Feeling Second Best When Dating a Widower

Gabrielle Applebury
Senior couple eating breakfast

It is a completely normal reaction to feel second best when dating a widowed partner. When dating someone who has experienced the loss of their partner, it's important to check in with your own emotional process often and ensure that the relationship is the healthiest choice for you.

What You May Be Feeling

You may be experiencing a range of emotions throughout the dating process with some emotional intensity depending on how invested you are in the relationship. It is normal to feel jealous, anxious, scared, competitive, angry, and saddened. You may feel guilty and upset that your partner lost someone they loved so much. You may also feel nervous about dating a widowed individual knowing that your actions may be compared to their deceased spouse's. No matter what you are feeling, know that it is normal to have an emotional reaction, whether it's strong, mild, or an all over the place type of feeling in this type of situation.

Why You May Be Feeling Second Best to a Widower

Humans are hard-wired on an evolutionary level to stay alert and aware when it comes to anything threatening. When dating someone whose spouse has passed away, a range of emotions may come up as your body's way of warning you that something may be threatening to your relationship. Relationships are an essential aspect of human survival, so any sort of interference can absolutely cause a slew of emotional reactions, no matter how well the logical side of you understands the situation.

Exploring Your Feelings

It's important to tap into your feelings and explore them in healthy ways, especially if you plan on speaking to your partner and would like to continue dating them. Shoving your emotions down will only cause a stronger, bubbled up reaction down the line and it usually comes up when you least expect it. To get in touch with your feelings you can:

  • Free flow journal and let your mind wander.
  • Speak with a counselor or therapist.
  • Talk to a trusted friend.
  • Join a support group with others in the same situation to help you process your emotions.

Scale Your Emotional Response

Connect with how the emotions show up physically in your body by closing your eyes and letting your emotions wash over you. Note where they come up in your body and how strong they are on a scale of zero to 10. If this becomes too overwhelming, be sure to do a grounding exercise and/or call a trusted friend.

Reframe Your Feelings of Being Second Best

Reframe your thought of being second best by replacing it with a healthier notion. This can include:

  • "I can honor the deceased spouse and still be a great match for my current partner."
  • "I don't need to compare myself to my partner's loved one."
  • "I'm happy my partner experienced such a great relationship with his deceased spouse and I look forward to creating new memories with him/her."

Speaking With Your Partner

When you feel ready to speak with your partner, think about how they will receive what you are planning on saying. Try to word you language kindly and thoughtfully, making sure to think about their potential reaction. Approach the topic from a same team perspective and use a lot of unifying language. Assure them of your feelings for them and try to problem solve together so you both feel comfortable.

Senior Couple Sitting On Sofa At Home

As a couple you can:

  • Decide how to honor the deceased spouse and how involved, if at all, you'll be in doing so.
  • Set boundaries for what is and isn't okay to discuss when it comes to the deceased loved one.
  • Set boundaries for how often you each are comfortable discussing the deceased partner together.
  • Discuss what language feels triggering to either of you and why.
  • Take breaks when needed and discuss this with your partner. Agree on a time to restart the conversation.
  • Continue to talk as needed and work on building trust and better understanding each other's boundaries and triggers when it comes to your partner's deceased spouse.

How to Approach the Topic

Approach discussing your feelings when you are calm and have had time to process. Know that you can always pause the conversation if either of you feels overwhelmed. To begin:

  • Ask if they have time to speak about the subject instead of jumping right in as the topic may feel triggering to them.
  • Share your thoughts with "I" statements and keep your remarks concise if possible so your partner doesn't get overwhelmed.
  • Allow your partner to share without interrupting.
  • Clarify each other's thoughts if anything is confusing.
  • Validate each other's feelings and aim to understand each other.
  • End the conversation with the understanding that this topic will likely come up again and think about concrete ways to begin working on making each other feel comfortable.

Deciding Whether to Move Forward

After speaking with your partner, you may learn information that makes it difficult to imagine being completely happy within the relationship.

Uncomfortable Feelings Are Normal

Your partner may unconsciously or consciously compare you to their deceased spouse, or you may just generally feel uncomfortable knowing certain information. This is normal and is a decision that you will need to make on your own using your instincts.

Keep Expectations Realistic

It's also important to have realistic expectations when it comes to dating someone who has had a partner pass away. It is not totally realistic to expect them to never think about or talk about their deceased loved one, but you are still entitled to feel however you want to feel. The biggest decision for you will be thinking about where your comfort level lies and if the relationship is workable for you.

Senior couple standing at window

Connecting With Yourself and Your Partner

It can feel easier at times to avoid difficult feelings, especially when it comes to ones that feel unpleasant. Understanding your feelings and sharing your thoughts with your partner can help strengthen your relationship and builds trust. In the end it's up to you to decide whether this is the best relationship for you and how you can individually and as a couple set appropriate boundaries regarding your partner's deceased spouse.

Feeling Second Best When Dating a Widower