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HOW TO SUCCEED WITH A WIDOWER

The 60+ woman who is looking for a partner is likely to be a widow looking for a widower. Women have a longer life expectancy, and they tend to marry men older than themselves. In consequence of this age disparity, there are slightly more than 2½ single senior women for every available senior man.

If you are a widow or divorcee who is dating a widower, you probably know that because of these odds there’s a certain fragility to your pairing. Both of you may be working to move past attachments, disappointments, or grief, as well as the inevitable flood of memories that can impede progress toward mutual contentment. I say “working” because building a relationship is indeed hard work that must be shared by two. Nurturing a relationship is challenging at any age, but some hurdles to satisfaction are unique to 60-plus couples, especially when widowhood is involved. How to cope, grow, build trust, and come out a winner with a widowed senior man?

ALLOW HIM TO EMBRACE HIS PAST (AND EXPECT HIM TO DO THE SAME FOR YOU)

Allowing a man to talk about his loss will go a long way to building trust – such open conversations happen in healthy partnerships. A man’s loving memories of his late wife can actually make possible fresh and powerful feelings for you. Conventional wisdom has it that the best candidate for re-marriage is someone who’s been exceptionally happy – and fully in love – before. Why? Because such a person has the habit of loving and giving, and because he has opened his heart in the past.

HANDLE CHILDREN / SIBLINGS / FRIENDS WITH CARE

It may take time for his family and friends to accept you. They may worry you’ll be a replacement, and that his memories of his wife will fade. Sexual intimacy with you may seem to them like betrayal. Attitudes like these usually fade with time, but some offspring are never reconciled. They may actively work to destroy their father’s happiness. If you have given his children time and space to grieve and if you have behaved in their presence with respect and dignity, their failure to accept a new reality is not your fault. I hesitate to call this selfishness and / or narrowmindedness, but whatever it is, it’s a function of their character makeup. You can try to wait them out, but if he remains unwilling to defend you and the relationship you will never find contentment, because he will not be fully committed.

BE REASSURING WHEN SEX DISAPPOINTS

Senior men worry about loss of potency; senior women worry about losing their looks. When a man fails to perform as he’d like to, both partners lie awake worrying – he about losing his manhood, she about being insufficiently sexy. I don’t have to tell you how sensitive this situation is. It may be that a man is feeling guilty about sex with someone who is not his lost wife. It may be that he fears being compared to your previous lover. He may be out of practice and think he’s too old for sex (multiple studies show that men in their 80’s are doing just fine). Patience and understanding are important, but don’t overdo it by quoting Psychology Today articles about erectile dysfunction. If after several tries he is unable to maintain an erection, it may be that he should see a doctor (he won’t want to, and will need gentle encouragement). Meanwhile, joint counseling will help to convince you both that penetration is not the only means to achieve enjoyable sex.

BE FAIR (BUT NOT TOO FAIR) ABOUT CHERISHED MOMENTOS

Like you, he has cherished mementos. Many of these are tied to his life with his wife. Being sensitive to your widower’s need to have some of her things in his environment is important, but there are limits. Her favorite oil painting? Yes. Her cookbook collection? Yes. Her clothes and jewelry? No. And, believe it or not, more than one disappointed woman has complained to me that years (in one case a decade!) after losing his wife a man has unapologetically maintained a large framed portrait of a wife over the fireplace — or (worse) in the bedroom.

DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO HIS LOST WIFE

Comparisons are normal, unless they feed insecurities. Whatever your predecessor’s accomplishments were – a great cook, a community leader – it’s unnecessary and unwise to make comparisons. If you have good reason to suspect that he admires you for being a replica or clone of his late wife, you’re heading for hard times, and you may even have to decide he’s not the man for you. On the other hand, if he consistently demonstrates appreciation of your unique and special qualities, both of you benefit.

ACCOMMODATE GRIEF EPISODES, BUT SET BOUNDARIES (GRACEFULLY)

The anniversaries of her death, their wedding anniversary, her birthday, or special holidays may not be grief-free. When they are acknowledged with joyful memories, they can be healing. Trips to the cemetery can be made together, sharing whimsical stories about a former spouse or partner can be a natural part of conversation. Your partnership will be healthy when neither of you has to tiptoe around displays of grief or references to happy times with someone who is gone forever. I am speaking here of brief and temporary episodes, not constant references to the past with lost spouses.

BUILD A MEMORY BASE

Memories that are special only to the two of you will not obliterate previous remembrances, but they will be independent of them. Visit places neither of you have seen before. Shape holiday celebrations in a way that honors the past but incorporates the fresh approach. Sleep together on a new mattress. Enjoy ethnic cuisine neither of you have ever tried. Shared memories are the bedrock of a healthy, happy relationship. A memory base is the quickest and most effective way to turn the man you’re dating into the man you’re sharing your life with. Memories, as they grow in number, create a mutuality that is truly yours and his.

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'HOW TO SUCCEED WITH A WIDOWER' have 11 comments

  1. November 15, 2017 @ 12:29 pm Sienna

    Gail – Your excellent, well-expressed comment addresses some universal issues (thank you!). The departed wife photo next to the bed; it’s a ve-e-ery strange but persistent problem too many women encounter. Choosing the kids over you? Some men fantasize complete integration into the lifestye of their families, expecting way more interaction than they’re going to get. Young families, even those most devoted to grandpa, are busy these days. As to dating younger men? Why not? I like your optimism and your resilience. By all means, keep looking. The right man is out there waiting for you.

  2. November 15, 2017 @ 1:19 am GailSusan

    Ah, the framed photo of his wife looking straight at us every time we made love. I could not believe it. I was only able to get it down when he was preparing his home for showings. Unfortunately, that was in preparation for a move out of state to be close to his children and grandchildren. Still he promised a life growing old together. We had love, great sex, laughter, and he was my best friend. We could talk about anything with each other with no judgment. The move out of state spelled the end to the relationship. He met someone local. I know it’s not as good as the relationship we had together, because we talk and reminisce about it. Two months after he left I had a fling with a younger divorced man just to feel loved and desirable again. That didn’t last of course, but it boosted my self-esteem. Long time divorced guys are really good at romance, lots of practice. It’s been a year now. I’m 64 years old. I’m still on the dating site where I met both guys, but haven’t met anyone who interests me yet. I’m open to widowers and divorced men, the widowers have their grief baggage and the divorced guys have commitment baggage, but sometimes it all comes together. Lord, let me fall in love one more time. It feels so good!

  3. October 23, 2017 @ 7:39 am Sienna

    Lorikeet – You are so right that a significant number of men, impelled by guilt, seek to end a new relationship that could be fulfilling. Sometimes it’s hard to determine this early on, but your second warning — learning the kids’ attitudes — can be detected after very little time has elapsed. Sometimes these two factors are present, so it’s double trouble ahead.

  4. October 12, 2017 @ 4:41 am Lorikeet

    A widower who showed interest in me suddenly withdrew his attention. It was almost as if he felt guilty for liking someone new. Sometimes when someone is dying, they selfishly demand that their spouse remains loyal to them for the rest of their lives. I have heard of some dying men who start winding their wives up with guilt as to who might be bonking them after they have died. It was not long ago that men in India had their wives burned alive on their funeral pyres.

    I think it may be important to find out quite early whether or not a widowed man or woman has made promises to a dying spouse, and what those promises entail.

    If the person you have been dating for some time is not relaxed about having you meet his friends and family, I suggest giving the person the flick. Similarly if he sides with his children against you, your relationship has the kiss of death.

  5. October 27, 2016 @ 8:56 pm Sienna

    Rosie – I’m so sorry you had this disappointment. It’s difficult at this time in our lives to let go of what seemed to be a good thing. I truly hope you will find happiness with someone who has the courage and sensitivity to commit to stand up to negative children and others. Thank you for your comment.

  6. October 23, 2016 @ 12:53 am Rosie D

    I just ended a 4 year relationship with a widower. We enjoyed every second together, including solving word puzzles, dancing, bowling, swap meets, traveling and just being together. He even enjoyed my cooking. So why is this great relationship over? His lack of support for me & our relationship with his (correctly described) selfish grown children & hurtful neighbors.

    The article states, “You can try to wait them out, but if he remains unwilling to defend you and the relationship you will never find contentment, because he will not be fully committed.” I put out much effort & waited it out for needed changes. We had many discussion about the issues & it being his responsibility to handle. However, he never fought for me or US. You know & I know that 4 years was too long to finally admit that I was in a failed relationship. Don’t invest more time when you know the issues will never change.

  7. October 14, 2016 @ 8:47 am Beatrice

    I read Tilly’s comment and I found a soul sister. The first date I had with this man he showed me his wife’s photo and it was uphill after that. His kids were polite to me but were always saying things like Remember the time you and Mom did (whatever)? He didn’t like my cooking because he said he wasn’t use to it (I am an ethnic cook, but still). I am not seeing him anymore because what’s the point. He wouldn’t go to a musical or even a concert because they reminded him of how she liked to go to them. She was in bed with us, too, I suspect, although he never called me by her name or anything. Even after 5 years he was still crazy in love with her.

  8. October 13, 2016 @ 11:03 am Karen Alice

    I have been dating a man for about 3 years who is still in grief mode. We rarely have an evening alone when he doesn’t mention her. It’s not that he idolizes her, it’s just that she was so important in his life and he is also tied to her family in a big way. I think he loves me but he is preoccupied in a way that is as you say an impediment to cementing the relationship. It also affects our sex life, which is off and on.

  9. October 13, 2016 @ 9:26 am WillyB

    Here I go again telling women to just relax. Men don’t like to be pressured into getting married the way most women do.

  10. October 13, 2016 @ 9:04 am Elizabeth B.

    Sienna, I read your stories about erectile dysfunction and they help. Sex problems are always there in most senior relationships.

  11. October 13, 2016 @ 8:27 am Tilly

    OMG – I hadone of these men who want to use you to replace their wives. He was always telling me that her food tasted “different” and I should try a certain spice and he acted weird if we ran into one of his or her friends. It was too spooky. I left and I guess he went looking for another candidate.


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