Dating someone who isn’t ready for a relationship after suffering the loss of their spouse can be disappointing when you feel ready to commit. You may be experiencing a lot of mixed emotions coming from your partner that are leaving you hurt and confused.
It’s important to recognize that the loss of a spouse is one of life’s hardest things to go through. Moving on from the death of a spouse may take the person you’re dating some time to heal. They're likely suffering from one of the types of grief common for such a loss. Some patience and understanding may help you have a great relationship in time.
1. Give Them Space
Sometimes taking a step back and allowing someone to go through what they need to is the best gift that you can give them. Everyone grieves in their own way. When the love and support you’re giving to your partner isn’t enough, it may be time to give them the space they need to sort through their emotions.
Some suggestions to consider when giving someone space for grieving are:
- Setting boundaries in the relationship
- Giving them time and space to mourn their loss
- Allowing your partner to express their needs
- Being mindful of overwhelming them with new emotions
- Remembering that you’re not responsible for their healing
2. Talk About It
A lack of proper communication is usually at the center of many failed relationships. Your partner may not be emotionally ready to commit to you after the death of their spouse, but they may not want to lose you either.
Carve out some time for the two of you to talk about what each other’s needs are and the ways they can be met. Sometimes there are simple solutions to things that seem insurmountable.
3. Set Your Expectations
When you set expectations for what you want out of your relationship and voice them to your partner, it can alleviate some of life’s biggest misunderstandings. You may be expecting one thing from them, and they may be thinking of something completely different and opposite of what you were hoping for.
How you manage your expectations in a relationship demonstrates the love and respect that you have for them. Having high expectations and effectively communicating them to your partner is a healthy way of getting your and your partner’s needs met. A healthy relationship is based on a foundation of the three Cs: commitment, communication, and compromise.
4. Seek Counseling
Dating a widow(er) is not the same as dating someone who’s never suffered the loss of a spouse. There are many complicating factors to consider when dating someone who’s lost their life’s partner. You may not understand the emotional roller coaster that the person you’re dating is going through from one day to the next, and you may unfairly take it out on them.
Seeking counseling for yourself and as a couple will help you better understand what the other is going through. Consider counseling that aims at not only getting to the bottom of your disagreements but one that teaches you both how to work through your differences.
Your partner may be deeply lost in their grief that they don’t see what you’re going through as a result of their emotional ups and downs.
5. Suggest Therapy
Your partner is likely to suffer grief in ways that you’ll never be able to fully understand. Regardless of all the talking and sharing of feelings going on between the two of you, your partner may benefit from professional help. A therapist trained in grief counseling will be able to engage your partner in discussions that’ll help them understand and sort through their grief.
There are also widow support groups for your partner to join either in-person or online. These are free to join and most often open to whoever feels that they can benefit from the support of others who are experiencing the same type of loss.
6. Lend Support
Lending support to your partner as they grapple with their grief is something you can do when dating someone who isn’t quite ready to commit to a new relationship. Your partner may be dealing with things outside of your relationship that makes it difficult for them to commit.
While these things may have nothing to do with you, they may also have a detrimental effect on your dating relationship. For example, your partner may need financial and emotional support but may be too embarrassed to ask for it.
Find out from your partner what their needs are to see where it is that you can offer some support.
7. Take Your Time
Taking things slow will benefit both you and your partner as you learn to maneuver dating after a loss. On the surface, it may seem that dating a widow(er) is the same as dating anyone else, but it’s not. Depending on how much time has passed since the death of their spouse, a surviving spouse may still be in the mourning stages of grief.
Some surviving spouses may mourn the loss of their spouse for an entire year before they begin to start feeling like their old selves again. And even then, their loss has forever changed who they used to be. They will now have to figure out what their new normal is as they try and build a relationship with you.
8. Plan Ahead
Looking ahead to the future is not out of line, even when your partner is not ready to move forward. It’ll take time and patience for your relationship to evolve. Even though the initial stages of mourning may take a full year, the grief doesn’t end there.
Your partner may grieve the loss of their spouse for many years. The effects of grief can affect a person even when they're no longer in active mourning. Typically, the widowed spouse doesn't “get over” the death of their spouse.
They just learn to cope with their loss until grief starts to lift in time. If you're willing to put in the time and effort that it'll take for your partner to be ready, you may end up with one of the best relationships of your life.
9. Ask Permission
Seeking permission from your partner to move forward in a relationship shows them that you respect them and yourself. This isn’t just about getting a verbal yes or no on whether to continue pursuing them. Getting their permission sets an expectation that you’re willing to commit your time, effort, and support, and that you expect a certain level of reciprocity from them.
Asking permission can also include things such as how to refer to a deceased spouse, and the title you’ll be giving to one another as you work on building your relationship. You don’t have to come up with clearly defined roles as of yet, but it helps to start thinking about these things as you move forward so that there isn’t any confusion or misunderstanding.
10. Maintain Your Distance
A widowed spouse who’s still grieving the loss of their partner may find it difficult to cope on days that had special meaning to them. For example, they may find themselves feeling more emotional on days such as wedding anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and their spouse’s date of death.
This is a good time to distance yourself so that your partner can have the space they need to sort through their feelings and emotions. A way to best deal with these special days is to offer your support while maintaining a physical distance until your partner is ready. Let your partner dictate how you move forward based on how they're feeling and what their needs are.
11. Text Your Support
Your partner is dealing with a lot of emotional pain and suffering stemming from the death of their spouse. Expect them to go through phases of wanting you to be with them all the time, to not wanting you near at all. This is to be expected of someone who’s dealing with trying to sort out their grief.
For the times that your partner pushes you away, give them their space but maintain communication with them through texting. This will show your partner that you respect their need for time and space, but you also want to support them as they’re grieving.
Some example texts you can send are:
- “I’m giving you the space that you need, but I want you to know that I’m here for you.”
- “I’m thinking of you and I’m hoping that you’re doing okay.”
- “I’m making a trip to the supermarket. Can I get you anything?”
- “Let me take care of your (utility) bill.”
- “I know this is difficult for you. I love you.”
12. Explore Options
There may come a time where you’ll have to face the reality that you might have to move on from this relationship. There’s nothing wrong with exploring your options to try and find a more suitable partner for you who’s ready for the level of commitment you’re wanting.
Getting through the pain of losing a spouse may take some people years before they’re ready to move forward with their lives. It’s not fair to either of you to keep hanging on to false hope when the other person isn’t ready for a relationship.
Healing Takes Time
When a widowed person isn’t ready to move forward in life, it’s usually because they’re still in mourning. With time, these feelings may ease and they may find themselves ready to date and move forward in a relationship with you.