Grief and loss are some of life's greatest normalizers. Suffering can either destroy a relationship or bring a couple closer together. When dating someone who's grieving, life can get challenging as you try to figure out what role grief will play in your relationship.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tips for Newly Dating Someone Who’s Grieving
- Tips for Long-Term Relationships Where One Partner is Grieving
As you forge this new connection and get to know someone for the first time, the grief process might get in the way of getting to know the person behind the pain. When deciding to pursue a partner who's grieving a loss, understand that there'll be challenges that might make you question if dating this person is even worth it.
Bereaved individuals may need time to process their grief even when they think they're ready to enjoy dating again. It's normal to wonder if your grieving partner will be emotionally available to you when they’re consumed with grief.
Tips for Newly Dating Someone Who’s Grieving
As you may have already learned, dating someone who’s grieving isn’t always easy. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, your relationship can flourish into one of the best ones yet. Having empathy for your partner and their situation can go a long way.
Here are some ways to acquaint yourself with what it’s like to date someone who’s grieving and how to navigate some of the more common pitfalls successfully.
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1. Understand how grief works
You can add to the success of dating someone who's grieving by understanding how grief works. You and your partner will both need to have a basic understanding of the emotional process taking place.
When things get tough, you'll also need to acquaint yourself with what to say to a grieving partner, especially if you haven't experienced a significant loss yourself. Partners should hold each other to the same standard for learning how to deal with grief. When only one person stays committed, it puts the other person at a disadvantage and can lead to problems early on.
2. Remain open-minded
The idea of accepting a date with someone who's gone through a significant loss can seem daunting. Some people are likely to skip over an otherwise attractive candidate because they've heard the horror stories about what it's like to date someone who lost a spouse or whose child has died.
The same holds for the person experiencing grief. They tend to decline dates because of their changed perspectives post-loss. Many bereaved individuals feel that they won't make a good partner because they think they're damaged goods. They may also believe that they bring too much baggage into a relationship.
3. Set your expectations early on
Setting the rules of engagement early on can set you up for success whether you date casually or with a long-term relationship in mind. You’ll first both have to come to terms with what dating post-loss is and isn’t. Most likely, your partner isn’t fully available to you just yet.
They won’t fully be present in the relationship until they heal from their grief. In contrast, they might want to use you as a sounding board and tell you every last detail of their grief experience. Be honest with yourself and your partner about how much of their experience you’re ready to accept before taking things to the next level.
4. Have open communication
Talking things over can avoid misunderstandings and heartache—couples entering into a relationship where one person is grieving may be afraid of saying something wrong. Neither one may have enough experience talking openly about death and bereavement to do so comfortably. Even when one person is comfortable having these conversations, the other may not know how to respond.
Good communication takes practice and a specific vulnerability on each other's part. With enough time, you two should reach a new level of comfort that'll make having these conversations easier. In the meantime, it's OK to admit that you may need help communicating what you're thinking or feeling when it comes to their grief experience.
5. Decide how much you’re willing to endure
Dealing with someone who hasn’t fully healed can be challenging. Ask yourself how much hearing about your date’s loss you can take before the conversation starts to weigh heavily on you. Grief is emotionally taxing. Even hearing about someone else’s suffering can cause you to feel depressed.
If your date hasn’t yet learned to cope with their grief, they’re likely to lean on you for added emotional support as they learn to navigate through it. If you’re willing to take a chance and see where things go, decide in the beginning what your limit is and discuss it with your partner.
Kindly remind them that you’re not their grief counselor or therapist, and some things make more sense to consult with a professional.
6. Grief reactions aren’t personal
Learning not to take things personally is crucial to surviving the first few dates. Know that when your date talks about their loss and they begin to shut down or withdraw, this isn’t about you. You have absolutely nothing to do with why you’ve seen a drastic change in their demeanor from one moment to the next.
In situations where your date’s grief is still raw, you’ll need to get used to these emotional ebbs and flows. If you sense that your date isn’t ready to reenter the dating scene, consider trying again in a few weeks or months.
Tips for Long-Term Relationships Where One Partner is Grieving
Grieving is complicated and can wreak havoc on your interpersonal relationships and your love life. But grief doesn't have to mean the end of your romantic relationship with a partner who's suffered a major setback. Tragedy can strike anyone at any time. And regardless of how well prepared one thinks they are, grief has the power to bring even the strongest person to their knees.
In long-term relationships, grief might cause a significant shift in the roles each person is used to filling. Whenever this happens, tragedy catches most people off guard. The key to getting through most challenges in relationships undergoing a loss is working together while allowing space for the grief process. Here are a few tips for overcoming these challenges.
7. Give your support
Supporting your partner through the pain of grief is one of the most selfless things you can do. Many couples suffer through the frustration of not knowing how to help a grieving partner, which leads to their bond's eventual breakdown. However, this doesn't have to be the norm.
Supporting your significant other may not always be accessible when they're deep in despair because many bereaved individuals shut out their partners during this stage of grief. But you can still offer them comfort by being present, hugging them, or just sitting with them in silence.
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8. Listen without judgment
Someone who’s grieving often needs to talk about their loss to process their emotions. Reliving loss is part of the grieving process. Once your partner is ready to open up about their experiences, expect that you may have to listen to their story over and over.
Try not to interrupt your partner or give them your opinion unless they've asked you for it. The best thing you can do is listen to them without judgment. Allowing your partner to talk about their loss is very healing and can strengthen your bond in the long term.
9. Understand their pain
You may never know how your partner feels or what they're going through. But you can still be genuinely compassionate and empathetic towards them. The profound pain that accompanies loss can be devastating. But ultimately, there's no way to truly understand the depth of that pain from your partner's perspective.
During the healing process, your partner's pain will ebb and flow. Some days they'll seem OK, while others, they may completely shut down physically and emotionally. Knowing this will help you both understand that grief reactions can be unpredictable and sometimes hurtful to both. Your partner will need time to regain their emotional footing and sense of self.
10. Give needed space
Have you ever heard that grief is a lonely journey? Everyone walks through their grief alone, and they must face their challenges independently. Dating someone coping with grief can be a lonely experience for everyone involved. The way people handle their pain and sorrow can lead to disconnections in their relationships if they choose to go at it alone.
When dealing with loss, your partner may have trouble connecting to you, and they may withdraw while they sort out their feelings and emotions. By giving your bereaved partner space, you allow them to confront their grief on their terms, allowing them to come back into the relationship whenever they’re ready.
How Grief Affects Your Dating Relationships
How much grief your relationship can withstand depends, in part, on how much of yourself you’re willing to give and for how long. Surviving through loss isn’t easy, and there’s no deadline for when grieving ends.
You can help your partner cope with their grief by committing to supporting them through thick and thin. The longer your stay in your relationship, the more chance it stands to survive after loss. Don’t let the challenges of grief discourage you from pursuing new relationships or staying in one where you already have a history with your partner.
Grief doesn’t last forever. In time, your partner will move forward from their pain and suffering, allowing your relationship to strengthen and grow.