Does Time Really Heal a Grieving Spouse’s Pain?

Does Time Really Heal a Grieving Spouse’s Pain

My boyfriend of 6 months suddenly broke up with me. He’s a widower. His wife had been gone 10 months when we started dating. I was not the first woman he dated, but this is the longest relationship he had since she died. He talked about her openly and I was very understanding that he will have love for her forever. After all, they have a child together (he is 8 years old). I let him lead, especially for the big milestones in the relationship. It was his idea for me to meet his son and his brother. He also met my sons.

A trip with him to visit his late wife’s grandmother put him over the edge. He came back and called me to say that he wanted his old life back and even though I was the one he wanted for the rest of his life, he just couldn’t. He didn’t know when he would be ready or if he was ever going to be ready. He also started cleaning out “her room” that I never realized needed to be taken care of.

My friends think that he just needs time and he will call. I’m not so sure. I know that if he really wants to, he will call. But if he calls and wants to get back together, should we try again? I would be afraid that his grief will get the best of him again and the same thing will happen. I fell hard in love with him. He was finally the one who showed me how a woman deserves to be treated. Does a man who breaks your heart ever deserve a second chance?


My father passed away only weeks after my parent’s 30th anniversary.

He was 53. My mother was 51. I was 26.

My father was my best friend, but I wanted my mother to move on and find love again. The way I saw it, she could have another thirty-year relationship that was just as meaningful as the one with my Dad.

She moved out of my childhood home after six months. Too many reminders. Too much grief. She ended up in a duplex townhouse twenty minutes from where I grew up. She didn’t date at all.

Your widower ex WANTED to be ready, but wasn’t. That’s not your fault. That’s not his fault. That’s grief for you.

Three years later, she moved to Florida, as Jews do. She always wanted to live there, but my Dad’s business prevented it. Now, she was free to reinvent herself in one of those 55+ communities with the cookie cutter houses, the clubhouse, and the big pool.

Within her first couple of years there, she met a man named Mike. Mike had retired from his longtime job to spend more time with his wife, only to see her pass away shortly thereafter. Jobless and wifeless, he moved to Florida to reinvent himself.

He met my Mom while he was walking his Labrador retriever. Mike wasn’t a conventionally handsome man — overweight, bald, big white mustache — but he was an old-school gentleman in a way that my father never was. He opened doors. He carried the heavy grocery bags. He cooked and did the dishes. He doted upon my Mom. And even though she wasn’t that attracted to him from the outset, Mike killed her with kindness. They got married. They sold their separate homes and moved in together. Both kept photos of their former spouses interspersed with photos of their children. Neither expected to forget or replace them; they were just two nice people looking for a second chance.

The reason I tell this story, Kim, is not because it’s universal, but because it’s personal.

My mother wasn’t able to even consider another man for nearly five years.
Mike probably proposed to my Mom within a year of his wife’s passing.

Both are valid ways to cope. Very often, you don’t know how you’ll react to a situation until you’re in it. Sounds to me like your widower ex WANTED to be ready, but wasn’t. That’s not your fault. That’s not his fault. That’s grief for you.

As to whether he calls and wants to get back together one day, I think this is a pretty open and shut case:

Give him a second chance and see how things develop instead of protecting yourself in a cocoon of fear.

You go live your life without him. Date. Sleep around. Fall in love. Do what you have to do. You may get lucky. You may not. It’s the nature of dating. But certainly don’t wait around for him.

And if/when he calls to rekindle things, know that if he’s a good man, he’s doing so with the best of intentions. If you’re available, give him a chance to prove himself again. Dating him doesn’t guarantee he’ll want to marry you, nor should you guarantee you’ll want to marry him. But to be closed to him because his heart was temporarily closed to you? That’s short sighted and spiteful.

Give him a second chance and see how things develop instead of protecting yourself in a cocoon of fear.

P.S. My Mom and Mike didn’t last. Nice guy; not the right guy for her. I saw it before she did, but she had to experience it for herself. She is now living with someone else in what she calls her happiest relationship yet (sorry, Dad!)

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  1. 1
    Donna Cash

    “…she moved to Florida, as Jews do.  ”    I love this!

  2. 2

    The death of a spouse is the number one stressor that you can experience in your life, along with the death of your child. It must be an incredibly rough experience, and some people need many years in order to heal. Unfortunately, people don’t know beforehand how long the mourning process will take. It’s a cyclical process, and during one of his lighter moments he probably thought he was ready to take the next step after meeting you.   I am so sorry that you are going through heartbreak after opening up to a man who was deserving of your affections. Evan is right in that you should probably go on with your life and after your own mourning period to start meeting men again. You can hope he comes back, and that is not impossible,  but my experience is that the people you would gladly welcome back in your life are the ones who disappear on a permanent basis. I wasted years in my twenties, where dating is supposed to be as easy as falling off a log,  waiting for a man who was amazing in many ways to cut to the chase, get over his departed girlfriend  and choose a life with me only to see him after a few years start afresh with a new woman. He didn’t mean to use me in any way or to waste my time, that’s just the way it went. I could have made him just as happy as the woman that came later, but the timing was off.  He just posted a photo on Facebook with his wife painting Easter eggs with their adorable daughter. I, on the other hand, am revamping my Okcupid profile and perusing Evan’s blog for motivation. I have a rule that I only get serious with men that have left their past relationships firmly in the past, because i have no wish to end up in the same situation again.

    1. 2.1
      Emily, the original


      I have a rule that I only get serious with men that have left their past relationships firmly in the past, because i have no wish to end up in the same situation again.

      That’s a good rule and seems very reasonable and logical, but people can think they are over a past relationship and really still be hung up on it. And you can’t really find that out until you get to know the person fairly well. Some people can seem fine but still be mourning a love from yearS ago. Or hold up one person from their past as some kind of standard with whom he/she is comparing everyone else.

      1. 2.1.1

        Most people hurting from past relationships give clues pretty quickly.   You just have to pay attention and protect yourself  when the clues are presented.   You have to decide on the best course of action whether it be walking or more observation while guarding your heart.   People still in pain from past relationships are high risk and there are lots of people in that boat in the mid-life dating pool.   That’s the lesson I learned.

        1. Malika

          The mentionitis manifests itself very early on, often within the first couple of dates. They often don’t realize they are still hurting or are in deep denial, but they cannot help themselves. I find the risk so high of it crashing, that i would call it a certainty. It becomes very clear they are not focusing on you, and i therefore break things off asap, before i become the listening ear/ego boost that invests a lot and gets crumbs in return.

        2. Clare

          Haha! Sorry Malika, I know your situation is not funny, but the “mentionitis” cracked me up!


          I once dated a guy for a few weeks before he phoned me up one night at about 2 am, drunk, and started opening up about the girl he used to be engaged to and how that relationship broke up. I ended it right then and there without too many hurt feelings.

    2. 2.2

      “Mentionitis”    too funny!   I wish I could say that I didn’t know what that means but unfortunately, I know exactly what that means.

      I had one gf who mentioned way too much about the guy before me that she was still hurting from.   She told me about all the great sex they had, about their first date, etc, etc, etc… I just listened like a good friend would thinking I was doing the right thing until she did a sudden 180 and bolted.   Never again.   Like another blogger says, the moment, and I mean the very moment you find out that s/he’s not over the ex, it’s code red and time to bail.

      1. 2.2.1
        Emily, the original

        She told me about all the great sex they had, about their first date, etc, etc, etc…

        Yuck. TMI. Why would a new prospect want to hear all that?

        I dated a guy for several weeks before I heard the “Let me tell you about the girl I used to love” story. He hadn’t mentioned this woman up until that point, and the relationship had ended years ago. What are the red flags for that? When I met him, he had three months earlier broken up with a girlfriend of one year, but he seemed completely over that by the way he talked about it, so him being hung up on a past girlfriend didn’t seem like something I needed to worry about. It’s hard to know there’s another ghost from the distant past lurking the closet.

  3. 3

    To add to the comment about people processing grief differently, I’m sure it has a lot to do with personality but perhaps the way in which the death came about also affects the survivors.   A sudden, horrifying death through an accident is very different from a long-standing illness like cancer.   Neither is easier or more/less painful but the latter does provide time to accept the inevitable and process the pain.

  4. 4

    I agree everyone is different and you cannot really put a time on when someone is ready to move on.   As you said, the guy she was seeing seems to have genuinely felt ready to move on, but found out he was not.   It has nothing to do with her.   She needs to move on and look for someone else.    He may never come back to her, not be ready to move on for ten years, or meet someone else. She cannot put her life on hold.   Sometimes relationships are about good or bad timing as much as they are about actual compatiblity.    My Aunt who lost her husband suddenly in a car accident at age 50, has never dated anyone seriously and has no desire to do so, it’s been 12 years.   They had no children together and were together 10 years.   My best friends Mom lost   her husband to cancer and it was not sudden she was also in her 50s and started dating a year later.    Often times people will date to try to fill a hole, the grief hold, except that is only a temporary fix and never works.

  5. 5

    “Does time really heal …?” Yes. It’s not just time though, it’s the events. Normal problems, like figuring out how to coexist with this person in front of you, takes your mind off abnormal problems.

    But 11 months might be too soon. It might take a couple years.

  6. 6

    I had a very similar experience as Kim.   I had been a widow for 5.5 years and he a widower for 3.5 years when we met. We dated for two years and were making plans to blend our homes and our lives with a commitment to marry.   His adult daughter encountered a medical crisis and he found himself grieving his wife all over again as he was certain if she were alive she would have the solution to this crisis. He couldn’t even face me to explain why he ended the relationship…he did so in an email.   I often wonder if the outcome of our relationship might have been different if he hadn’t had that triggering event…although, it would likely have been triggered by something else eventually.

  7. 7

    Everyone processes grief differently. I was a relatively young widow (38) when my husband passed away from a two year battle with cancer. I wasn’t ready to share my life with someone for many years, and ten years out still looking for the next great love chapter. His heart is clearly broken for her and for you. Love yourself and send him love and let him do his processing. You never know what the future will hold, but he may be the one who gives you the blueprint for recognizing the love of your life.

  8. 8

    Some bereaved people feel a lot of guilt when they get involved with someone new. Its not logical   (their spouse, sadly, is dead) but they feel they “shouldn’t ” be happy and can end up self-sabotaging.

    It sounds like this man is trying to move on with his life but not being entirely successful. He is also likely to be very emotionally drained by the death, dealing with his young son etc..etc.. and may be “running on empty” emotionally. It may simply be too difficult for him to give of himself to amother person right now.

  9. 9


    First off, please know I am so sorry you had to experience this. Except for our age ranges and the time since the wife died, your story is an exact parallel of mine. My widowers wife died 2 1/2 years ago, I met him a year or so after she died and he was very attentive, seemed very eager to make me a part of his life. Was worried about being a sort of rebound so I read everything I could get my hands on about widowers and he had all the right signs of someone ready to date again. Over time, he seemed to become more emotionally unavailable but for a while it was hard to pin down because he was traveling a lot at this time. When he was here, I was the center of his world but ceased to exist the minute he left. Things came to a head last weekend and I called him on his behavior, expressed my hurt and will likely never hear from him again. I suspect he overlapped me with a new woman, one he won’t have to commit to for a while. In both our cases, things reached a point where these guys needed to commit and they cannot or will not. Kim there is absolutely nothing you could’ve done to keep this from happening so do not blame yourself.

  10. 10

    Evan, I want to thank you so much for answering my question!

    After he ended things, I got back out there. I have been reading your blog for about a year now so I knew what I needed to do.  I revamped my Match profile, bought a 6 month subscription started emailing guys, a few a day.

    3 weeks later, he got in touch with me.

    While he was in Florida (I was not with him), he met with a widow friend and her widower neighbor. He was telling them about me and THEY told him that I probably wanted to move to the next level. Them telling him that caused him to spin his thoughts out of control of blending families, marriage etc. I NEVER, EVER led on to any of that and he agreed with me. My lease ended on my apartment and the thought of moving in together never crossed my mind and I had a new place secured before I even told him about my lease ending.

    He thought ending things would make him feel better but it made him worse.

    We are back together and have agreed to have better communication. He is telling me when he is struggling and I am supporting him however he needs.

    I have no idea where this relationship will go.   For now, we are enjoying each others company, spending what free time we have together, starting to meet family and friends. Almost 9 months together, I am happy with where we are at.

    1. 10.1

      And for those of you wondering, his late wife died of cancer. She was sick/in remission for several years. She was in her mid 30s.

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