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What Are the Dangers of Dating Too Soon After the Loss of a Spouse?

by Arlin Cuncic

As widower Abel Keogh notes in the article, "Ten Dating Tips for Widows and Widowers," new love interests in your life "shouldn't have to compete against a ghost." The dangers of dating too soon after the loss of a spouse include not having grieved properly, making comparisons, and coping with judgment from family and friends. If the loss of a spouse is due to divorce rather than death, there can be the added dimension of bitterness and emotional turmoil caused by the breakup of the relationship. Dating again requires emotional stability and a willingness to be open to a new relationship -- critical components that often only develop with time.

Feelings of Guilt

Keogh describes his experience on a first date after the death of his wife, saying that "The first time I went to dinner with another woman, I felt like I was cheating on my late wife. As we entered the restaurant, I was filled with feelings of guilt and betrayal." Keogh notes that it took five dates before the feelings of guilt subsided. If feelings of guilt are overwhelming when out with a new partner, it could mean that you are not yet ready to date again.

Still Grieving

Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of Washington and author of the article "Looking to Find New Love?" at AARP.org, suggests that those who are still grieving the loss of a spouse are not yet prepared to date. A partner still distraught by grief may latch on to a new relationship prematurely out of desperation for love and physical contact. She may spend a lot of time talking about her late spouse or making comparisons between the new partner and her husband. Keogh agrees, suggesting that therapy may be a better alternative to embarking on a new relationship, if grief is severe.

Stigma and Criticism

In the "Psychology Today" article "Love After Death: The Widow's Romantic Predicaments," Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at the University of Haifa, suggests that widows and widowers may face stigma and criticism from family and friends when dating someone new. You may be judged for dating too soon -- and your new partner may be given the cold shoulder. Ben-Zeév notes that the spouse left behind is often in the unique position of still loving the lost partner but also wanting a new relationship. The ability to both "let go and hold on" comes at different times for everyone, and you need to be strong enough to stand up to those around you who pass judgment.

Bitterness and Anger

If the loss of a spouse is due to divorce rather than death, you may still be coping with bitterness and anger towards your former partner -- particularly if the split was not amicable. Dating too soon after this type of loss is a recipe for disaster, notes Schwartz. If the partnership ended in abandonment, you may also fear getting close to someone new. Losing a partner to divorce can be just as traumatic as losing someone to death -- without the same level of support from family and friends. Make your emotional stability priority -- over and above any new dating opportunities.

About the Author

Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.

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