New Dating Landscape
The landscape of dating and remarrying after the loss of a spouse comes with its own unique set of challenges. Here are a few insights and suggestions from those who have been there.
For a widow and widower, the dating pool is often very different from their early dating experiences.
“The people that I’ve dated since my husband passed away…tend to have more of an emotional maturity. They’re older, [with] more life experience; they’ve lost someone close to them or something like that that has given them more perspective to where they could handle this sort of thing, because it’s really heavy,” Monk-Sproul says. “And it’s hard to be a person who is dating a widow and understand that they are still going to cry about their spouse sometimes and it doesn’t have any effect on their feelings for you or anything else.”
It can be difficult to find individuals who are willing to bear the heaviness of a widow and widower’s experience, which is often why widowers and widows turn to those who have also lost a spouse or significant other. For example, Troy Salisbury is a widower who coped with his grief through writing poetry, and looking back, the first poem he wrote about finding another spouse reflected his desire to find someone with a similar heartache:
Our spouses are a part of us, sealed for eternity.
Let's help each other rejoin them, the best that we can be.
Let's help each other honor them, remember them each day.
For their success and happiness, together we can pray.
I know that he'll be trusting me, and she'll be trusting you,
To have utmost respect and love, to see each other through.
Though many widows and widowers look to date others who have lost spouses, Comer isn’t as concerned about the situations of the people he dates.
“I think that with any of those groups there are going to be unique challenges, so I just want to keep as open a mind as possible. I have specific standards and qualities that I'm looking for, and if I find them in a person I like, I'm not really concerned with whether she's single, divorced, or widowed,” he says.
Questions and procedures around temple sealings also shape the dating experience for those who have lost their spouse. One of the trickier aspects for widows looking to remarry is that those sealed to their first husband can’t be sealed again to a second spouse. Widows address this aspect of dating and remarrying in a variety of ways.
Some, like Keri Salisbury, avoid the issue by choosing to date only sealed widowers. Hill, on the other hand, didn’t limit herself to dating only widowers, even though she still planned on keeping her first sealing. Hill, like many other widows, holds onto the faith that a loving God will work everything out.
“I don’t think we need to get hung up on what sealings mean here. I just think it’s going to be all worked out, and it’s going to be a lot better than we can possibly imagine,” she says.
It’s important to know that not every widow shares the same opinion or approach as Keri and Hill, and one solution does not fit all. It can cause unnecessary pain and hardship for widows who are bombarded with pressure and opinions from all sides about this subject.
“I've talked to widowed friends who got a lot of pressure to break or not break their sealing when they remarried,” Monk-Sproul said. “That decision is such an intensely personal one that I don't think anyone has any right to comment on it . . . because I can guarantee the widow they know has already agonized over that.”
The best thing friends and family members can do is to allow widows the space to figure out their own path and support them in their decisions. Keri Salisbury and the widower she married, Troy, both agree, “Members should not pretend to know what is best for widows and widowers and tell them how they should live their lives now that their spouses have passed on. Just love them and pray for them and trust that they will make decisions that are right for them.”
Grappling with Guilt and Grief
Sometimes widows and widowers feel a sense that they are betraying their first spouse by dating again. Although Hill knows that some people will choose not to date or remarry—and that’s okay—she also wants people to know that choosing to date again doesn’t mean that the first marriage was any less meaningful or that the first spouse is any less loved. She, like many other widows and widowers, compares it to a mother’s love for her children. First-time moms who love their child so dearly may struggle to believe that they could love a second child as much as their first, but then the second baby comes along and they find that their heart expands.
“You can have a lot of love in your heart for a lot of different people,” Hill says. “Love is exponential. It grows with the more people you invite into your heart.”
Monk-Sproul wants people to know that deciding to date again is a decision that should be celebrated and not seen as an act of disloyalty.
“I think the choice to date again is a very brave one for widows [and widowers] because it shows that you’re willing to go potentially through the whole situation of losing your spouse all over again for the sake of love, which I think is a very brave thing to do,” she says. She adds, “The human heart is capable of so much love, and one doesn't replace the other.”
But Shemwell also warns that people shouldn’t think that marriage will “fix” the widow or widower—the grief still remains and the struggle continues, even after remarriage. “Those feelings [of missing my husband] are still intact. Even though I’m remarried, I still miss my first husband every day.”
Shemwell also wants widows and others to know that it’s okay to still feel grief and to be open about it, even when dating. Shemwell believes, “The more you are open about it and talk about it, the better your healing is, and the more complete and whole you can feel again.” And, for Shemwell, the more whole and healed she felt, the more she was able to open her heart to loving someone else.
“You can love someone completely that’s not here but you can still with your whole heart love a completely different person as well,” she says.
Hill often tells her students at BYU that the process of remarrying and blending a new family was harder than the trial of losing her husband.
“If I hadn’t known spiritually that this is what God wanted me to do, I would never have done it. In my counseling with people considering remarriage, I tell them directly [that] if you have not received a profound spiritual witness that this is what God needs you to do, I would encourage you not to do it. It’s too hard,” she says.
That being said, she’s found tremendous joy in her remarriage. As a marriage and family therapist, she has a few bits of practical advice for clients looking to remarry that aid the transition into their new life. This includes getting a prenuptial agreement that secures assets to each spouse’s respective children. She also recommends couples move into a new home together and refrain from living in the home that previous spouses lived in.
“Honestly, in counseling that’s one of the first things I tell them,” she says. “You need to bring your resources together and establish a new home with a new family system, and it works better if it’s all on mutual property that you both invested in together equally.”
But along with this advice, Hill stresses that families shouldn’t try to cut out or put from their minds past spouses and parents. Hill and her husband Jeff have photographs of their previous spouses in the home. They choose to celebrate previous spouses’ wedding anniversaries and birthdays to honor both Mark’s and Juanita’s contribution to the Hill-Mulford family or “Hilfords” as they often call the new, blended family.
“This person is always going to be part of your family. They’re not going to be there, you’re not going to see them, or do all the things that you do with the people who are alive, but they still have a place at the table,” Hill says.
Erica Means Shemwell poses with her new husband, Spencer Shemwell, and their combined 11 children.
Shemwell remarried in January 2019 to widower Spencer Shemwell. The marriage combined Erica’s seven children and Spencer’s four children—who are all under the age of 11—under one roof.
“It’s been a really neat experience because I feel like I’ve been able to have an open mind that things are going to be different and that’s okay, that’s good,” she says. “We’re finding our new normal all over again.”
The decision to date and marry again after the death of a spouse is a personal one, and it IS different for everyone. As Troy Salisbury says, “This is a very different and unique journey for each of us.” The best thing ward members, friends, and family can do for widows and widowers is support them in their decisions, whether that be to date and remarry or to continue life as they are. Individuals can also recognize that widows and widowers aren’t moving on from their lost loved ones, but moving forward with their lives.
Troy and Keri Salisbury share, “We never move on from the loss of our spouses. We merely move forward. Some people, especially family members, will sometimes judge widows and widowers and assume they no longer love their deceased spouses or are somehow being unfaithful to them. Widows and widowers are merely trying to make the most of their mortal lives and be happy again.”