The death of a spouse or partner can cause life to stop in its tracks. It may feel like the world stopped spinning, and you’ll grieve forever. Everyone grieves differently, and grief is a process.
How can you have intimacy with another person after suffering so profoundly? When is the right time to engage in a relationship or sex after losing a spouse? How can you manage your grief while also being happy with another person?
This post explains the grieving process and how to determine when it’s the right time for intimacy after the death of a spouse.
How the Death of a Spouse Affects You
You may have heard people say that grief comes in waves. This saying means people don’t necessarily go through linear stages of grief. Instead, as you go about your daily life, you may encounter seemingly random things that trigger memories of your spouse — the smell of food you used to cook together, a book they gifted you, an old birthday card, a color you associate with them. These feelings are common during the difficult process of grieving a loved one.
In addition to grief, you may experience:
- Loneliness – You no longer have a partner to share a space with, so your home or life, in general, may feel empty.
- Emotional Difficulties – The death of a spouse brings various emotions, like anger, sadness, guilt, shame, and confusion.
- Physical Difficulties – Your mental health affects your physical health. You may feel fatigued, have headaches or body aches, or experience other somatic symptoms.
- Financial Difficulties – Without your partner bringing in their share of income, you may have to adjust your finances.
- Loss of Dreams – You may feel confused when you think about your future. What about that trip you planned? What about your 30th anniversary party?
- Lack of Intimacy – You may not feel like being physically close to anyone after the death of your partner for a lot of reasons. Simply put, no one else is your partner.
How Grief Affects Intimacy
Grief can affect a person in many different ways. One of those ways is in their experience of intimacy and sex. Grief may introduce extra stress hormones into your system, and your desire for sex may be different when you’re overly stressed.
- Increase in Sex Drive – Because of the feel-good hormones that sex and intimacy can produce, a person may want more sex during the grieving process than they usually would. Sometimes, when people deal with stress, they use sex to cope. Ensure that you aren’t using sex to avoid grief. It’s critical to work through emotions, not use distractions to forget them.
- Decrease in Sex Drive – The thought of having sex after losing a partner may seem unthinkable. You may be so focused on working through your grief that you don’t want to engage in physical intimacy with anyone. Or, you may need some time to adjust to having sex with a person who isn’t your partner. You’re allowed to take the time you need. Remember, you can always seek the help of a mental health professional to assist you in processing your feelings.
- Guilt – Feeling guilty is another possible reaction to thinking about sex and intimacy after the death of a partner. How could you have sex with another person after being with your partner for so long? Feelings of guilt after death are common, specifically surrounding intimacy. You may also be in a new relationship and truly care or have desire for your new partner, but the act of sex feels like cheating.
How To Move Forward With Healthy Relationships
Each relationship is unique, just like each person’s experience with grief. The following are some general tips that may help you navigate healthy relationships as you manage through grieving the death of a spouse.
- Allow Yourself to Grieve – Forcing yourself to engage in intimacy or get involved in a romantic relationship because you’re trying to fit someone else’s timeline of grief only brings stress and emotional pain. Take your time and reassure yourself that you don’t need to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.
- Take Care of Yourself – Your physical, mental, and spiritual health is essential. Your grief may cloud your judgment and make it more challenging to take care of yourself. Be sure you’re getting some nutritious food, moving your body in ways that feel good to you, taking care of your emotional needs, connecting with loved ones, and engaging in activities you enjoy.
- Be Honest About Your Feelings – Grief is complicated. There’s no way around that. If you’re experiencing sadness, anger, confusion, or another emotion, be open to the feeling. Don’t deny it or try to bottle it up. Sit with the feeling and take care of yourself.
- Be With Loved Ones – Even though you lost your partner, you still have family and friends who love you and want to support you. Lean on them. Part of this process is learning to accept help. Do you need someone to watch your children while you get a massage? Ask for help. Need a fun night out? Ask a friend. Do you need to hug someone and cry it out? Ask your support system. They want to help you, and you deserve support.
- Build Connections – Though it may be difficult to conceptualize, you will make new connections with people throughout your healing process. Consider joining a support group with people who’ve been through a similar situation. Or, build connections with others via activities you enjoy, like a book club, exercise group, or pottery class.
- Make Future Plans – Plan something fun that you can look forward to, whether it’s having dinner with friends or going on a trip.
- Talk to a Professional – Always know that you can seek counseling for help. Some counselors specialize in grief and can work with you to process your emotions.
How All Counseling Can Help
Therapy can be beneficial if you’re experiencing grief because it allows you to connect with a third party who is there to help you understand your emotions. Some counselors specialize in grief and are well-versed in assisting people in learning to adjust to living without someone.
If you or someone you know is mourning the death of a spouse, All Counseling provides an online directory of therapists you can search to find the support you need.