• Dawn

Relationships After Loss

Most people know that I have been married twice. The end of the first marriage was certainly not by choice. I do not know what the percentages are between those who have lost a spouse by accidental death or illness versus those that occurred “by choice” through divorce. I would imagine that both are fairly significant. Losing a spouse by illness is likely going to occur “later in life” while divorces will generally be in the younger (say, less than 40 year olds) category.

The question then becomes: When should I enter into a new relationship? What does that look like to me? What are my “gotta haves” and my “nice to haves”? What are my deal breakers?

The answers to those questions will be different for every person and every relationship.

When should I enter into a new relationship?

First, evaluate where you are. If you are newly separated or divorced, taking time to determine those areas where you may have been lacking which led to the divorce. I am presuming here that, for most people, that both parties may have some fault in this area. While it is not always the case as there are certainly times when the other partner is abusive or alcoholic and so forth, I am speaking mainly to those who are splitting up due to differences. For these folk, you might want to step back and take some time to re-charge yourself, you may not want ANY kind of relationship for awhile or you may be ready to jump in relatively soon. Again, it all depends on the circumstances of the prior relationship.

If you have lost someone to death, there was no “choice” in that scenario. The same basic principle applies: Evaluate where you are in this moment. Whether or not the illness took your loved ones life quickly or if it was a lingering process, you are not the same person after losing someone to illness. That being said, there is not a definitive time frame for when it is okay to start dating again. Society has put a one-year term on the grief process and the “don’t make any big decisions” stuff, but that is not hard and concrete especially if you have been dealing with the gradual loss of a partner over the course of years. Your grieving started with the terminal prognosis and continued throughout the sickness. You may be ready to move on.

There is no right or wrong answer to the question: WHEN do I start dating again.

What does this scenario look like?

By this I mean, what are your expectations going forward. Are you looking for something casual, someone to go out with to movies or dinner? Are you looking for companionship, someone to help you work through your loss and be a sounding board yet allow you to be yourself as you discover “life after”? Are you looking for something more long-term? Another marriage? What kind of relationship do you want to have?

What are your “Gotta haves” and your “Nice to haves”?

I certainly had my list of “gotta haves”. When George and I started communicating (via old-school instant messenger), he liked to play this game called “Ask 5 questions”. Each night we would go back and forth asking each other questions. One of them must have been along the lines of what I was looking for in a relationship. I had an immediate response: 1) Must be Christian (didn’t want to have to ‘train’ someone in their faith), 2) Needed to be wined and dined as my kids were older now (15 and 18 at the time of my first husbands’ death just months earlier), 3) Family oriented (my children were important to me and needed to be included in any life with someone else), 4) Sociable (I had a lot of friends) and last, but not least, 5) must pass muster with ‘my three husbands’ (my late husband’s closest friends who took it upon themselves to watch over me after he died). Anything beyond that would be a “nice to have”.

If you had a relationship where you struggled, you may be looking for the exact opposite of that. You may want to find someone who can relate to you. If you are divorced, another divorcee may be someone with whom you can confide in, who understands where you are coming from. If you lost someone suddenly (as I did the first time) and you enjoyed the feeling of marriage, you may be looking for someone you can trust to be there for you – or you may be seeking pure companionship because you miss having someone to sit with you and talk to you. If you are a cancer survivor, finding another survivor may look wonderful as no one understands that prognosis better than that.

Again, take the time to determine what you are looking for. Short term, long term, casual or serious, these are all choices you can make. If you have children (no matter what their age), allow them time to see you in a new relationship. For younger children, it is best to wait for introductions until you are sure where the relationship is going as you do not want them to get attached unnecessarily to a new partner.

Remember – there is no “right” or “wrong”. There is YOUR way.


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