by Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC
I cannot imagine anything more difficult than going through the rest of life alone. Finding love again after the death of an intimate partner, can be an exciting experience for those who are ready. For others however, this transition can raise all kinds of questions around trust, intimacy, communication, and dishonesty. When children are involved, it can intensify those questions and doubts challenging the best of us.
In a survey given to widowed fathers, Yopp and Rosenstein (The Group) identified themes from the father’s coping with their grief and caring for their children. These themes included shock, sadness, isolation, rumination, despair. Additionally, the emotional toll of the death of their partner was compounded by relentless fatigue, carrying the parenting burden alone, and trying to fill the rolls of both parents. How does a spouse begin to consider another relationship, when still feeling married to the person who died? How does a parent consider a relationship when busy being both mother and father, working, caring for the children/family, and taking care of the home?
It is ok to talk or think about a relationship, even if you have no desire for another relationship. It will be important to have a safe, non-judgmental person who can listen, as you consider a future relationship. Sometimes this can be a good friend, another widowed parent, a counselor. Know that this is a personal decision each person must make for themselves. No person can ever replace your loved one or the love you hold for them in your heart. It can be helpful as you navigate this terrain, to seek a professional counselor, or find a group specific to your type of loss.
Are you ready? Only you can answer that question. How would you know if you were ready? Consider whether you have stabilized the major issues surrounding the death of your loved one. Giving yourself the time and space to both mourn and grieve your loved one is critical to seeking peace. This takes months or years. Give yourself that space. If you move too quickly through your grief, it can affect you in the future.
Natural Struggles After the Death of a Partner
Emotions abound when considering a future relationship and will create conflict, within you and with others. The sense of loneliness and need for companionship can be overwhelming. There are feelings of guilt, “I am cheating on my deceased partner”, or the conflicting feelings of judgement and acceptance, moments of confusion or doubt and moments of confidence and clarity. Focus on ways you can feel more empowered about your choices. These are natural struggles and it helps to recognize that these are normal responses, while you try to move forward with hope in your life.
When a spouse dies, and the remaining spouse considers a new relationship, it feels like there are always 3 people in the new relationship – the deceased spouse and the two new people. Develop and maintain open and honest communication with the new person. Discuss issues such as feeling secure and loved, adapting to the grieving family system, understanding the impact of trauma associated with the death, setting, and maintaining healthy boundaries, and being treated fairly and respectfully.
Reimagining a future life is both daunting an exciting. Consider some of these resources as you search, seek, and discover a possible future: your support network of family or friends, on-line communities for bereaved spouses or partners, bereavement support groups, clergy, faith communities, couples, family therapy. The TAPS article cited below, offers further information and questions to consider in pondering future relationships. The book, The Group, provides insights into the grieving process and struggles of single parenting. The Widowed Parent website offers excellent resources for bereaved spouses, and for the now, single parent raising children.
Patton-Stumpf, Carla, EdD, LMCH<NCC, FT, CCTP, “Loving Again After the Loss of an Intimate Partner,” TAPS Summer 2020 Magazine, 24-25
Rosenstein, Donald L, and Justin M. Yopp. The Group, Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life. Oxford University Press, 2018.
Widowed Parent, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Chapel Hill, NC.