.

  • high5 February 22, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Keep Your Chin Up! You Just Did Something Awesome!!! You Asked For Help and that there is Strength My Friend. Youll Make It!!

  • Hataalii February 22, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    You do have a future ahead of you. Perhaps you need to not be quite so quick to start “dating” someone. First, before you even think of having any kind of romantic relationship, you and the person you are possibly going to be with, need to make friends with each other. Take it slow! Don’t rush into a relationship that is very likely to be wrong for one or the other of you.
    Find someone that likes the same things you do. It really doesn’t matter what it is, just that there are common bonds there. Once you have become friends, then you may, (or may not,) desire to move on into a more serious relationship.

  • ladybugavenger February 22, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    Get a friend. Too much pressure in dating. Haatalli has good advice

  • .... February 22, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    Get a Goldfish !

    • Real Life February 23, 2017 at 7:51 am

      Get a life!

      • .... February 23, 2017 at 8:49 am

        I see you haven’t found a job yet. Keep looking but at least you took the time to stop by and make another one of your stupid comments. I can’t complain you’re free entertainment… OK now get some rest you must be exhausted after having a thought

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