Reconnecting after a Death or Divorce

Dr. Neill Neill

Again and again I hear from people who are having difficulty with a new relationship in which one of the parties has recently been in a relationship which ended. 

The ending may have come through the death of a partner or a separation.  I define "recently" as during the past year or two. In either case a multitude of emotions will be surfacing.  In either case there will be grief, fear, resentment and anger before it’s over.

The one seeking help or advice is sometimes the person recently bereaved or separated, and sometimes the person who has entered a relationship with someone recently bereaved or separated.

Before going into a discussion of the issue, I must declare that I have been there…  My previous marriage ended suddenly with my wife leaving.  A few months later I had dinner with a colleague to celebrate her getting a new job 300 miles away.  Before the evening was over I knew we were entering a long-term relationship.


Were their problems?  Of course!  But we recognized the issues upfront. She stayed as far away from my divorce as possible.  She gave me time alone to grieve.  We did not want to contaminate our relationship by having it become associated with my divorce or with my inevitable [tag-cat]grieving[/tag-cat] related to that divorce. We must have succeeded, because we just celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary this past summer.

The "smart" thing to have done would have been to wait two years before we got involved.  However, the way Eileen put it was that if we had waited, I probably would have met somebody else and gone off in a different direction.  Or she might have.

If you are involved with or starting to get involved with someone who has recently lost their partner, it may be too late to think about waiting two years.  You may have already bonded. 

If it is too late and you have already bonded, you need to do everything you can think of to make sure you do not become associated in his mind with his ex, the divorce process or with his grieving.  He has to handle those things on his own, and it may take a couple of years.  If you get involved in helping him, and he may well ask you to, then by association you have become part of the loss and part of the problem.

If you are the recently bereaved or separated, be scrupulous about working through your grieving and anger on your own.  Be upfront about your need for time alone. Discuss it with your new partner.  Make sure she understands that your need for time alone has nothing to do with her.  You are not pulling away.  You would much rather be with her than be off fighting the demons related to your loss.  But it is critical that you do fight those demons without her.

Join a group.  Get counselling. Do what you need to do, but above all else resist the temptation to involve your new partner as your therapist or consultant regarding your bereavement. That is a recipe for blowing what could have been a beautiful new relationship.

Psychologist Dr. Neill Neill maintains an active practice on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. He focuses on healthy relationships and life after addictions. He is the author of Living with a Functioning Alcoholic – A Woman’s Survival Guide.

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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide.

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