The Dating Dilemma Following The Death Of An Intimate Partner

The loss of an intimate partner or spouse comes not only with the process of bereavement but it also presents the question of whether a future romantic relationship is desirable.  Grief is a very idiosyncratic process, which means it affects each individual differently and has no instruction booklet for how to navigate it.  The same goes for the decision to form new intimate partner relationships after a romantic loved one has passed on. For some, seeking out a new relationship can offer solace and comfort in the face of pain. For others, the loss of a significant love may cause avoidance of new relationships in order to prevent the pain and discomfort of subsequent losses. 

For individuals who engage in a new romantic relationship, it can be common to experience a sense of guilt that stems from the idea that they are being unfaithful to the deceased partner.  There may also be a fear that the deceased partner may be forgotten once a new relationship is established.  Understanding the reason for the desire to date again can shed some light on feelings that become triggered and provide insight in whether being in a relationship is truly desirable.  Individuals who successfully develop new romantic relationships and are not just filling a void following loss have the ability to both honor and let go of the deceased partner. 

One significant factor that contributes to finding this healthy balance is the ability to minimize the amount of comparison between the deceased partner and the new romantic partner. Love and longing for the deceased partner can grow over time which can lead individuals to feel like they are unable to experience love like they did when their partner was alive. However it can be helpful to acknowledge that being in a new relationship means new circumstances exist and thus the feelings and experiences associated with it will be different than those felt with a deceased partner. 

There is also the question of how soon is it okay to start dating again? Depending on whom you ask, the answer will be different and like grief, there is not a right or wrong answer.  Some individuals fall into a new relationship immediately whereas others wait years to do so. Unfortunately our society tends to place a spotlight on individuals who are grieving to see how they are coping and whether we feel it is appropriate or not.  However what truly matters is what feels right and brings comfort to the bereaved.

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT