Susan, age 65, sent me this email regarding intimacy after death of spouse, with permission to post it and respond here:
Joan, I found your website while browsing and really enjoyed it. I was widowed 5 months ago, and a friend of mine lost his wife shortly before my husband’s death. We had known each other casually for 20 years.
A social event brought us face to face about a month ago and we both have been smitten since that night. We are both young for our ages; both being 65, good physical condition and both exercise daily. I am experiencing a lot of guilt from wanting to see him after such a short span of time since my husband’s death. Although he has discussed me with his family and I with mine, I still have some guilt. I also, don’t hear the “approval” from other members of my family.
However, at our ages, how long is considered appropriate? I am also experiencing whether or not this could become a moral issue with me. He is a wonderful man, who cared for his wife, who was ill for many years, as I did for my husband.
He has expressed to me that he may be impotent. He had not had sexual relations with his wife for many years before her death, nor had I with my husband. I did, however, use a vibrator from time to time. Although I am 65, I certainly have been experiencing strong sexual feelings toward him.
I guess my questions to you are:
1) what is the appropriate time frame?
2) Is sex outside of marriage a moral and/or guilt issue?
3) How do I get rid of trying to please everyone else?
4) Should we pursue sexual intercourse or just “play around”?
Thank you so much for your input and can’t wait to get your book!
Susan, thank you so much for writing and for sharing these feelings.
I can’t tell you what the appropriate time frame for sharing intimacy after the death of a spouse is for YOU. I’m not a therapist, but I’ve heard some therapists say that it’s good to wait a year, because people need to grieve, then rediscover and reclaim who they are alone before they’re ready to enter into a new relationship.
I’ve also heard from/about people who were caretakers of ill spouses and did much of their grieving while their spouses were alive. They then needed to reach out to someone who could bring joy and intimacy back into their lives.
I can’t say what’s “right” for you — only you can know that. If you’re questioning whether it’s too soon, that maybe that’s your own heart saying it is. If this relationship will be right for the two of you, it will be right if you wait a few more months, too.
Meanwhile, you can develop a friendship and enjoy each other’s company. But do learn to enjoy your own company, too — see who you are on your own in the world, what interests you’d like to pursue now.
Of course you still have sexual feelings — glory in that wonderful gift, and let your fantasies roam. When you and your friend come together in that intimate way, if you decide to, you’ll be good and ready for his tender touch.
You say your family hasn’t expressed approval of your new relationship. Realize that they are still grieving your husband, too. Respect their feelings, and if/when you decide to go ahead with this new relationship, perhaps it would be best not to tell them until and unless they ask, at least for a while.
As for sex outside of marriage, that’s completely your decision. I don’t know your beliefs or your religion, or whether these values might be changing at this time of your life. You might find it useful to consult a counselor to get your own values and needs in perspective.
Your friend told you that he might be impotent. Please suggest that he see a urologist and find out the cause, and whether any treatment is appropriate. If he is unable to have erections, you can still have loving, intimate sex in other ways. I have more information about that in my book “Sex After Grief“, in the chapter titled “When You or Your Partner Can’t.”
I’m sure that Susan would like to hear from others who have gone through this, and from others who have an opinion on when to have intimacy after the death of a spouse. I invite you to comment.