Three Questions About Widows, Widowers, and Their Relationships

April 2, 2008 at 11:24 am  •  Posted in Grief And Loss by  •  0 Comments

By L.B. (LeslieBeth) Wish, Ed.D, MSS


Dr. L.B. (LeslieBeth) Wish is a psychologist and social worker.  Wish. She has been a speaker for non-profit, corporate and university organizations. Dr. Wish offers sound, research-based relationship advice that makes sense — specializing in issues such as smart dating, women’s relationship advice, career coaching, healthy families, sexual dysfunction, and leadership training. To learn more about Dr. Wish please visit her Web site:

Few of us want to be alone in our later years, yet anyone who is married or in a long-term committed relationship knows that the chance of facing widowhood is high—especially for women who live slightly longer. Here are the three top questions of many widows and widowers.

Q. Should I date or look for love again—and how soon?

Several studies indicate that widowers begin to date by around the sixth month. Women tend to wait until approximately the ninth month. However, these numbers are just an average. The range of time is much greater—some people never date again and others date by the third month.

But time plays only one part in the decision of when to date. Studies also reveal that the degree of happiness in the relationship can affect how soon a person feels comfortable dating or falling in love again. A widowed partner who comes from a mutually satisfying relationship tends to take longer to find love. That person knows what it takes to sustain fulfillment and growth. The commitment to each other has taught the importance of recognizing needs and priorities—and the newly widowed doesn’t want to compromise.

On the other hand, a person who was not happy in the previous relationship tends to date and look for love more quickly. The person knows that time is running out. These widower and widows often think, “I want to know what love is before I die.”

If you are widowed, however, your best strategy is to do what feels comfortable. Give yourself permission to live life again. Life is most definitely short, and most spouses or partners want the surviving person to be happy. And don’t forget that wildcard pair of luck and timing. Just because you stumble across someone who is right for you soon after widowhood doesn’t mean you weren’t happy previously. Finally, regardless of your age, date smart. Take your time to get to know the person, date as friends first and don’t lend any money.

Q. What do I do if my grown kids don’t like my new partner—or even the idea of my dating?

Losing a spouse is difficult enough, and when grown children cannot accept parental dating and new love, the surviving spouse feels as though he or she is losing the entire family. The bad news is that the surviving spouse should heed the family’s warnings. The good news is that the surviving spouse should NOT heed the family’s warnings.

What should a widowed spouse do? That spouse should begin by valuing all input—but also keeping an eye on why the children are not supportive. Children, especially grown ones, might have difficulty “changing emotional gears.” They might not be able to imagine anyone else living in the family home or kissing the parent. If the new love is very different in personality from the deceased spouse, the adult children might have especial difficulties accepting the new person. These children often have a set view of the parent’s marriage, and seeing a very different kind of love choice can disrupt their beliefs about men, women, love and marriage. Sound advice for the surviving partner includes:

  • Take your time to fall in love. Get to know your new partner.
  • Tell your children that you will always value and remember their parent.
  • Explain to your children that you and their deceased parent talked about wanting the survivor to “move on” in life, including finding love again.
  • In the beginning, don’t express physical affection to the new love in front of the children.
  • Don’t immediately move your new love into your home—or move into his or hers.

Other times, however, grown children do have legitimate concerns, which include:

  • Dating and becoming serious too soon
  • Not knowing the person very well
  • Choosing a poor match to avoid being alone. Poor matches might be a person with substance abuse or mental health problems or someone who expects the widowed spouse to take on the emotional and financial responsibility for the new love’s children—especially troubled children.
  • Lending or giving money or rescuing the new love from his difficult life.

Q. I’m part of the sandwich generation, so how do I deal with living with my daughter’s family?

It’s not unusual for surviving spouses to move in with adult children and family. Sometimes, the surviving spouse has financial or health needs. Regardless of the reasons for becoming a “sandwich generation” family where grandparents, parents and children all live together, this newly formed family must develop House Rules.

Pro-active families have most likely already developed chores and expectations for their children, and they should now develop new ones in response to the changes in the family. For example, widows might be expected to take care of their own linens or buy their own food.

Often, the widowed parent moves in with the extended family because he or she requires assistance with living. The widowed person might be physically fragile or mentally limited due to events such as strokes or the onset of dementia. Families, as well as the widower or widower, frequently underestimate these medical needs and are later frustrated at the demands of care.

Consequently, the addition of the widowed parent means that the House Rules need to be adjusted to the new circumstances, especially emotional issues. Usually, when a widowed parent moves into the adult child’s home, the current or dormant problems in the parent-child relationship get activated. For example, if the parent and adult child are—or were–argumentative and critical of each other, they risk bringing that kind of relationship into the adult child’s home.

The surviving widows, adult children and grandchildren should develop together new guidelines of behavior and words—and post them in the kitchen. Instead of singling out one person and seeing that person in a negative light, families can come together and write rules that build positive behaviors and beliefs.

Keep the focus on solutions-with-love rather than complaints. Examples of emotional House Rules might include:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Respect differences.
  3. No unsolicited advice.
  4. No criticism.
  5. No secrets.
  6. Be a role model.
  7. Don’t tattle. Instead, ask the person how the two of you can work on a solution together.
  8. Everyone is in charge of his or her happiness.
  9. See offers to help in areas such as medical or physical needs as offers of care and love—and not control.
  10. Seek nursing, medical or psychological help as soon as you feel frustrated or overwhelmed or when your solutions aren’t working.

Widowhood may be an expected life phase, but experiencing it is never easy for any of the family members. Hopefully, these answers will help you start thinking and acting differently.

To find a social worker in your area who can help you with these issues, please click here.

Leave a Reply