Some people, even after a happy marriage, start looking for a new mate fairly soon. Others choose to remain single. There’s no right or wrong decision.
And then there’s the guilt. “When someone you love has died, “you still love them,” says Becky Aikman, author of “Saturday Night Widows,” a memoir about how research findings on grief helped her move on after the death of her husband.
Researchers have found people who remarry after a spouse’s death report less depression and a greater sense of well-being and life satisfaction than those who don’t remarry, says Camille Wortman, professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, in New York, whose research focuses on grief.
“Men lose more when a spouse dies,” says Dr. Wortman. Wives often watch over their husbands’ health and tend to take care of more of the housework. Because men often have fewer friends than women, wives are typically their husbands’ main social and emotional outlet.
Over the years, various studies have shown men are more likely to seek out a new relationship, and to do it sooner, than women, Dr. Wortman says. She offers findings from various studies: In the first year after a spouse’s death, 54% of men have a sexual relationship, compared with 7% of women. By 25 months after a spouse’s death, 61% of men had a new relationship, versus 19% of women, and 25% of men had remarried, versus 5% of women.
Men have more opportunity. Because women live longer, widows outnumber widowers. Yet men who are most likely to look for a new mate were more emotionally reliant on their partner, Dr. Wortman says.
“They don’t want to replace him,” Dr. Wortman says. Studies show widows also are wary of losing their freedom and having to care for another husband.
Wondering if it’s time to move on after losing your spouse? Here are some points to keep in mind from Terri Orbuch, social psychologist, research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and author of “Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.”:
- There is no set timeline for moving on. Some people need a lot of time to grieve. Others are ready to date pretty soon. Only you will know what is right for you.
- Ask yourself: Am I ready to trust somebody again? And am I ready to care about another partner?
- Your children may not be thrilled that you want to meet someone. But if you’re happy and balanced, you’ll be a better role model and a happier person overall. Talk to your children, no matter their age. Tell them why you are dating. Explain no one will ever replace their other parent. Reassure them that you will be safe and cautious.
- You don’t have to let go of your positive feelings about your spouse and marriage. You aren’t looking to replace that person. Your spouse was unique. If you take that as a given, you can move forward.
- Cope with the loss itself: Talk with others. Join a support group. Join a special activity group to meet others and do things that matter to you.
- Stay hopeful and optimistic. Remember, you can and will find love again. You are never too old. Don’t let yourself feel pressured to make decisions you aren’t comfortable with.
- We change our values and needs as time goes on, and especially after the loss of a spouse. Identify your needs and desires, and what values are important to you. Identify what you want in a new mate.
- Think about what you liked and disliked in your first partner to help define what you want. If you know what you are looking for, you’ll be more likely to find that person.
Sources: The Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2014, Becky Aikman, author of “Saturday Night Widows,” and Terri Orbuch: Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship
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