A man whose wife committed suicide may be angry, lonely and searching for answers. According to Phyllis R. Silverman, Ph.D., scholar-in-residence at Brandeis University Women's Studies Research Center, in the "Psychology Today" article "Remembering Fathers Are Also Widowed," men are quicker to date and remarry after becoming widowed than are women -- meaning that you could find yourself in a relationship with a man in this position. "Suicide Survivors," a term discussed by Abel Keogh, whose first wife committed suicide when he was 26, in a blog post of the same title, bring with them much of the baggage that plagues traditional widowers, along with feelings of betrayal and confusion.
Dealing With Anger
The man you are dating may be angry at his wife for committing suicide. He may feel betrayed that she singularly chose to end her life -- a life that they shared together. If there was no reason given for the suicide, he may also be left with unanswered questions, both for himself and from well-meaning family and friends. Although not a healthy thing to do, he may begin dating as a way of getting even with his wife. Watch for red flags that the man you are dating is still working through anger issues, such as his talking a lot about the suicide -- this could impede progress in a new relationship.
In general, men have poorer social and emotional support systems than do women. When a man loses his spouse, whether it is due to divorce or death, he is left without someone with whom he can share his innermost feelings. There is still a societal norm that strong men do not cry and do not show emotions -- and the grieving widower may feel he needs to hide his anguish. Furthermore, a widower with young children may be left to learn how to be a single parent and assume the responsibilities of both mother and father. Bereaved men face many unique burdens that may interfere with successful future relationships.
The most important question that must be dealt with when dating a widower whose wife committed suicide is -- can this man commit to a serious relationship? In order to move on, the widower must be ready to put his feelings for his first wife aside, whether they are good or bad, and focus solely on you. In the first chapter of his book "Dating a Widower," Keogh maintains that many men in this position begin dating as a way to fill a void. They may stay with women they do not see a future with because it feels good to have a companion again. Keogh recommends checking to see if the widower's actions align with his words. If he tells you that he loves you, does he also show you? Does he take the lead in planning dates, has he put away his wife's things, and is he ready to introduce you to family? If not, you may need to take a step back and let him assess whether he is really ready to move forward.
Taking It Slow
Keogh suggests taking things slow with a widower whose wife committed suicide. Do not get into a competition with his late wife because the "ghost will always win." If the widower is not in love with you, he will eventually tire of having to prove his feelings for you. If he just wants sex and someone to talk to, he will force you to speed things up when you try to take it slow. See if he is interested in something long-term by making him work for the relationship. If you find that he is not ready to get serious, then at least you know what to expect. Remember also that widowers have had the wake-up call that life is short. If you are interested in passing time with him while he grieves without any long-term expectations, this is fine -- as long as your eyes are wide open to the reality of the situation.
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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