When you experience the death of your spouse, it’s natural to feel the effects of that loss manifesting in loneliness and the need for human companionship, especially if the loss is sudden. Seeking love and attention in another person may help fill in the hole that your spouse left behind when they died.
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For some people who’ve experienced this type of loss, they may have suffered through their spouse battling a long illness, and they may now be ready to find love again after fulfilling their obligation to them.
The reasons are many, personal, and as unique as each individual. Judging someone else’s motivations for seeking love and companionship is easy when you’re looking from the outside in.
Tip: Grief and loss are complicated. If you're dealing with the death of a spouse, our post-loss checklist may just be able to help answer some of your questions.
How Long Should You Wait?
Many widows and widowers want to know how long after a spouse dies is if it's OK to date.
There are no hard rules or timelines for how long you should wait before starting to date again. It is expected that some of your loved ones may offer their opinions and advice on everything from dating, to what you should do with your wedding ring.
These views are usually based on cultural and religious upbringing regarding marriage and widowhood. Their opinions may not always align with your views. Consider that they’re coming from a place of love and concern, but only you know what’s best for you in this situation.
What to Consider Before You Start Dating After Your Spouse Dies
Several factors come into play when you consider whether you're ready to start dating again. Consider your emotional vulnerability and whether you’re ready to embark on a new relationship. If you're considering dating on a more casual basis, it’s always good practice to let the other person know before you start dating. Not every date will lead to a relationship, but the potential is always there. So it’s best to set the expectation from the onset.
Below are some other equally important things to take into consideration before you start dating:
1. Your need for companionship
After your spouse dies, you may find it difficult to accept that they’re no longer here. You may find yourself calling out to them expecting them to answer you or be there when you walk through the door. Loneliness can set in fairly quickly after processing their death.
After a certain period of mourning, your friends and family will slowly go about their normal routines. Their visits will become less and less, and you may find yourself spending many lonely days and nights. Dating after your spouse has died is one way to fill that void. But you may want to carefully consider what your motivations are prior to you starting to date again.
Tip: Try reading a book focused on the grief of surviving spouses. We recommend I'm Grieving as Fast as I Can by Linda Feinberg or The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
2. You may still be grieving
There are several types of grief that affect widows and widowers after a spouse had died. Usually, your grief will be compounded by secondary losses that you may not have considered or felt after your loss.
For example, some secondary losses that you might experience are the loss of:
There are many other types of secondary losses that you may suffer. They may not become immediately known to you, but as time goes on, you may start to feel their effects. Knowing and accepting that you may still be grieving when deciding whether to date is important to both your emotional well-being as well as your partner’s.
Grief manifests in many different ways. Just when you think you’ve found love again, your grief may cause you to spiral into a deep depression for no apparent reason. This can happen on your husband’s death anniversary or your wife’s birthday. Your partner may not understand why this is happening to you and may feel that your love for them isn’t real. They may even find it too difficult to compete with your late spouse even when there isn’t any competition at play.
Having open and honest conversations is crucial to working through these emotional outbursts. Both of you should understand that it’s okay to grieve the loss of your spouse without diminishing your partner’s role in your life.
Just because you’re still grieving the loss of your spouse doesn’t mean that you don’t have room for or any more love to give to your partner. And, it also doesn’t mean that you’ve stopped loving your spouse who’s died.
3. 'Widow brain'
Experiencing the effects of “widow brain” after the death of your spouse is something to take into consideration when deciding whether you're ready to date. You’ll generally experience brain fog or mental confusion for at least three to six months following their death. During this time, it may be difficult for you to process or understand what’s happening around you.
Grief has the potential to manifest in many different ways, and this is one of the significant ways in which it affects you after losing your spouse. Widow brain is the state of mental confusion that you may find yourself in shortly after your spouse dies. It can manifest in minor ways like forgetting where you’ve placed your keys or forgetting how to start the lawnmower. Or, it can show up in larger ways, like the complete and total loss of your ability to function from day-to-day.
If you need to make important decisions, you should wait for at least one to two years following such a significant loss. This will give you sufficient time to process the death, go through the stages of grief, and regain some of your diminished cognitive capacities.
You might consider therapy or counseling. If so, read our guides on the best online therapy and counseling services, where we review popular services like Talkspace and BetterHelp.
4. You can love both
You may wonder if you’re dishonoring the memory of your spouse if you decide to move forward and start dating again. You may also wonder if you’re still married even after your spouse has died.
After the death of your spouse, you’re considered to be widowed. This means that you are someone who was married before and whose spouse has died. This title will help form your new identity as you move forward with your life.
It’s up to you whether you choose to tell someone you’re dating that you’re widowed. There may still be some stigma attached to the word widow or widower in the dating arena. People may be hesitant to become involved with a person who's recently lost their spouse because they may think that there’s no way for them to compete for their love. Others may think that widowed equals emotionally broken, and dating you might be more than what they are willing to handle.
But not everyone thinks that way. You’ll need to determine how to broach the subject when it comes up. It’s very much possible both to love your spouse who's died, and to fall in love all over again with someone else.
5. There is no timeline
No timeline determines when you’re ready to date again. Consider that love is a precious gift to have in your life. And, if you’re lucky enough to find it twice, there shouldn’t be a reason to deny yourself the feeling that comes with falling in love. The feel-good endorphins are a great way to ease the pain of your loss as you grieve over your spouse’s death.
Your friends and loved ones may have other thoughts and ideas about moving on so quickly after the death of your spouse, no matter how long you wait. This may be influenced by many factors including traditional mourning periods in their culture, their relationship to the deceased, and what they think is morally acceptable.
6. We’re meant to love and be loved
The human spirit thrives on love and being in love. When you experience love for the first time, you feel a surge of intense emotions such as happiness, joy, excitement, and nervousness. Serotonin and dopamine levels surge creating that feel-good feeling we experience when someone causes us to have butterflies in our stomach every time we see or hear from them.
As your relationship evolves, so will your feelings of love. Love begins to gradually shift from the newly-in-love type of feeling to one that is more comfortable and familiar. Most couples in long-term relationships will have seen their love transition from new love to comfortable love. Both are perfectly fine ways to express love and to be loved. Your needs and expectations become more fluid the longer you stay in a relationship with your partner.
When your spouse dies, you may experience the grief and sorrow of not only losing them, but also of losing out on the love that they provided to you. You may also experience the loss of having someone to love in return. Consider your emotional needs for love in deciding when it’s right for you to start dating again.
7. New love is healing
Finding someone to date after losing your spouse can be very healing for you as you suffer through your grief. Your partner can help ease the burden and pain of your suffering simply by being there through your emotional ups and downs in the coming months. You don’t need to explain to anyone why you need companionship in your life. You can keep your dating to yourself or find a good friend to confide in.
There are also several widow support groups out there where you can meet others dealing with a similar situation. It helps to share in your grief and experiences with others who understand where you are coming from.
Dating After Your Spouse Has Died
It’s good practice to live your life in a way that makes sense for you without seeking the approval of others. You’re the best person to decide when the time is right for you to start dating again after your spouse has died.