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Feeling Second Best While Dating a Widow(er)? Here’s How to Cope

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For many people, meeting and falling in love with someone special is one of the best things to look forward to in life. When you meet that special someone, you feel like you want to give yourself completely to them and your relationship. A successful romantic relationship tends to make you feel complete and like a better version of yourself.  

But what happens when the person you're dating doesn't reciprocate those feelings? It’s not the best feeling in a relationship when you're dating a widow and you’re feeling second best. It’s helpful to remember that it’s not uncommon to feel that you can't measure up to their spouse who died. Looking to break out of that cycle of negative feelings?

The following tips can help you cope with these feelings:

1. Know Your Worth

Feeling secure in any relationship starts with the way you feel about yourself. Learning the value you bring to the relationship helps with any feelings of insecurity you may have. There are many reasons you may feel that you don't measure up to their deceased spouse.

Part of the grieving process for a surviving widow(er) is learning to accept that their spouse died. Your partner may still be in the beginning stages of grief and accepting their loss may take a few months.

Having fond memories of their spouse doesn’t mean that they don’t value having you in their life. Don't try to mold yourself into a replacement for what they’ve lost. In time, your partner will move past this type of grief and should be ready to move forward without the constant need to bring up their deceased spouse. 

2. Give Them Time

When someone loses their spouse, they can experience many complicated feelings and emotions that they may not know how to deal with. Depending on how long it’s been since their spouse died, they may not yet be ready to move on. For some, deciding what to do with their wedding ring may be the biggest hurdle to overcome in accepting their loss.

As mentioned above, feeling second best in a relationship with someone whose spouse has died is not uncommon or out of line. In fact, one of the best things that you can do for them and yourself is to take a step back and give them time to mourn their loss.

There’s no guarantee that they’ll bounce back and be ready to commit to the relationship you’re hoping for. But by giving them time to sort out their feelings, this can help them become a better partner when they are ready to move on.

3. Set Boundaries

The person you’re dating probably doesn’t recognize that their words or actions are hurtful to you. They may not see anything wrong with talking about their deceased spouse as they learn to cope with their loss. They may even think that it’s a good thing to talk about it with you because they’ve heard somewhere that talking about their loss helps them heal from their pain.

If this is happening to you, your relationship will benefit from having certain boundaries. Setting limitations does not mean having rigid rules in place that can never be broken. Healthy boundaries can be created when you work together to talk about some potentially harmful comments or actions. Instead of formulating a list of rules for your partner to follow, try to mention what actions or comments are causing you pain and resentment.

Discuss when it’s appropriate (and when it’s not) to bring up their deceased spouse. If you can, create “me and you” time where it’s off-limits to have open thoughts, mentions, or discussions about their spouse who’s died.

4. Be Clear With Expectations

Your partner can’t read your mind when it comes to figuring out what you expect out of them and your relationship. Consider spelling it out to them in detail what you’re hoping to get out of this relationship. Take the time to explore what it is you want before having expectations of others. 

If you aren’t sure what you want from this relationship, don’t expect your partner to figure it out for you. They’re already dealing with the death of their spouse and all of the emotional fallout stemming from it. Make it easier for the two of you by being clear with your expectations. It’s okay if you’re unsure of it yourself and are wanting to explore where the relationship may lead. It helps when the two of you are on the same page.

5. Set Time Limits

If you’ve decided that investing your time in dating a widow(er) is something that you want to do, consider setting time limits on your relationship. Never assume that your partner knows what you want from them. They may not be in the same state of mind that you may be in when it comes to looking for and finding a romantic partner.

A time limit on your relationship is another way of setting healthy boundaries. Not many people like to waste their time dating someone who doesn’t know what they want or who may be afraid to commit. When you set an expiration date on your relationship, it doesn’t mean that you focus solely on this end date.

Typically, this is the time that you allow yourself to decide if you’re willing to continue investing in this person and relationship, or if it’s time for you to move on.

6. Stake Your Claim

Staking your claim does not mean putting a ring on it, or announcing to the world that you are in this relationship with this person. What it does mean is making it known to your partner that you’re interested in building a future with them if you are.

Give them a list of reasons why you think the two of you make a great pair and the other ways you complement each other. You may want to remind them from time to time that you’re interested in moving forward with them.

A grieving widow(er) may be dealing with their loss and their own insecurities enough not to notice your interest in them. 

7. Move Forward Cautiously

A partner who can’t commit to you or is unwilling to prioritize your relationship is probably not going to be the best one suited for you. But when dealing with someone who has lost their spouse, the stakes are a bit different. Most widow(er)s need time to mourn the loss of their spouse. This may take months to several years. 

When you decide to date someone whose spouse has died, understand that they may not be fully present when it comes to building a new relationship with you. Take your time to allow the relationship to progress organically without trying too hard or rushing things. 

8. Live Outside This Relationship

Having a life outside of your romantic relationship will take the pressure off of both of you to meet certain expectations that either of you may fall short of. One of the secrets to a happy and healthy relationship is to find your own happiness. Your partner will also appreciate you not relying on them to complete you.

Ways in which you can find fulfillment are to:

  • Have hobbies outside of your relationship
  • Enjoy the company of friends
  • Be adventurous
  • Invest in self-improvement
  • Exercise

9. Create New Memories

One of the greatest ways to help your partner move forward is to create lasting and loving memories of the two of you together. The goal here isn’t to make them forget their spouse or to overshadow the memories they have of them.

Your goal can be one where the memories that you’re creating together can renew your partner’s hope that it’s possible to move on from their loss. When your partner realizes that life doesn’t end at the death of their spouse, you have a higher chance of success in any relationship that follows.

10. Seek Support

Just like there are widow support groups to help your partner through their loss, there are support groups to help you adjust to dating a widow(er).

Whether you attend an in-person support group or one online, you’ll benefit from sharing your experiences with others. Although everyone’s experiences are different, you may be able to find enough common ground to compare what’s going on in your relationship with someone who’s lost a spouse to theirs. 

11. Decide if Staying is Worth it

Remind yourself that you’re not there to save your partner. You don’t need to sacrifice yourself in waiting for them to manage the death of their spouse. When you’ve given your best in any relationship, and the other person isn’t doing their part to fill your needs, it may be time to move on.

The stigma of dating a widow(er) has its roots in truth to some extent. Not everyone who’s experienced this type of loss fits into this category, of course. But some will show you all the reasons why you may be hesitant to enter into a relationship with someone whose spouse has died. Only you can determine how much effort you’re willing to put into this relationship.

Carefully consider your reasons for staying and decide what makes more sense for you. Your happiness is ultimately your responsibility. 

Dating a Widow(er) is Not a Competition 

Dating someone whose spouse has died shouldn’t translate into a competition between you and their deceased spouse.

Expect that there will always be lingering memories of that person being brought into your relationship. With the right attitude, patience, and understanding, dating a widow(er) doesn’t have to mean that you’re constantly having to find your place in the relationship.