Love after losing your spouse

The death of a spouse is a devastating experience. Where once you envisioned being together forever, you are now forced to accept the reality that your partner is no longer with you. However, for most people, eventually there will be the interest in finding a new partner. Regardless of your age, it is entirely natural to want to find someone new to love and who will love you.

While dealing with the loss of a spouse is a highly personal experience, there are two factors that combine to offer some predictability as to the emotions and challenges you'll face in re-entering the dating world after a spouse dies. They are your age when you lost your spouse and how long you've been together.

If you are quite young and lost a spouse of only a few years, your initial reaction may be that you'll never love or want to love again. Having lost your spouse at the start of your life together can lead to the conclusion that he or she was your one true love, and you can't imagine ever feeling that way for another person. There can also be intense feelings of guilt that having a new relationship makes you unfaithful to your spouse's memory. For many who've lost someone early, it can be some time before they're ready to date again.

If you are older and/or have been in the marriage for a very long time, a common reaction is to want to find a new partner relatively quickly. Older people who've lost their spouse have reported that after having spent so much of their life in a loving partnership, they know that they don't want to be alone. Also, having been in the marriage for so long, they've probably already discussed with their spouse their thoughts about what each would do if/when the other is gone. So while the sense of loss is great, the sense of isolation can actually be a catalyst moving them to find a new partner.

Regardless of when you lost your spouse, there are other emotions that are fairly common to experience. For example, there can be terrific anger and frustration, perhaps with the world at large or with your spouse. These types of emotions can be particularly acute if you were taking care of an ill spouse before he or she died, or if the death came during a challenging time in your marriage.  It is also quite common to feel scared about starting a new relationship for fear that you'll have to suffer another loss.

Another emotional challenge of finding love after a spouse's death can be a feeling of overwhelm at the idea of having to learn how to date again. You might feel you don't understand modern dating or have lost all your dating skills. With all the other areas of your life you're starting to navigate on your own, having to add the potentially very confusing task of dating can be too much too soon.

While the reactions here are common, the key is for you to understand clearly what your reaction and emotional state is, which might be different. There is no firm timetable that will tell you when you're ready to date again. However, it is critical that you have gone through your grieving process for your spouse. If you move before you're ready, you risk numbing the pain of your loss by focusing on someone new. You do want to work through your grief, at whatever speed reflects your needs, until you've made peace with the loss of your spouse.

Once you do feel that you are emotionally ready to connect with someone new, finding the right support network can be critical. If you do put yourself in the large group of those who aren't sure of their dating skills or how to meet appropriate potential partners, then turning to professionals can be helpful. There are personal coaches and online services that can help you make sense of dating today and how you can best present yourself in that world. Taking advantage of getting valuable dating and relationship advice will help reduce the remaining anxiety of starting to date again. You then are not only open to a new relationship, but well prepared to find one. 

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