The Second Time Around

People often ask me if older widowed people should remarry. The obvious answer is yes, of course, if they want to. But sometimes it’s not so easy. Many widows and widowers feel it’s disloyal to their late spouse, and those with grown children may worry about wills, inheritance and so forth. Some are concerned that their children will never forgive them for remarrying and ‘replacing’ the lost parent. All of these feelings are understandable, but they’re just emotions, and, as such, not necessarily rational. If you want to make sure your life is happy, it makes sense to be more rational and a little less sentimental.

Nobody can tell a person to remarry; but nobody should tell him or her not to remarry, either. The point is that the possibility shouldn’t be ruled out. According to, ‘Widows and widowers considering remarriage may face conflicting emotions. Finding love again and remarrying after you’ve lost a spouse can give you a whole new lease on life. You should celebrate this new step and know that you deserve to be happy, but tread lightly in a few areas that may be sensitive. Understand and remind [children and family] gently that all people are different and special in their own right and that remarrying will never make you forget your lost spouse. Assure them you would never expect to replace the person you’ve lost, only to find a different experience and relationship that can bring you happiness in the years ahead.’

I’ll go even further: If you’re a grown adult and your parent wants to remarry, the first thing to remember is that it’s NOT about you. Don’t ever deny happiness to someone you love, and don’t claim to know what’s best for them, either. What if somebody tried to decide for you if you should marry? Few decisions are more important or profoundly personal.

No two relationships are the same. What you gain in one relationship isn’t necessarily what you may gain in a different one. People who are happily remarried often tell me, ‘It’s like apples and oranges. They’re two completely different experiences.’ Sometimes, they even confide, ‘I have more in common with my second spouse and we’re more compatible in some ways.’ Should they feel guilty? Of course not. The fact that you found someone more suited to you in certain respects has nothing to do with the former spouse. They’re two unrelated things, and one can’t allow his or her emotions to mix them together. Happiness in the second love takes nothing away from the happiness in the first one.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to BE in a situation before you can fully understand it. An old friend of mine (whose husband was still alive at the time) was downright condemnatory about her middle-aged friend remarrying after the loss of his spouse of many years. Sadly, not long after her diatribe, she lost her husband. Well, wouldn’t you know it: She’s now dating not one, but two different gentleman, and having a good time. Until you’re in the situation, nobody has any business claiming what’s best for somebody else.

Many times I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t feel guilty about remarrying, but my children don’t approve. I think it might be money.’ I ask the person whether he or she wants to leave their estate to their children or to the new spouse. Usually the answer is, ‘Oh, my children, of course. I’m remarrying for love, not for finances. I want my children to get everything just as they would if I’d never remarried.’ Then the solution is simple: Call your lawyer and get it in writing. And make sure the kids know you’ve done it. There’s no shame in bringing this out into the open. In fact, it’s an effective ‘preemptive strike’ against needless conflict. Money is a perfectly legitimate concern, and it can be reassuring to know there won’t be fights down the road.

Yes, I’m pretty hard on the grown kids in requiring them to accept the remarriage (and the parent’s need for continued happiness). But I also agree with ‘A family’s acceptance of a new marriage doesn’t always happen immediately. ‘ Over time, your children and extended family will get to know your new spouse better, [and] recognize that you are happy’. Good communication is essential to ease the transition when you are blending families together.’ In other words, their initial resistance to your decision to remarry is not necessarily permanent. Just as parents tend to accept what their kids do, once they see it makes them happy, grown kids will do the same, assuming they love their parents in an emotionally healthy way.

Romantic love is one of life’s greatest experiences, and the loss of a spouse is one of the worst tragedies. But how wonderful to be renewed by a new and different love; one that may be just as strong in its own way. It’s not something you want to think about when you’re grieving, and in some sense you will always grieve the lost loved one. But the loss of one love is no reason to lose love altogether.