Relationship Advice

"Listen to their words, observe their actions": Here's how to best approach things if you're dating a widower

Knowing yourself and respecting their past are essential for this love to grow.

By Mark Brook
While scrolling through Facebook, Susan notices a photo of a woman exchanging wedding rings with Susan's husband, John.
Though they've never met, Susan knows the woman's face well. After all, there are pictures of her throughout the home she and John share.
While she struggles to admit it, Susan often feels like she's living in the woman's shadow. Why shouldn't she? The woman is John's first wife, Bethany, who died five years ago.
Since falling in love with John, Susan has tried to make room in her marriage for memories of Bethany, but it's far from easy.
"Building relationships can be a daunting experience at the best of times, but when it involves a widower it can be fraught with its own unique set of emotional obstacles," psychologist and couples counsellor Annie Gurton says.

Timing is everything

While grief has no time limit, Annie says if a widower isn't ready he risks being overcome by feelings of guilt.
"In most of these cases, the key to starting a successful future relationship is timing," she says.
If he has already been dating and talks about wanting to find love again, he's probably ready for a relationship. But if it's only been a matter of weeks or months, you may encounter raw grief from him, and resentment and concern from his family and friends.
"Friends and family can sometimes feel that he's not ready for love, or that she was so special nobody else could take her place," Annie says. "Even when they're supportive and happy to see him in a loving relationship again, there will always be a part of his life that didn't include you."
While acknowledging his late wife is important, make it clear that you're not trying to replace her or erase her memory. You are your own person and, over time, should be accepted as a valuable, loving partner.
"If you do encounter a difficult time from his friends and family, have patience – hopefully they will come around," Annie says.

Protect your heart

In many ways, dating a widower is no different to courting any other partner.
"Everyone comes with some baggage, whether it's through divorce or death," Annie explains.
As with any new relationship, protect yourself by taking things slowly and, if possible, discuss the ups and downs with friends who have experienced a similar situation.
"To find love, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable – and that exposes you to the possibility of being hurt. But without taking that risk, love will never come," Annie adds.

Warning signs to watch out for

While he can't be prevented from thinking about her, take care if you sense his late wife still has a strong presence in his heart. Any successful union requires both people involved to make the other person the centre of their universe. So if a widower is letting his late wife come between the two of you, it could be time to move on.
"Worrying signs include not wanting to introduce you to his family and friends, and not expressing his feelings to you," Annie explains.
To be sure there's room in his heart for a new relationship, listen to his words and observe his actions.
If he's ready and well-adjusted, he will make you his future and therefore a priority, and resist living in the past.
"If he says the right things, makes you feel safe and is kind and considerate, chances are he means what he says. This is how you tell whether any potential suitor – widowed, divorced or bachelor – is ready to commit to a relationship," Annie says.

Respect his history

As your relationship grows, accepting that another woman will always be in his memories can be difficult. But it's important to respect his past and the connection his adult children, family and friends still have to her as well.
"They will never forget her, and you shouldn't want them to, but that doesn't mean she has to be discussed daily or that her mementos and photos adorn every wall in the house," Annie says.
With sensitivity and tact, it's possible to find ways to talk about his late wife while ensuring you both feel safe and comfortable with the topic.
"Every so often, ask about how she would have handled special events, such as family birthdays and Christmas," Annie says. "You don't want to become her ghost and do everything the way she did, but showing some interest keeps his past from being a forbidden subject."
It can also be helpful to reach an agreement on how you will both manage significant dates.
"Know that the worst time for him is probably the anniversary of her death, but Christmas, birthdays and holidays can be equally as difficult," Annie explains.
"Give him and the family space at those times, and offer your condolences, but also think of ways to build your own new memories and occasions together."

Famous widowers who’ve found love again

TV and radio star Rove McManus, 43, began dating his now wife, actress Tasma Walton, 43, one year after his first wife, Belinda Emmett, died of cancer.
Actor Pierce Brosnan, 63, married American journalist Keely Shaye Smith, 53, 10 years after his late wife, Cassandra Harris, lost her battle with ovarian cancer.
Aussie cricketer Glenn McGrath, 47, and interior designer Sara Leonardi, 35, tied the knot two years after the death of his first wife, Jane.