When you’re dating someone who’s lost a spouse or partner, you’re entering an area of dating that not many people have experience of. You may worry that this person is always going to be talking about their spouse or that he or she will never give you the type of relationship you want. While those concerns are expected, they’re often not the case. Some people grieve over their lost partners, others may not have had the marriage they wanted. More often than not, it’s complicated. But your relationship with them doesn’t have to be.
Here are 10 tips for dating a widower you should know when starting your relationship:
1. Don’t get offended.
It may take a while for you to have a relationship that’s as strong as their deceased partner, or you may never be put on the same pedestal. “When someone loses a spouse, they usually idolize the lost partner on some level, so don’t be threatened if they refer to them in adoring ways,” explains licensed psychologist, Dr. Wyatt Fisher.
2. Don’t ask for too much information about their spouse.
Being a good listener is key in any relationship, but when you’re dating a widower don’t dig for information they don’t want to share. “It takes time to get to know someone and understand them,” explains Stef Safran, a relationship expert and dating coach. “Asking a lot of personal questions is no shortcut.”
3. Take it slow.
Each person is different and it will take time to learn if the person you’re with is ready to be in a relationship again, so try to mirror the pace they’re taking. “It wouldn’t be any different than dealing with someone who’s divorced. It sometimes can take time to see if someone is ready for the relationship that you are,” says Safran.
4. Honor the memory.
Regardless of how often they bring up the deceased, it’s important to respect them. “When they bring up memories of their deceased spouse, be sure to honor them with respectful language, such as ‘sounds like they were a great person’ or ‘I’m so sorry for what you’re going through,” says Fisher.
5. Watch out for warning signs.
If your significant other is comparing you to their deceased spouse constantly or if there’s incessant talk about the death, it could be that they’re stuck in grief and it could get pathological. Get out if this sounds like your relationship, explains international dating coach, Cynthia Spillman. “He or she may not be emotionally available right now, but keep the door open if you want to.”
6. You may not be included.
Be prepared for potential animosity. Spillman says this can come from his former in-laws as well as any children and even friends. “If they have children, don’t try and be their mother [or father]. The best you can hope to be to them is a good friend.”
7. Take honest stock of your expectations.
It’s unpredictable and your date may be cycling in and out of the stages of grief, explains relationship expert, Linda F. Williams. “They may do more talking about their spouse than you might be in the mood to hear. But you’ll do the relationship a disservice if you expect them to compartmentalize that part of their lives. Focus on the friendship first. From there you might be more patient as they move through the process of grief.”
8. Watch out for the rebound.
“Sometimes when someone loses a spouse they try to find someone to fill the void. Be careful that person isn’t you. Be cautious dating anyone who has lost their spouse within the last 6-12 months,” says Fisher.
9. Don’t try to fill a void left by the loss.
Nobody can. That’s too much pressure for anybody, and you shouldn’t take it on yourself. “If it appears that he or she is seeking someone to fill a hole their spouse has left, have an honest conversation about the matter. Then, based on that information, you might decide to permanently, or temporarily, end the relationship.” says Williams.
10. Do realize that widowers can make wonderful partners.
“Sometimes there isn’t the bitterness that divorce can entail and sometimes there is a chance for their significant other to express that they want them to find love again,” says Safran.
Losing someone is always hard, but losing a spouse is a profound experience that effects much more than your single status. With the loss of a loved one, a whole life can change. When dating someone who’s a widower, respect the loss they’ve experienced and the changes they may have went through or may still be going through. But also respect yourself. It may be that you have a wonderful relationship with a wonderful person ahead of you, or it may be that your time with this person is another chance to grow.