Ask Dr. Bob: When Can I Begin Dating

BY: Robert Ballantine, MSW, DCC, D.MIN., LISW-S

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

Dr. Bob, 
After my wife died, I thought that I would never enter into a new relationship with another woman. Now, there are times that I think I would like to go out to lunch or something like that with someone of the opposite sex. Generally, these thoughts are accompanied by feelings of guilt. Is there a period of time I need to wait? What concerns should I have, if any? – Feeling Lonely

Dear Feeling Lonely,
The thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing are normal and natural after the death of a spouse or significant other. Entering into a new relationship can be very scary, especially when thinking about the "D word", (dating). It's a time full of conflicting emotions, fears, and lack of confidence. Although, there is not a specific period of time to wait before entering into a new relationship, there are things that should be accomplished beforehand.

What I have observed in my clients, is that right after the death of their spouse, they can't even entertain the thought of another relationship. For many, this feeling changes as they move further along on their grief journey.

I have noticed that around seven months or so, many of my clients tell me they are not looking for a permanent relationship, but, as you mentioned, it would be nice to go to lunch or a movie with someone. For many, being married or in a significant relationship has been very satisfying and meaningful and they don't want to be single for the rest of their life. Interestingly, age is not a factor in wanting to enter into a new relationship. I facilitated a bereavement group consisting of nine women, all of whom had lost their spouse. Their ages ranged from the mid-thirties to the mid-seventies. Some of the women in their thirties reported that they did not want to ever get married again and some in their seventies echoed this.

On the other hand, there were women in their thirties that definitely wanted to remarry; some of those in their seventies had the same desire.

There are things that you need to work your way through before entering into a new relationship. First, be far enough along on your grief journey that your previous relationship does not bleed into new ones. Second, a phrase I often hear is, "I will never meet another who was like my..." You may never meet someone who is identical to your previous mate, but that doesn't mean you can't meet others who share the same values, common interests, or provide opportunities for new experiences. Don't try to force everyone into the mold of your previous partner; you may miss out on meaningful relationships.

When starting new relationships, practice good judgment. As the bereaved, you can be vulnerable and taken advantage of. You may want to stay away from someone who will not allow you to mention or talk about your previous partner. Both parties should be secure enough in their own grief/past to honor each other's previous relationships. It is not uncommon for some individuals to be looking for a replacement spouse or someone to take care of them. This may not be a role you want to assume. Although people come to bereavement groups for many reasons, they do meet other bereaved there and may end up enjoying a meaningful relationship.

There are many other issues to talk about; dating, telling the children or introducing them to a new relationship, removing the wedding ring, etc. Talking with a grief counselor can help you sort out these legitimate concerns.

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