Dating A Widow or Widower: FAQs

Valentine’s Day is this week. (If you’re looking for help coping with the day, we have some posts for you right here.) With this Hallmark holiday upon us, we’re going to address a topic that we have yet to tackle in the over 500 articles we have here on WYG.

As the title of this post suggests, we’re referring to topics related to dating after the death of a spouse or partner. We’ve been slow to write about this subject in the past because, well, it’s COMPLICATED. Dating is complicated. Grief is complicated. Swirl those together and things can get pretty messy.

That said, we receive lots of questions in our email asking questions related to new relationships after experiencing loss and, over time, we hope to have articles addressing all these concerns. Today we’re going to start with a post for a special subset of non-grievers and that is the men and women out there who are dating widows and widowers. If you don’t understand why this article is necessary, I’ll tell you, the majority of emails we receive on this topic are not from widow/widowers themselves, but from the people who are dating them.

Now, as a griever, you might be thinking, “Oh boo-hoo, you’re dating a widow. Life must be so hard for you” and honestly, in the days before we started WYG we may have said the same thing. However, after receiving emails over the years, we have realized that navigating the world of dating a widow(er) is more complicated than it seems.

Our plan for this post is simple, we’re going to give you our two-cent answers for some of the most common questions we receive.  As always, at the end of the article, you will find our wild and wonderful comment section, where we welcome your thoughts and experiences.

Before we jump into the FAQs, it’s a good idea for anyone who cares about a grieving person to have a baseline understanding of grief. So, you may want to start by checking out these posts about grief and then reading this post on how to support someone grieving.


Dating a widow or widower FAQs 

1. I am dating a widow who still displays photos of their late partner in their home. Does this mean they’re stuck? Are they ready to date? Can I ask them to take the photos down?

Actually, we do have a post answering this question, but the conversation bears repeating because this is our most commonly asked question. Read the whole post if you want a more in-depth answer, but here is the quick and dirty – it is 100% okay to display photos of a late-partner in the home. This is especially true if the deceased person is the parent of children who live in or visit the home.

Think about it – people aren’t erased from their families or their family history simply because they have died. Would you think it odd for someone to have a photo of a deceased grandparent, sibling, or child in the home? Most likely not and 9/10 the same rule applies here.  People do not cease to care about loved ones simply because they have died so, no, we would not recommend you ask them to take the photos down.

The Mitch Albom quote “Death ends a life, not a relationship” is true. Their relationship and love for that person will continue and that is normal and healthy (if this is blowing your mind, check out this post on Continuing Bonds Theory).

Photos do not indicate a person is stuck or that they aren’t ready to date. The wonderful and amazing thing about human beings is that we don’t have a finite capacity for love. Grief is about continuing to love someone who has died while also making room for new and amazing things in life. You might be one of those new and amazing things for the grieving person, but that doesn’t mean you are replacing what came before.

Ask yourself: Why am I uncomfortable with the photos? If you are feeling threatened or insecure, you may need to redefine how you understand grief and the relationship deceased loved ones play in the lives of those who mourn them.  Above all else, it will help to understand how your significant other feels about the photos, so consider asking them. Ask them what the photos mean to them and, if appropriate, share how the photos make you feel.


2. I am dating a widow(er) and they are still close to their deceased partner’s family. Is this normal? 

First, let’s be clear, it’s very hard to say what is and isn’t normal in grief. Let’s just say, though, it certainly isn’t abnormal! It’s common to form strong connections with a partner’s family members and it can feel like yet another loss to fall out of touch with these people.

When someone dies, it may be deeply comforting to stay connected with others who also knew and loved them. Sometimes this is simply because a person values the love and support of the family members, and sometimes because they are people you can share memories and stories with. If you skipped that Continuing Bonds post above, now might be a good time to check it out.

Ask yourself: Why are you uncomfortable with the relationship? Do you feel concerned their late partner’s family won’t accept you? Do you feel left out? Is it something else altogether? If you are uncomfortable with the relationship, it is reasonable to express your feelings (you have a right to your feelings, after all). However, in doing so, we recommend you try to keep an open mind about the role these relationships play in your significant other’s life. 


3. I am dating a widow(er) who has children and I am really nervous about meeting them. What can I do to make sure it goes smoothly?

Great question, you thoughtful partner you. First and foremost, if you haven’t discussed your anxieties with your partner, you should. Make sure you are both on the same page about what the kids have been told and how you are being introduced.

What you decide may depend on the age of the children, whether you are the first person the widow(er) has dated (or at least who the kids have met), etc. Younger kids are known for testing adults to make sure their stories are consistent, so being on the same page with language and information is crucial.

Beyond that, be open and take their lead. If there is an opportunity to show your interest in learning about the parent who died, great! Show interest and ask questions, but don’t force it. Always remember that the parent/partner who died is still a member of the family. You aren’t there to replace that person, rather fill a new and different space in the family. The more you can do to convey your understanding of this to the kids, the better.

Finally, read up on the topic of regrief.  At each new developmental stage, kids understand the world in new and different ways. They often start to view their ongoing grief through this new lens and this may also mean revisiting your role in the family. Keep in mind that at major life milestones, kids may feel especially upset that their deceased parent isn’t there and that you are (which is not to say they will view this is as a bad thing). All this is why it is so important to keep an open dialogue with your partner and, if appropriate, their children about their grief.

Ask yourself:  Am I confident enough in the future of this relationship to meet my SO’s grieving children? Am I ready to accept the complicated feelings that might come up for the children? How can I best convey that I am warm and open, that I don’t intend to replace their parent, and that I understand the ongoing role their deceased loved one will play in their lives?


4. I want to be supportive of my significant other on difficult days (the deathiversary, their partner’s birthday, their anniversary, etc). However, they haven’t opened up to me about their feelings, so I don’t know how. If I mention these days, will I remind them of the pain?

Chances are, they haven’t forgotten the significance of these days. Though we always recommend taking the griever’s lead, this is a situation where it may be helpful to proactively offer your support. Ask them if there is anything they’d like to do to honor their loved one on the day and ask them about their anxieties, but make it clear that you are willing to give them space and time for themselves if this is what they need.

Ask yourself: Are you ready to be there for whatever they need (the only thing worse than not offering is not following through)? Will you take it personally if they say they don’t want support and/or need space?


Final Thoughts

If you are struggling as a partner to a widow(er), the biggest question to ask yourself is whether you are truly ready to accept that the person you are dating will, on some level, always love and care about the person who died? Are you able to believe – on an intellectual and emotional level – that their love for the person who died does not take away from the love they have to give to you? And, if you are gentle and open to learning more, you may find their memories and connections to the person make up another wonderful layer of them that you can get to know through stories and memories.

Thoughts, questions, concerns, words of wisdom on this topic? Leave a comment below! 

Read More:

In this post, we answer many of the questions we commonly receive from people who are dating a widow or widower.
February 14, 2019

14 responses on "Dating A Widow or Widower: FAQs"

  1. I was in love with my husband from the time I was seventeen. More importantly, I met my best friend and soul mate when I was seventeen. But there were all kinds of complications and issues. His first wife died when I was twenty, which I was sad to hear because I had been fond of her. He was devastated, and his knee jerk reaction to his loss was to start dating me six weeks later. He was older than I was, but that was never an issue. Things were really great, I thought. But he had some unrealistic expectations – thinking “I was married and was happy. I’ll get married and be happy”. I knew it was way too soon for him to be thinking that way, and the thought of taking on his three kids so soon after they had lost there mother seemed like a really bad idea – especially since his oldest daughter is only four years younger than me! So I did the right thing and we stopped dating, but we stayed best friends and stayed close. Within a year he married a girl a year younger than me who was just trying to move out of her parent’s house. He later told me that he knew on the honeymoon that it wasn’t going to work. But he was married. We actually worked together for several years and then when I was twenty-five I was married to an old boyfriend. Of course, three months after I got married he filed for divorce. Long, long story short, years later when my son was five, I just couldn’t stay in that marriage anymore and my son and I moved in with Tom. Shortly after my divorce was final Tom and I were finally married in late 1988. Our son was born in 1990 and things were really wonderful. At least until just after my older son graduated from high school in 2001. Within a couple of months Tom was diagnosed with very advanced Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He had an incredibly invasive surgery to remove a kidney and clean out as much of the cancer as they could, then he went through a full round of chemotherapy. Things seemed good for awhile. But then the cancer came back. He went through chemo again, then went through the collection of his stem cells to attempt a stem cell transplant. Once that was all set to go, he became an inpatient so they could do the extremely high dose chemo to kill everything in his body before they could reintroduce his stem cells. But something went horribly wrong. His body could not handle the high dose chemo and his organs began to fail. He had to be placed on a ventilator and then had to be sedated. After several heartbreaking weeks in the ICU, I had to make the decision to let him go. He died two weeks after our son turned thirteen, passing away nine days before Christmas. So we were married for fifteen years, but we had been best friends for almost thirty years.

    So, married fifteen years and now a widow for fifteen years. I would absolutely like to believe I could still have a close, loving relationship with another person. I understand that it wouldn’t be the same, but that would not necessarily mean it would be any less. But in fifteen years I have had two spectacularly awful dates, both from online matches. Apparently the world of online dating is pretty darn weird, unless you get lucky and find that one human being that must be out there somewhere. I am retired, I am not a church goer, I am not a bar person, and I am now sixty-four years old. How on earth am I supposed to meet a nice, single, straight man anywhere approaching my age? Is it back to the online dating sites? It seems like you can exchange one or two nice e-mails that way, but then things start to get strange.

    So I have no difficulty dealing with the pitfalls of dating a widower – I have already fine-tuned that skill before. But where, how do I even find a good man who is willing to take a shot with a perfectly good (albeit lonely) woman?

  2. I found the comment above very true: “Everyone means well, but unless they have been there, they will ‘Never’ understand what it is like to lose everything that you have worked your whole life for. ” During 38 years as a pastor, i provided counsel and comfort to widows and widowers. When my wife of 47 years died, I realized that I did not fully understand the grief of losing a spouse. The relationship encompasses every aspect of one’s life.

    I am fortunate to have remarried. Dating again was scary. I never used an online dating program. I only considered someone that I already knew from my social network. Over a year after my wife died, I asked out a widow whose husband had died 18 months before my late wife. I did not know her late husband. She had met my late wife once. We understand that love is not finite. We can love more than one person. I had six grandchildren before remarrying. Now I have seven, as my wife’s daughter had a beautiful daughter after we married. I love her like my other grandchildren. We openly talk about our late spouses frequently, which allows us to discuss events from our entire life, not just the months or years in the new relationship.

    I continue to love my late wife and as well as my present wife. We were very clear from the beginning of our relationship that we were not replacing the previous spouse. We have a gallery of family photos in our home that includes “couple” photos of our previous spouses, our current marriage, and all of our adult children with their spouses. Learning about my wife’s late husband adds depth to our relationship rather than diminishing it.

  3. I have met someone and he acts strange if I mention either of my late husbands. Lost 2.

    I feel like I am supposed to be careful not to refer to either of them.

    I continue to go visit with LH mom so is turning 84 on February 22, 2019. But now feel like I need to sneak around to see her. Which makes me feel sad for him, since I know she would really like him.

    I sent him a copy of the link to this article to see if he’s willing to change the attitude.

    What else should I do???

    • Kerry Catherine HagerFebruary 14, 2019 at 4:43 pmReply

      Find someone else. There are plenty of people who are whole enough to deal with the fact that you are still part of those people and they are still a part of you. The best ones can integrate and make room for the memories of your life with the other people while you make a new life with a new person. You can’t erase or pretend that the last two marraiges and all your development and memories with them did not exsist, nor should you. I’m a widow for now 10 years. I was young with young children and I was very upfront with any man I dated that I would speak of my late husband everyday for my children’s sake and to honor his memory. Not all the memories are good and I talk about those too. The man I am with as my unmarried life partner now 6 years in, was aquainted with my late husband but we didn’t know of each other until 4 years after his death. If you can’t be fully who you are, losses and all, that’s not the right relationship, or try some open discussion about it, maybe they just need to be able to tell you how it makes them feel and you can reassure them that there is no reason to feel jealous or insecure about dead men.

    • Kerry Catherine HagerFebruary 14, 2019 at 5:03 pmReply

      Also, Tammy. I have a close relationship with my late husband’s parents now in their 70s. They are a part of my children’s family. We didn’t rush anything but over time my new life partner has been completely accepted by my late husband’s parents. Infact I think they like him more than me. lol We took the attitude that we can either choose to add relationships to our lives or subtract. We chose to add.

  4. I met who was later to become my wife, when she was just 14 years old and I was 17 years old. They called it “Puppy Love” at that time. When she was 16 and I was 18, we ran away and got married. After 53 years of marriage, she lost her 2 year battle with Pancreatic Cancer.

    How do you continue on with your life, when the love of your life, was your life? Everyone means well, but unless they have been there, they will “Never” understand what it is like to lose everything that you have worked your whole life for. You tried to do everything right, plan for your “Golden Years” only to have these “Golden Years” taken away from you.

    She was stunning at 14, but even more so at 40, 50 and even 60. I loved watching her age, which, like everything else, she did beautifully. I was very surprised that she died. Throughout her illness, I held on to the hope that her treatments could reverse her cancer. By the time her death was inevitable, it was too late to communicate with her properly, except emotionally. I cared for her at home, but there was no way to discuss the future, which loomed like a black hole.

    There is this saying: “You only live, when you find a treasure you would gladly die for.” I would have gladly traded places with my beautiful wife.

    When I look back on our marriage, I remember the intimacy, the inside jokes only the two of us really got. I miss and remembered her hugs, feeling embraced and totally safe; like the whole world was just the two of us.

    My very beautiful wife, soulmate and best friend of 54 years had just turned 68 the month before. When she was diagnosed with cancer, two years prior, I was in a fortunate position to retire and be her full-time care giver for 2 years before she passed away. Throughout our marriage we always had a very close and loving relationship, but the last 2 years brought me even closer to this wonderful and loving human being, as I came to love and admire her tenacity and her courage during her illness.

    I am thinking of trying dating (just wanted to finally do some things that I had missed…wow what a revelation when you are not 18 anymore) and I am trying to find women who aren’t too hung up on the widower thing. I still think about my wife every day- often more than once. I still have her pictures in both of my homes and will “Not” put them away or hide them. If this is a criteria for dating than count me out.

    It seems that the women my age are to hung up on companionship and not a loving relationship. They want to wine, dine and travel, with no emotional or loving commitment. You watch your TV and I will watch mine. You sleep in your bedroom and I will sleep in mine. Am I foolish to still believe in “Love” the second time around or is this companionship the new normal?

    • Your story so close to mine and I now at age 64-65 in May after 37 years marriage with 44 in true love-have no desire for “the game”. Yes it was always a game and still is, only worse-the times have changed so much since “old school” dating game. I imagine the women you talk about are the rule and not the exception. You sound like me in that you experienced a “once in a lifetime love” and frankly that was enough for me. You read some of the stories of widows/widowers trying another go at it out there and they are pretty scary. Especially if you are coming off 30-40 plus years of marriage. I would think if you are in your 40s..maybe early 50s there is a shot. But if you are in your mid 60s? I personally say in my case “game over”. You are too close to if something does work out and you are ready to dive in to only have to go through the grief all over again and why would you want that or to have someone else deal with it? Its alot of work to perfect a “once in a lifetime” and there is a reason why its called such. I will proudly count myself to be one of those. A one and done.

  5. Dating IS complicated. Dating at an age when you expected to be enjoying traveling, grandkids and the fruits of years of hard work..mind-boggling. My husband of nearly 40 years accepted me, “warts and all,” as they say, loved me unconditionally and thought I was beautiful..G-d bless him.
    . To expose myself (perhaps literally) and my fragile sense of self at my current age is beyond daunting..
    But so is spending the rest of my days alone.
    Hard to know what to do. Or where. Or how.?

  6. I am a widow for 3 years.
    I haven’t dated yet, but the guy I have my eyes on knew both me and my husband. I don’t know if that will make it harder for him. On the other hand, I don’t have to explain how important my husband was to me, because he saw it.
    I was a young enthusiastic woman when I met my husband 36 years ago. I worry I have nothing to offer now.
    I have five kids, youngest two in high school. This guy is a younger divorcé with one daughter near the age of my middle child. He knows them all from church. His child lives out of state.
    It makes me both giddy and anxious to think of making a move.

    • Kerry Catherine HagerFebruary 14, 2019 at 5:09 pmReply

      I also worried that I had nothing to offer. I actually asked people what women offered in a relationship other than the obvious physical things. One of the best answers I got was: Balance. One of the best things I did was fill out the eharmony questionaire. Not because I got any matches, I didn’t. But it helped me really take a look at who I was now, after not being widowed. I realized I wasn’t ready to date in a quality relationship until I could answer these things about myself. When you know who you are and what you have to offer- honesty, companionship, laughter, compassion, fun, maybe food, friendship…..you start to realize, these things are priceless. Everyone needs these.

  7. I will start off by simply saying I lost me wife tragically-shockingly and suddenly to state 4 lung cancer that had mets to her brain. We had just retired and had bought our dream retirement home-me 64 and she 62- we moved to be near my daughter and grandchildren-“dream life here we come”! We worked both of us each close to 40 years to get to it. We got ROBBED instead and in June she was given 2 months and on August 9th this wonderful woman/soulmate/anchor/life support/my world and reason to live was gone. Oh yeah why here? Well Valentines Day 1981 we were married- we had 37 years and were cranking to 40-45-50..all the big ones. Well now you know the story-we did not make it and as of the 14th the anniversary clock officially stops at 37 years.Needless to say this month and this day will be my toughest yet as if the holidays weren`t tough enough so soon as it was. Dreading yet another day once so loved and looking forward to. Its only 6 months but I hear/read of many its never going to get better and that I can see. But for now here is my Valentines Day contribution. Sigh.

  8. I am a widow of almost 3 years. Its weird to count that. I love what you said about grief being a part of that relationship, even though our partner is dead. I haven’t started dating, I am just in survival mode. When my husband died, I packed up all of our pics because it was too hard to look at. I took all of our memories and physical stuff and packed them in my basement, and my house was quiet of his voice. But this year I gave myself the opportunity to put out some of his favorite things and a couple of happy pictures. I realize that the “new” me that I am trying to become, is built on he and I in our marriage relationship. I hope that when I do date, i will be able to share good memories without coming off as stuck. Sometimes I think in these days, as humans, we want everything “new”, new emotions, new feelings, new experiences, and that is good too, but we still have baggage and how we handle it , will be the test of a good relationship.

  9. I am a widow and I found dating me is not easy as I want both my own space and someone sensitive but not too sensitive with my loss. So although I met 2 men both acted liked my loss never occurred and both ignored it which made me uncomfortable so either one worked out and turned me away. It has been 7 years and it seems way too complicated to except the fact that for many years I was in a great relationship. Perhaps I am expecting too much

    • Kerry Catherine HagerFebruary 14, 2019 at 5:18 pmReply

      No, you are not expecting too much. Keep the bar high. You are worth it and your husband would not want you to settle. One of the things I did when I started dating was look at a website called beirresistable.com I know that sounds weird, but it had been so long since I dated I didn’t even know how to anymore. It actually really helped me just get to understand what men need from a woman in a healthy way. Develop the new you first, that’s when you have something to offer and you will attract the kind of man who can handle ‘all that and a bag of chips and a tall cool drink of water’ and your past too. All of you.

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