I have heard the words, I will never marry (or meet anyone) ever again
many times in and out of the counselling room, from bereaved partners and spouses. I understand deeply that this is how they feel. The weight of their grief is so heavy they cannot see even a day ahead in the early days of grief. They are in the here and now each moment, struggling to make it to the end of the day and through the night, certainly not looking ahead to the future. As the weeks, months and years go by, they still feel strongly connected to the person who has died, quite rightly so.
At this point, I always remind myself that the human spirit is more resilient than we imagine, that they will have a future and someone new might be there too. In other words, I see it as my job to hold the hope because there is always hope, even when they feel at their lowest ebb. We human beings are social animals, we like to belong to groups and a family is a group, as is a couple within a family. Being wanted and needed are two human core conditions and they give our life purpose and meaning.
I have noticed that often, men who have been happily married want to be again, and might look to find someone new relatively quickly or a relationship possibility presents itself and is taken up. Being in love can offer a pressure valve for the intense feelings of loneliness in grief, there is nothing wrong with that! It counterbalances the loss.
Women usually (but not always) take longer to feel they are at a point where they might consider or even want a new relationship. Of course, there are those spouses who vow they will never marry again and they don’t, because that is the right decision for them.
What happens when someone enters into a new relationship after a bereavement?
On the one hand, it can be wonderful, it can be a diversion, it can inspire and energise, it might make them feel alive again and it can offer comfort and sex (often sorely missed and longed for). On the other hand though, it can be a confusing time. They might find themselves missing the things their partner used to do or the way they did it (the agonising scene in The Things We Lost In The Fire
, when Halle Berry asks her friend to hold her just ‘so’ and rub her ear the way her husband used to, comes to mind) . They may have a different sexual chemistry. It might be that there are tensions with either partner’s children which make the relationship more tricky. They might like completely different things to the partner who died (eg. she loved going to the theatre and the new girlfriend loves watching horse-racing).
It can feel right whilst it feels wrong. I think this is because when the bereaved meet someone new, they can be wracked with guilt. What does it mean that I have met someone else? Have I left her behind? Am I supposed to forget her? Does it mean I don’t love him anymore? Do I have to keep these feelings secret? Am I betraying him? I feel like a bigamist? I love my wife more than my new partner, is that fair? I am having a life when he won’t ever have that again, I feel so upset for him.
What advice can I offer those embarking on new relationships and the family and friends who support them and love them?
Remember, first and foremost you never know when love will come calling. Love is no respecter of convenience or timing! These things are often out of our hands and in the lap of the Gods (though I accept that internet dating might increase your chances expotentially!)
For those supporting the bereaved, please hold your judgements. The bereaved are often deeply lonely (even in company) and it is normal to want to be in relationship. There is nothing wrong with that, if it is what they want. No doubt you miss their partner too, but try and accept that things will move forward, even if you don’t want them to, (which is particularly difficult for parents-in-law as it can seem like their dead child is being left behind).
To those of you entering new relationships I would say, remember you don’t have to leave your first partner behind, you carry them with you into your new relationship in your heart, in your head and in your memories. In the same way we bring the experiences and memories of childhood into adulthood, so you bring your experiences and love for your partner into your new relationship. Hopefully your new partner will feel no jealousy about that and will be understanding and allow you your moments or days of grief. Because you will still grieve for them that is natural and it is the way of things and I imagine you wouldn’t want it any different.
I remember an elderly man I knew many years ago, who told me he had lost three wives to cancer in his lifetime but he had loved them all very much and they were all completely different personalities. It gave me so much hope that a death does not mean the end of the story, even when we feel it does.
If you are confused about your new relationship and would like to try counselling, you can contact me here.
Photo credit: almighty g0d / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND