Dating A Widower: Reclaiming Love After Loss With Abel Keogh

WRT 33 | Dating A Widower

 

Losing your spouse can be devastating, but is it okay to date again? When is dating too soon? Is there a timeline we should follow? Join us in this episode as Abel Keogh, the author of Dating a Widower, shares his personal journey as a remarried widower, shedding light on the motivations and emotions behind widowers’ decisions to date again after losing their partners. Gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics of relationships with widows and widowers, and explore the challenges of transitioning into remarriage. Tune in for an illuminating conversation on the widower’s perspective on remarriage with Abel Keogh.

 

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others. 

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide

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Dating A Widower: Reclaiming Love After Loss With Abel Keogh

Our guest in this episode, Abel, is a widower, an author, a life coach, and a dating coach. He has some good information to share. I connected with him. I saw his information on YouTube and said, “The widowhood could appreciate having a conversation with Abel.” His books are listed on our website under Resources, and I think you’re going to enjoy this conversation. Let’s get into it now.

 

WRT 33 | Dating A Widower

 

Our guest in this episode is Abel. He has a lot to share with us, and I’m going to let him introduce himself and we’ll get right into the discussion.

Thanks, Tina. As Tina said, my name is Abel Keogh and I am a remarried widower. I was widowed many years ago. My late wife took her own life. Now, I work as a relationship coach primarily with widowers and the women who are dating them. I’ve written some books. I’ve written a couple of memoirs about my experience, one with my now wife, my living wife, and some other books on relationship guides with dating, especially with dating a widower. My specialty, you could say, is creating that chapter two after a loss.

There was a lot in that short introduction there. I want to go back and unpack some of that if we can. I know you’re very open about the idea that your first wife took her own life. I am sorry for that. I’m sure everyone who’s part of this conversation is sorry you had to have that experience but glad for your willingness to be able to talk about that, to share, and to help other people. In that same vein, would you mind sharing a little bit about your marriage with your first wife and how it led up to that?

I was married to my late wife a month shy of three years. There wasn’t any romantic interest until we both got to college, but we grew up together. I knew her from the time we were 7 or 8 years old on up. We dated for 3 or 4 years before we got married. We were married for almost three years when she took her own life. For the most part, our marriage was a good marriage, as good as marriage as can be. I didn’t have anything to compare it to, but things started to change when she got pregnant. Her mental health deteriorated. She ended up taking her own life when she was seven months pregnant. Around the circumstances of that, they were able to save the baby. I had to take the baby off life support nine days later, unfortunately.

In some ways, it was even harder than losing a spouse, but I had to take the baby off life support. That kicked me out into the whole widowhood thing. As far as the marriage went, until those mental health issues hit, it was a good marriage and we were young. I was 26 when I was widowed. I was young, and that put me in an odd spot as well in the sense that I had friends who were not even married, and here’s a 26-year-old widower. I don’t think anyone knew how to handle me.

My friends, family, and everybody were all obviously sad and sorry for my loss. There was support in that area, but I’m thinking about dating again or how to handle somebody who is 26 and widowed. No one quite knew what to do with me. It was the first time in my life that I truly felt alone. It was not that there wasn’t some support there, but the sense that there weren’t any other people in their twenties I could go talk to and say, “How did you get through the death of your spouse?” That doesn’t happen in your twenties.

I felt alone and a lot of the issues that I was going through with grief, dating again, and trying to mix those emotions or trying to figure out how to handle all this stuff. I was truly alone. This was the early days of the internet. This was in 2001. I talked about all these resources that I have. Tina, you’re providing resources and there are other resources out there, but back then, there was nothing, especially for young people. There were no resources out there.

Part of the reason I ended up doing what I was doing is that, more than anything, I wanted somebody to talk to and someone to explain. “Here are some ideas on how other people have handled it. This is how I got through it. Here are some things that you might want to think about.” In some ways, I guess they’re still not a lot of resources out there. I do a lot of relationship coaching, and I get clients all the time who say it’s hard to find stuff about dating widowed people. There are more resources out there for widows and widowers, but resources for people dating them are still very rare and hard to come by.

There are more resources for widows and widowers, but resources for people dating them are still very rare and hard to come by. Click To Tweet

You said a mouthful there. How did you come from the idea of losing your wife, losing your child, and functioning? What did that road look like before you made it to a point where you were sharing your journey and helping other people?

The best way to put it is that there weren’t any resources out there. There was nobody I could talk to. I know my mom had suggested a therapist and that didn’t feel right. What I ended up doing was I started blogging anonymously about my experience. This was before blog was a word. They had these online diaries, as they call them.

I was blogging anonymously at the time about my experiences. I wasn’t advertising the blog by any stretch of the imagination. This was something I would do on my breaks at work or maybe in the evenings. I’d write something up and say, “This is how my day went.” It was raw. I wasn’t editing this. I wasn’t going back and spell-checking. I was writing it and hitting publish. That was it. It was for myself. It wasn’t for anybody else.

Somehow, people found out about the blog and it started getting popular. It was interesting. it wasn’t getting popular with widows or people dating them necessarily. There were people that were on this early online blogging community, and they were passing the blog around saying, “You’ve got to read this stuff. This is raw. This is straightforward. He’s not censoring anything.”

It turned out to be therapy, in a way, just to write about my experience. I wasn’t writing this for an audience. It was like, “I need to get this out there.” It turned popular, but it wasn’t anything I was intentionally doing to try to get people to read this. It was, “I need my 30 minutes of writing time to understand what happened when I was grieving last night.”

 I laid it out there and walked away and it was getting comments. People started emailing me. They had a little comment section on the blog, and all of a sudden, people were leaving comments. I just thought it was weird that people would want to read my story. It’s like, “I’m not writing this for anybody.” That’s how I made that transition.

However, that idea of writing and freeing it from yourself still holds true now for people who are grieving or having different experiences, whether it is something that they’re writing or using a tablet, a paper, and a pen. It may not be something as public as a blog, but would you say that it still will prove helpful for someone who’s dealing with grief to be able to journal that person?

There are lots of things that help different people, but I think that it is a good way to understand and better your feelings. It’s not that you’re writing it for anybody but yourself. You are trying to get your feelings out there and understand them. That’s writing them or expressing them in some way. Even if you don’t like writing, you could turn a video camera on and talk to the camera. You don’t have to put it on YouTube, but you could talk to the camera and try to get this out. It is whatever you’re comfortable with. At least for me, I could better understand somewhat what I was going through if I could at least express it. It would have been different if I had Tina or someone to talk to. Again, I didn’t have anybody I felt I could express this stuff too.

I was writing it and not intentionally putting it out there for everybody to read but just hitting publish and thinking, “I’m getting this off my chest and understanding my feelings or even trying to describe this awful day that I had.” I guess it was freeing in the sense that I felt like I had dealt with it and moved on to the next day.

There’s a lot to be said about that. Thank you for expressing it. As you said, everybody is different with different tools, but I’ve often found that even if you have somebody “to talk to,” you mentioned, you had your mom and other people, but there’s a concern about whether or not they understand what you’re saying and how much you have to qualify your words or explain so they understand the parameters within. You could be with a lot of people and still feel alone.

You are exactly right. That’s something I hear from a lot of clients. Even if they aren’t 26, even if they’re in their 60s or something like that, or even if they’re dating a widowed person, what I hear is, “I don’t have anybody I could talk to about this. I have friends that will listen, but they don’t understand.” What they’re looking is for somebody who can understand these feelings or experiences. Many years ago, I would have loved to be able to talk to somebody that understands that, “What it is that you’re feeling is completely normal. This is what it’s like.” I didn’t have anything like that. I was turning to these early blogs, “This is my day,” and not even reading it. I just hit publish and go.

Have you gone back and read any of these blogs over time?

Yes. The blog still exists. It is locked down. I’ve been deciding whether or not to open it up. I read them, and it is very raw. It’s raw, but there’s some kind of authenticity to it because, a lot of times, with YouTube and this thing, there’s a lot of these influencers or performance art to a degree. I go back and read it now and it’s interesting to see where I was many years ago or where my headspace was.

I was like, “I’ve come a long way,” which is good. Part of what attracted people to it was how raw and real it was. I wasn’t writing this to try to look good, look cool, or, “Look, what I’m going through.” I was vomiting out words. I was very frank. I wasn’t holding anything back. There was that realness to it which is what attracted people to it. It’s like, “This guy’s being very vulnerable, open, and honest.” Even if they couldn’t relate to it, it was like, “He’s not censoring his feelings. He’s not trying to look good or do anything. He had a bad day and he messed it up. He’s sharing that with the world,” kind of thing.

Unfortunately, our society doesn’t make it look like men open up themselves and make their emotions and their feelings vulnerable. I am a breast cancer survivor. When I was going through breast cancer, I used a blog to share it. I started to share my journey with friends and family because it was too much to give everybody an update one by one, but it was very liberating. It felt like some of it was lifted off of me to be able to share and exhale that.

I was not doing any editing. I wrote it out there and let it go. It was very helpful for people to be able to understand. I’m a retired Army and I think about the idea of military connection. When you don’t have that and you’re going through something so horrific, I am extremely happy and proud of you that you found your way in that process to be able to do that. You do all of this struggling and you do the blog. What was your first formal opportunity of taking what you’ve experienced and now making it available to help others?

The blog got popular and I kept it anonymous for several years even after I dated and remarried. What was happening was, during this time, as I’m writing again, I can still remember it about maybe 4 or 5 months after I started this blog when I got an email from a woman. She says, “I’m dating a widower,” and she had these questions for me. I’m sitting there thinking, “Why are you emailing me? “ It’s like, “I don’t even know what it is that I’m doing at this point.”

She had found my blog. Apparently, there was enough in there that maybe she saw some of her widower’s behavior in me. I can still remember reading this email that somebody sent me. I was like, “Why are you e-mailing me?” I have no clue what it is that I’m doing. I thought it was a weird one-off thing. I replied. I answered her question or questions she had. I don’t even know what I said or what the question was. I remember I replied and hit send. I was like, “That was weird.”

A week later, I got a second email from somebody else. These emails started to trickle in. As time went on, got my head screwed on straighter, got into a serious relationship, and started dating, the emails kept coming. I realized that people were using this blog as a resource for dating a widower. It wasn’t my intention with the blog. The whole blog was to express myself.

It was to get help for yourself to be able to give yourself space.

However, I realized it was becoming a resource. A couple of years after I started it, I came out of the closet. I stripped away the anonymity and said, “This is who I am.” I was upfront about who I was. The emails kept coming and people kept telling me, “You should write a book about this.” I thought, “I’ll write a book.”

I ended up writing a book, a memoir called Room for Two, and that starts on the day that my wife took her own life exactly one year after that. It’s the year of my life being widowed. The nuts and bolts of the book are going from lost to the point where I could open my heart to somebody else. It ended before I ended up getting remarried and stuff. I was going through my early struggle of being alone and my crazy, awful dating experiences that I had and finally finding somebody that I thought, “Things might work out here.” That’s what the book is about.

I wrote that. This was maybe five years after I started the blog. I wrote the book and said, “We’re good,” and then people were like, “You need to write a book about dating a widower.” All the books that I’ve written on this, and I’ve written a total of six books, two memoirs, and four relationship guides on the subject. This was not my dream job. I wasn’t thinking when I was widowed, “I’m going to make a career out of this.”

This was not my goal, but this was a resource for people. My books are based on, “These are some good ideas. You need to put him into book form so people can access them better.” That’s what spurred a lot of these book ideas. It wasn’t me going out there and writing. It was people saying, “You’ve written this book.” I thought by writing a book, the emails would go away. I was like, “Here’s my book,” but they still keep coming. It is fine. If people want to email me, they can go to my website and do that.

I’m not discouraging that, but I thought that I’d write these books and the emails would go away. They didn’t go away, which was fine. They kept saying, “You have a book for women dating widowers. Why don’t you write one for men now?” I was spurring these ideas. It was driven by my audience saying, “There are no books or resources on this.” I was filling the need and the gap where one existed. As far as I know, I’m the only guy out there doing it.

How did you develop YouTube? There’s a tip you give on Wednesdays that you share or there’s a tag you have for that also.

I have a YouTube channel. It is called Dating a Widower but my videos are Widower Wednesday videos. I do two a month. I’ve been doing it long enough that I have more than 160 videos out there. When you think about it, it’s amazing there’s that much you can say on the subject, but a lot of my videos are audience-driven. “This is a situation that comes up and you have an address this in your videos. Can you do a video on it?” I’m like, “That’s a good idea.” I’ll do a video that way.

I transitioned into a video. It was more than my life was getting so busy. I remarried. I had kids. I had a full-time job. I was doing all this stuff and videos were my way to cut back on the writing and put it out there. I was thinking it’s faster to record and note my thoughts and do a video. That spurred other things. People were way more likely to watch videos and read blogs.

I’m not intending to do this, but it grew the audience even more to the point where I can pretty much coach and write full-time now because of the business that those videos were driving. It’s hitting that niche of people dating widowed people where there’s not a lot of information out there for them. I do address concerns that widows and widowers have as well.

One of the things I’ve noted, and this is not only true when I was dating but with a lot of the clients that I have, is when you start dating a widow or widower, not intentionally, but the relationship becomes about them. It becomes about the widow or the widower because you’re dealing with unique issues that you don’t deal with in a normal relationship in the sense that, “It’s the late wife’s date of death and the widower is going to go to the cemetery. How do I deal with this?” Also, dealing with loss.

There are all these other things that are going on. I don’t think it’s intentional, but the relationship becomes about them and you have people who are dating widows and widowers who feel like, “Where do I fit into this? I feel like I’m in a threesome or I feel like I’m competing with a ghost.” It’s trying to help both the people who are dating widows and widowers, but the widows and widowers themselves navigate this and make it so the relationship isn’t about you. It’s about two people and doing what it takes to open your heart and be able to make room for that other person.

I know you’ve written six books. When you think of those books that you’ve written, are there some themes or some questions that come about a lot between the videos, the books, or the emails that you would say, “These are some of the top things that people ask me on a regular basis?”

The top concern is knowing if a widow or widower is to open their heart. How does somebody know that? It’s not only, “How does the person dating know that?” It is also, “How can a widow or widower even know, ‘Am I ready to date again? Am I only dating because I’m lonely? Am I dating because I want a relationship?’”

People date because they’re lonely. There’s nothing wrong with that. An analogy that I like to use that applies to widowers is men are problem solvers for the most part. If they get problems, they want to solve them. Their wife dies and there’s this hole in their heart. They think, “There’s a problem here. There’s a hole in my heart. I need to fix it.” Instead of doing a lot of the emotional or mental work they need to do to open their heart, they go out and start dating again. Typically, widows wait several years before they start dating again, and for widowers, it can be a matter of weeks or months and they’re out there dating again.

People date because they’re lonely. There's nothing wrong with that. Click To Tweet

Is it weeks and months, did you say?

Days even. I would say this is typical from what I see with clients. The average wait time is 3 or 4 months and they start dating again.

That is a huge difference.

It has to do with how men and women process grief differently. Women tend to have a better support network. Women are talkers. Even if their friends can’t relate, they at least have people like can go and talk to and people checking up on them. With guys, it isn’t like they can go to their guy friends and say, “I miss my wife.” That’s not a conversation you have with your guy friends. A lot of them have been providers. They’re at work. They don’t necessarily have the same kind of support network and they go home. They hate being alone.

It’s like, “I got to get somebody in this house here to make me feel whole and complete again.” There is nothing wrong with dating because you want a relationship and you hate being home alone, but they haven’t done the emotional and mental work they need to do. The first pretty face that comes around, they’re like, “You’re awesome.” They haven’t even thought about it and they’re like, “Let’s get serious.”

They’re promising all kinds of things, “I’ve never been so happy. We’re going to get married.” I did this as well. I had a serious relationship before I met Julie who is my second wife. You think, “There’s someone here to hold and hug. I have someone to talk to.” It fills this void that you have in your life, but you haven’t done the work up here or the work down in your heart to be ready for a relationship. You’re in it for the wrong reasons.

What are some of the work and the hit in the heart that will go through that you guide or help with?

The big thing is you’ve got to be able to say goodbye to the past. It’s not that you have to stop loving your late spouse. You’re always going to love them, but instead of focusing on the past and your loss, you’ve got to focus on the present and the future. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not like flipping a switch, but you’ve got to reach a point in your life or your heart.

In my case, I had three good years of marriage with my wife and all these other years growing up with her. It was great, but it’s time for a different chapter in my life. If I want a chapter with somebody else, I’ve got to be able to put that in the past where it belongs. It’s not that I don’t love her or I don’t think about her from time to time, but my thoughts and my focus have to be on Juliana because she’s my wife now. She’s my relationship now.

She was the first person I dated, and good for her that I was pretty clear about this. She told me she did not want to date a widower. By the way, she was 23 or 24 when we started dating. This is not something she’s ever thought about as well. She’s never had a serious relationship. There’s this guy that’s pursuing her and he’s widowed. She’s like, “I haven’t even thought about dating a divorced guy. You’re widowed. You’ve been married.” She was pretty open about it in the sense that if this was going to work, I had to make her number one in my heart. She said that if she can’t make me number one in her heart, this relationship is not going anywhere. That was a good thing for her to say. I’ll admit I was a little ticked off when she said it.

Understandably so, but it seems like it may have been the trigger to make you start thinking of the things you didn’t consider beforehand. It was good for her.

That’s what you got to be when you’re dating a widowed person. I always say, “You have to be kind, but firm with them,” and say, “This is what I expect in a relationship and you can’t settle.” Julie has no guidance on this. She’s never dated.

It’s unchartered territory, for sure.

It’s not like she can go to her parents and say, “What do I do here?” She’s in uncharted territory, but she knew from her own dating that she had certain standards that she expected. She said, “I can lose Abel, but I’m not going to sacrifice for a crummy relationship.” At the time, she was probably hoping that I would walk away. She’s like, “Maybe if I tell him this, he’ll walk away and I won’t have to deal with any of this.” However, it was the trigger. It was the kick in the butt for me where it was like, “What is it that I want here? How much do I like Julie? Do I see a future with her or am I just dating her because she’s pretty and I have a hole in my heart?”

I went home a little bit ticked off at her, but I thought about it over the course of a couple of days. I was like, “She’s right.” What she’s asking was fair. It wasn’t an unfair request. I went back. I was like, “Krista would like the same thing. I want to be number one in her heart.” I gave that to her. I was like, “Why couldn’t I make Juliana number one in my heart?”

There were bumps along the way. It wasn’t a smooth transition, but Julie saw that I was making enough progress and trying to do it. We ended up getting married about nine months after we started dating. It was bumpy, but she saw the progress. It didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of several months, the photos came down. I was doing other things that needed to be done to make her number one.

Finally, she’s like, “We’ve gone far enough that we can take this to the next level. You’re far enough along and things worked out.” I don’t think it would have worked out if she hadn’t told me that because no one had ever told me that. Before Julie, I dated somebody. I had a somewhat serious relationship. This was somebody that I was friends with. Again, there was no romantic interest before I was widowed. She was a wonderful woman, but if I had not been widowed or not been married, I probably wouldn’t have dated her.

Feeling that loss and that loneliness drove me to that relationship, but she never set any standards for me. It was like I could get away with murder probably and it was like, “Whatever,” because she was making excuses because I was widowed. “Abel is acting this way,” but if she had ever come to me and said, “Why are you doing this? You’re not treating me the way I deserve to be treated,” that would have had the same effect.

I would have been like, “Why am I dating you? Why am I in this relationship?” I probably said, “I’m not in it for the right reasons,” but no one ever said that to me. Not her, not her family, and not my friends, even though my friends are like, “Why are you dating so soon?” There was no guidance or direction. There was nothing to go off of. I’m not trying to put blame on her because she was in her twenties too, and she had never dated a widower.

It makes perfect sense because people are tapping around eggshells when they start talking to a widow or widower that they’re afraid of seeing anything at all, questioning or challenging. I could see people making excuses and letting somebody run rampant because they feel uncomfortable talking about the awkward idea of the death of someone’s spouse and how that impacted them.

It’s that, and there are also issues, “If he’s wearing a wedding ring or there are pictures on the wall, how do I bring this up in such a way without sounding jealous or that I’m jealous of his relationship with the late spouse?” That’s not what it’s about. Most people understand that the widow or widower will always love the late spouse. That’s usually not the issue.

It’s like, “How can I bring this up without them thinking that I want to be number one? How do I say this without them thinking I’m trying to erase the past or that I’m jealous about what they have?” When I coach people, I can talk them through it and give them a framework on how to approach the subject in a way that’s not offensive to the widow or a widower.

I like your idea of walking on eggshells. That’s something clients tell me all the time. It’s like, “There are things I want to talk to him about, but I don’t know how to bring it up.” It’s like, “If I do bring it up, he is going to think that I’m being jealous, petty, and all these things.” It’s like, “No you’re not being jealous and petty most of the time. It’s having a framework to do it and understanding that the person you’re dating is never been widowed before. This is a new experience for them too.”

If you work together, you can figure this out. It’s understanding that there’s no perfect solution to this. There’s a price that has to be paid by both parties for this kind of relationship. By starting this conversation, you can start laying out the price of a relationship and having people decide if they’re willing to pay that price.

You mentioned coaching. Do you exclusively coach under relationships tagged with the widower or widower concept or do you coach outside of that?

I do coach outside of that. I do all kinds of relationship coaching, but most of my clients are women dating widowers. That’s probably 70%. I have a good chunk of widowers that I do and then there are couples that I do as well. A lot of these have turned into maybe the relationship with the widower didn’t work out so they come back to me for another kind of coaching.

Mostly, my niche is dating widowed people, but I do other coaching as well. If I’m being honest with you, most of the advice I give to someone dating a widow or widower applies to all kinds of relationships. The issue is that if you start dating a widow or a widower, you run into experiences you haven’t thought of before. You’re judgment gets clouded. You’re like, “What do I do?” The solution is, “If you weren’t a widow or widower, how would you handle this?”

It’s breaking through that mindset. It’s understanding what your values and standards are and holding that person that you’re dating to those values or standards regardless of their marital status. It doesn’t matter if they’re single, divorced, or widowed. You have certain standards and behaviors you expect of them. Let them decide if that’s something that they want to pay to be with you.

I like the idea that they want to pay to be with you because paying looks like the work that you have to do or coming to reality. Maybe you’re not ready to date. Maybe you don’t have space to make somebody number one or realize, “I do want to be ready.” Here are a couple of mock scenarios that you probably had reality already come to you. I am a widower and I tell you, “I’m ready to date, but I don’t want to take off my wedding band. I don’t want to remove pictures from prominent places throughout my home.” What very generic advice or how do you see that going with someone?

There are two answers to that. The easy answer is to be with a widow and then a lot of these things don’t become problems.

Let’s unpack that. Why is that the case? A widower dating a widow. Go ahead and explain a little bit about that.

What I’ve seen is that widows and widowers, because they can relate a bit more, are a little bit more understanding. They don’t necessarily see the photos as a threat. They put them out there as a threat, but if you’ve never dated a widower before or if you’re single, divorced, you’re dating this guy and you go over to his house and there’s photos of his life with somebody else.

It’s like, “What in the world are we doing here?”

A widow would be a little more understanding. I’m not saying you should keep the pictures up or not take off your wedding band, but widows and widowers tend to be a little more understanding of that. They understand that you’ve lost someone and you haven’t remarried or anything, so the pictures would be up and you’re wearing your wedding band. People come to me sometimes and it’s like, “Do you have an issue with widows and widowers getting together,” and I don’t.

I caution them to understand the reason that you’re getting together because what you don’t want is to be getting together and bonding over your loss. You want to be with someone, build new memories, build a new life, and have shared activities, values, and ideas that you can build up a life on. Part of that is, “We both lost spouses, so maybe if I’m having a bad day or a bad moment, you’re a little more understanding.” The divorce rate for widows and widowers is extremely high when they remarry.

Are you talking about the divorce rate between a widow and a widower getting married?

It’s widows and widowers in general.

Second marriage always has higher divorce rates than first marriages, but if you put widows and widowers on that, it’s extremely high. I’ll get into the reasons for that in a second. What it comes down to is if you’re a widow or a widower and you’re dating a widow or a widower, make sure that you’re not dating over shared loss and you’re not becoming each other’s therapist.

If you're a widow or a widower and you're dating a widow or a widower, make sure that you're not dating over shared loss and you're not becoming each other's therapist. Click To Tweet

That’s what you don’t want. I know lots of widows and widowers who have remarried. Maybe they each have a photo up of them in their late spouse and they’re cool with it, which is fine. However, I always counsel them to say, “Make sure that as you as you’re building this relationship, it’s not about your loss. It’s about starting a new chapter and having similar values, activities, interests, and things. It’s because no one wants to feel like a third wheel in any relationship.”

You said there were two answers. One is to go ahead and data widow for the widower. The question was about if you had a widower that came to you and they are adamant that they’re ready to start dating but didn’t want to remove their wedding band or prominent pictures in the house, the first answer was to date a widow.

Even if you date a widow, at some point, the ring has to come off and some pictures have to come down. My thing to them would be to try to see it from the other person’s point of view. You’re going to them saying, “I’m ready to date and start a relationship, but you’re wearing a wedding band.” That may not be a big deal to you, but it’s a huge deal to somebody who hasn’t been widowed. You have to put yourself in their shoes and say, “How are they supposed to feel?” You’re out at a restaurant and he’s wearing a wedding band and you’re not. What does it look like?

I’m the side piece. That’s what it looks like upfront.

If they’re adamant that they’re not going to do that, I would say, “Maybe you should take some time and think about it. Take the ring off for the date. You can go back home and put it back on. I always say actions speak louder than words. That’s something I tell all the time in my coaching sessions. I can tell people all the time that I love them just like in my first serious relationship. I told her that I loved her. I didn’t say I wanted to marry but I hinted that we were going to get married, but my actions did not back that up by any stretch.

I always say, “You can keep it on, but what are your actions saying to people?” If they’re going to come to me, I’m going to tell them, “It doesn’t matter what he says.” It’s, “What is he doing?” I don’t think you should be in a relationship with someone who was wearing a wedding band if that’s unacceptable behavior to you.

It is about what that other person considers acceptable and what they’re willing to do. In the conversations you’ve had with people, have they explained the significance of the difficulty of taking off that wedding band, taking down the pictures, or expressing that?

Yes, and I get it. I talked about taking it off for the day. That’s what I did for my first date. I wore it up to the time I knocked on her door and shoved it in my pocket. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was smart enough to realize that showing up at the wedding band is probably not good. She knew I was widowed, but I was like, “I probably shouldn’t have this on,” so I shoved it in my pocket as I walked up to her door.

I put it back on as soon as the date was over. I get it. It’s hard. It’s okay if it’s hard, but creating chapter two takes work. It’s not just going to happen. I’m going back to that thing I said that there’s a price you have to pay for a new life. If you want a new life and you want a new relationship, you’ve got to pay a price for that. If you aren’t willing to take down the photos or take off your wedding band, that’s fine, but good luck finding a chapter two that will tolerate that.

People may tolerate it for a while, but what I’ve seen is most people don’t think about dating a widow or widower, “He’s wearing his wedding band. What do I do?” He’s widowed and they’re going through this mine-thought thing. They might put up with it for a while, but eventually, what’s going to happen and what I’ve seen is, “This is bothering me. How do I bring it up?” We’re going back to that conversation. You may find somebody for a couple of dates or maybe even a few months who will tolerate some stuff, but eventually, they’re going to stop and ask themselves, “Why am I putting up with this behavior? How can I talk to this person about it?”

In the idea of communication and talking, you mentioned the items that you’re sharing with these people in the relationship that they run across with all types of relationships. If there’s not a good foundation of communication, if you can’t talk about these items, what more do you have to build a marriage or a relationship on?

Exactly, because what’s going to happen is let’s say you communicate and work through these widower issues and whatever. You get remarried and live happily ever after. These widower or widow issues are going to go away eventually. You’re then going to have to deal with regular issues like finances, jobs, and all kinds of stress. I like what you said because if you can’t talk about the wedding ring on the finger, are you going to be able to talk about financial difficulties down the road or all these other things that are going to come up?

Being able to communicate about these things builds on communicating about bigger issues because once you’re ready to open your heart, these issues that my clients are dealing with go away. It’s not that they go away 100%, but you may deal with something once a year instead of every day. It’s learning how to talk to each other and doing it in a way that you can say, “I love you. This is why we’re having the conversation.” Hopefully, it is having an honest conversation with them so they can stop and think about what it is that they’re doing and have that trigger moment like I had and say, “You’re right. Maybe I need to think about this a bit more.”

Thank you for that. You do coaching for widowers trying to date and you do coaching for women that are dating widowers. Do you coach widows also?

I do.

How does that look different from what coaching the widowers and the widows into the dating arena?

Widows tend to have their act together a lot more. I have widowers. Let me preface this by saying no widowed person is 100% ready to date when they start dating again. Some are more prepared than others. I’ve had some that have done a lot of work and it’s a much easier transition. Still, it’s like going to school. You can go to school and study something but then you get thrown into the real world and you’ve learned this stuff but doing something different.

You can have this thing where it’s like, “I’ve worked through my grief,” and then all of a sudden, it’s like, “I’m on a date. I feel like I’m cheating on my spouse.” The actual reality of it is a little bit different than doing it. For the most part, widows tend to have their act together a bit more. It’s not that they’re 100% ready, but the widowers want to know if they’re ready to date again.

They’re like, “Am I ready to date again? What do I need to do?” With widows, it tends to be, “This is the work I’ve done. What do I need to know when I start dating?” They’re like, “I’ve done all this work. I met this guy. I don’t want to make mistakes. Walk me through it.” They’re looking to avoid mistakes where widowers are like, “Give me the green light. I’m going to do this.” It’s like, “Get ready for some weird feelings because it doesn’t matter how long you’ve waited or how much you’ve grieved. It’s still a different experience doing it in real life.”

Get ready for some weird feelings because it doesn't matter how long you've waited or how much you've grieved. Dating again is still just a different experience. Click To Tweet

If you’ve done some work, it’s a much easier experience. At the same time, it’s a gut punch. You’re like, “I’m dating someone that’s not my spouse.” It’s a weird feeling. I haven’t done much if any work. On my first date, I was feeling guilty as hell. I was like, “I am cheating on my wife.” We were at this restaurant and I feel bad for my first date. I’m sure that she remembers. It is one of her worst dates ever, but we’re sitting there. I had purposely dated somebody who was an hour from my house because I didn’t want to run into anybody.

I was like, “I’m dating someone that’s an hour from my house but still we were in the restaurant.” It was crowded, and somebody would walk into the corner of a restaurant. I’m like, “Do I know you?” I was not ready to date at that time. I’m paranoid that someone is going to see me because I didn’t tell anybody I was dating. This is early online dating. I’m zipping my mouth about this. I haven’t told anybody. The very last thing I want is someone to walk in that I know and like, “Abel, what are you doing?”

I can relate to that. I’ve done some dating in that experience, but I’m glad you mentioned the cheating on your spouse. That is such a common feeling that people have when they first start dating. What are some ways you’ve addressed that with people or give them coping skills to manage that?

The first thing is to realize that you’re not doing anything wrong. Your spouse is dead and you’re not cheating. Emotionally, it feels that way, but you’re not cheating on them. What I tell my widowed clients is the best thing you can do is go on 2 or 3 casual dates with 2 or 3 different people. It is not dating with the intent of, “I’m going to marry you.” This is very casual high-level dating. You’re going out for coffee with someone. You’re taking a walk or whatever.

It is having interactions with that person that you could date and not taking it seriously. It’s very topical or superficial. It’s like having an interview for a job. You don’t want to get to start getting your interview skills out before you start with the job you want. That’s what I hear you saying.

That’s a great analogy. What you do is you go on a couple of very casual dates, 2 or 3 dates, and you go home and see how you feel about it. You do this as a gut check. What normally happens, with different people on casual dates, either goes two ways. One is that, “I’m not ready to date. The guilt is not going away,” which is fine.

Take a break for six months and come back to it, but with a lot of people, they get used to it and they’re like, “I can handle this. I’m out casually doing this. I’m not looking to take someone home with me or put a ring on their finger. I’m just trying to dip my toes in the water here.” Usually, 2, 3, or 4 casual dates are enough to get that guilt not to vanish but to a manageable level where you can say, “I can do this.” It will eventually go away, but the best way to do it is to go out there and try it.

If it’s not going away after three dates, I would say, “Let’s put a plug on this and wait 6 or 8 months and revisit it.” It’s a mental mind game. It’s because you still love this person. If you feel guilty when you first start dating, that’s normal because you love this person. At the same time, it goes back to opening your heart and realizing that, “I want a chapter two and there’s nothing wrong with wanting a chapter two, but I’ve got to be able to put my feelings for my late spouse and a special place in my heart. It’s always going to be there. I can go there once in a while and access them.” It’s opening your heart to somebody else and not focusing on the past.

 

 

That goes back to what you said originally. You mentioned saying goodbye to the past and opening up to your present or your future. That transition in itself is very challenging, going back to the idea of feeling like you’re cheating on the date. People have a lot of challenges with the concept of people saying, “I’m moving forward. I’m forgetting about them.” How do you show them the difference being to go back and visit them? You’re not getting rid of them. You’re just living the life that you have. Do you have examples of some of those conversations with people?

The best thing you can do is go out and make new memories with this other person. It’s spending time with this person and getting to know them so you can decide if they’re the person that you want to spend the rest of your life with. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process but part of it is a mind game it’s focusing on this new person, their wants, and needs.

Also, try to make that relationship and you are going to get triggered. When I was first dating, I could be driving my date around somewhere and there’s a bus stop where I remember waiting for the school bus with Krista or something like that, there’s this and there’s that. It’s learning that you’re going to get triggered and have memories, but it’s learning you to control them. When they happen, enjoy them for half a second, push them aside, and refocus.

I wish I could say, “Do these three things and it’ll work,” but a lot of it is trial and error. It’s putting your heart into it. I will say this. I have never worked so hard for anything in my life than Julie’s heart. Once Julie and I had that conversation that I’m either number one or this relationship is over and I decided, “Yes. I want her to be number one.” It was a day in and day out working on it.

I talked about action speaking louder than words. It was getting up at 5:00 AM to do a marathon training with her. I’d never run a marathon before. I was a runner but I wasn’t up to her elite level, knowing that it was dark when I was going to get up and we were going to start running and she was going to leave me in the dust. At some point, I was going to catch up to her at the end of our run or something like that.

Every day, I was getting up at 5:00 AM. It wasn’t like I did things here and there. Every day, I woke up and said, “I’m going to make Julie number one,” and it was getting up at 5:00 AM and pushing through any triggers that I might have. In the end, it was selling a house and moving and doing all these things so she would feel numbered. I was taking down photos.

I’m saying this like it was easy. It was not an easy process. There was a lot of emotion in it. If you want to see a good example of it, you can read the book that Julie and I wrote together called The Wife in The Next Life. That’s told from both of our perspectives. You can get Julie’s perspective and my perspective in there but that does a good job of showing that, yes, the work that I did, going through my late wife’s things and tidying what to keep and what to throw away was hard. It was taxing.

I had 4 or 5 photos of my late wife up. They didn’t all come down overnight. They came down but it was a process. It was maybe over a period of 4 or 5 weeks. At first, it was getting rid of the photo in the living room so when Julie came over, she felt comfortable there. Working my way down the hall into the bedroom and things like that but it’s a process. Like anything in life, if you want to value something, that’s going to take work. A lot of good things come from work. I’m not selling this as being easy but it’s going to take work. Also, you’ve got to decide, “This is what I want.”

Like anything in life, if you want to value something, that's going to take work. A lot of good things come from work. Click To Tweet

Thank you for saying that because a lot of times, influencers or people try to make things look very sleek and very easy. The idea of walking through this, one other thing you said, is not a cookie-cutter scenario. It’s not a top three steps that this person takes and you walk out and do this. It’s going to be unique to your life and the things that you have to unpack to be able to make yourself ready. I know we’ve talked about a lot. If I was interested in you coaching me, is that virtual or in person? How do you provide those services for people?

It’s usually over Zoom. I do some phone calls. If people aren’t comfortable with Zoom, I’ll do a phone call, but I prefer Zoom like what we’re doing where I can see people and they can see me. We can talk that way, but for the most part, it’s virtual. I have clients all over the world. I think about every continent, I have at least one client. That’s a nice thing about technology and this didn’t exist again when I was widowed. You can talk to somebody clear across the country who can relate to what you’re going through or help you with what you’re going through. Most of my sessions are Zoom and virtual.

How would a person contact you if they were interested?

The best ways to go to my website. It’s www.AbelKeogh.com and there’s a coaching link on there. You can read more details that way and you can see what my hours are and schedule. You can see if there’s a time that works for you.

Do you do public speaking also, or is it just coaching?

I do speak as well. It’s mostly coaching but I have gone to some events where I’ve talked about my experiences and things like that it’s a niche market in the sense that there’s not a lot of information out there and it’s one of those things that you don’t think you need until you need it.

It is a group that nobody wants to be a part of, but once you’re there, you’re looking for information. You spoke about early on the ability to talk with someone else. Whether it’s watching one of your videos on YouTube under a topic. I was watching one of the topics you had was a lady had written in about feeling she was in a competition for the widower that she was dating.

I think it was about eight minutes but you broke that question down and gave some very helpful information because oftentimes, people are not ready to speak with someone right away. They want the information, but they’re apprehensive about making themselves available and vulnerable. I have two questions for you. One, what gives you hope?

My family gives me hope. Right now, it’s my family. My family’s gives me hope. I’m married to Julie. I have seven kids. I have seven kids. They are what keep me going and give me hope. They give me hope but at the same time, it’s snowing that things can be taken away from you in an instant. You can have a wonderful family now or a wonderful spouse and they can be gone tomorrow. I think it’s taking advantage of this time that we have because time is an infinite resource and we only have so much of it. It’s making the most of the time that we have.

That is good information there. That’s something to take to heart. After losing a loved one, the value of the time that we have becomes even more important. If you could talk to young Abel, what age would he be and what advice would you give him?

Widow Abel or before?

You get to pick whatever timeline you want.

If I could go back to the widowed Abel, probably a few months after Krista died, before I start dating again and where I’m struggling with my feelings, which is like, “I feel like I should be dating again. What’s wrong with me?” Those are the feelings I had about two months after Krista died. I’m like, “Why do I have this feeling? What’s wrong with me?”

If I could go back to the early widowed Abel, I would tell him that everything’s going to be okay. Sometimes we’re faced with these situations and they seem overwhelming, big, and huge. “I’m never going to get through this.” Most people get through it just fine. It’s not that it happens overnight but if I could go back to widowed Abel there, I’d say, “It’s going to be okay. Take a breath. Take it one day at a time. You’ll be fine.” That’s the advice I’d give my young widowed self because I think I was so desperate and so wanting a solution to my problems. There was a solution but it was like, “Do these three things, and your life is fixed.” It’s not a simple solution.

I’m glad you mentioned that because finding another person doesn’t solve the grief journey. They become a part of it but they can’t be our solution to our life again. There has to be, as you spoke about before, that heart and that mind work to make us right because that’s such a heavy price to put on somebody else to be your total fix. That makes sense that it’ll be okay.

 

WRT 33 | Dating A Widower

 

Ultimately, the only person that can heal you is yourself. You can have a reason like Julie. When I decided that I was serious about Julie, she was a reason for me moving forward but Julie couldn’t fix me. She couldn’t heal me. That was all the work that I had to do. She could be the reason I was doing the work. She could be my muse and the inspiration for why I was doing what I was doing, but Julie can’t take my grief away. That was something I had to work through myself but I did it with the goal in mind that I’m going to work through this so I can have a relationship with her. She was the reason I was doing it, but there was nothing she could do to say that was going to fix that.

 

 

Thank you for clarifying that. I said to but I have two more. When someone is looking to work with you, is that in line with being a therapist, or how does it differ from the services that you offer?

I’m a coach. I’m not a licensed therapist or anything like that. What I’m looking to do like any coach is evaluate where you’re at and what is it that you need. A good coach can take a player. I’ll use volleyball, for example. I have a daughter who plays volleyball and a good coach can take my daughter and say, “You’re 6’1”. Here’s your strength. I want you to be an outside hitter. I want you to be a middle and say, “Here’s your strengths, here’s your weaknesses. Let’s work on this to make you a better player so to speak.

That’s kind of what I do in the sense that when I first meet with someone, it’s like, “Let’s take a look ourselves or at a relationship, or whatever the issue is, and figure out. Let’s figure out kind of a game plan for going forward. It’s not me talking to you. I usually give my clients homework in a sense like, “Here’s some stuff that you’ve got to start working on.”

For some people, the homework might be this relationship is not going anywhere. Your best option is to end it. It also might be, “You need to start having these conversations that we’ve talked about with them. Here’s how you frame the conversations. It’s coaching them through how to have that conversation and doing things like that. That’s what I do and I don’t know who. If you’re reading this, thank you but I know there are therapists that refer people to me.

Again, it’s not for the therapy, part of it but that he can relate to what it is that you’re going through. They’ve read my books and stuff so these aren’t like blind referrals. They say, “My therapist has your books and recommended that I talk to you.” I’m not going to necessarily walk. Through grief therapy or anything but I can say, “If you’re ready to date again or you think you’re ready to date, let’s evaluate this. Let’s talk about this.

Maybe the game plan is, “Let’s go on three casual dates in the next six weeks.” It’s gotten them through that and saying, “Yes. As part of this, you’ve got to take the wedding ring off right before you knock on their door or whatever or medium. You’ve got to take it off or whatever. It’s coaching them through that or even helping them understand that it’s okay to feel like you’re cheating on your spouse. This is normal but let’s focus on the next two hours with this person and then you can go back to feeling guilty or something like that.

As you said, walking through that grief journey is probably more suited for someone dealing with their therapist. That way when you’re ready to carry out some specific actions, that’s where you come into play and to be able to help and guide them through that process.

Especially actions related to starting a new chapter. I have people that just want to start dating again. That’s as far as they can see and that’s fine. I have people that I’ve talked to that said, “I enjoyed being married and I want to get married again.” That’s great. It’s understanding what it is that they’re looking for. If I can’t help you, I will tell you I can’t help you and all. I can refer you to people that can but again, it’s coaching around how do you open your heart. How do you show this person?

Maybe they’re dating someone and the relationship not working out. I say, “Let’s evaluate your actions. Let’s evaluate what it is that you’re doing. Why might this not be working ou? If it’s a widow or widower or someone dating a widow or widower, it’s like, “You need to have some tough conversations with this person. I will coach you through how to frame these conversations and you can practice on me. I’ll push back and I’ll give you all kinds of snarky answers. I’ll say, “You don’t understand. I’ll coach you through how to answer some pushback that you might get.

Thank you so much for this conversion. All your books are on Amazon, I believe.

Yeah. They’re all on Amazon or again they’re all on the website. You can go to AbelKeogh.com and all on the front page there. They’re all on Amazon. Most of them can be found on other websites as well.

They are on our list of resources. If you go to our website under resources, all the books are listed there too. You can click a link and buy them right there on Amazon. Thank you, Abel, so much. I’ll leave the closing comments to you as we wrap this up.

Thanks, Tina. Especially those widows and widowers out there reading this, thank you but I want you to know that whatever your next chapter looks like, it doesn’t have to include dating but I want you to know that you can be happy again. That there is a life after loss and you can be happy again. Whatever you want that life to look like, enjoy it.

 

WRT 33 | Dating A Widower

 

Enjoy your friends and enjoy your family. If you get into a relationship, give your whole heart to that and enjoy it as well but don’t let a loss define who you are. Don’t let loss limit who you are. You can have another wonderful chapter to whatever that looks like, but it’s a wonderful world out there and you’ve got lots to give it. Don’t sit around and be sad. Figure out a way to find and share your joy with other people.

Thank you so much.

Thanks, Tina.

Did he not deliver? Was that not a good conversation? Sometimes, I wonder about myself getting so excited about these discussions because I know what it is leveraged on. It’s the death of someone that we love, but being able to have someone be part of our conversation to bring hope, encouragement, and healing is what the show is about. Abel was able to do that with the information he shared.

I am so sorry for the person that you have lost that has driven you to this conversation, but my desire and I hope that you are receiving information that is inspiring you to have a life that you can enjoy. Also, having a life that you feel that you can wake up and be happy to be in because the journey of grief is difficult, but it is something that you are capable of doing. I thank you for allowing me and the show to be part of your journey. Thanks for being here and have a good day. We’ll talk to you soon.

 

Important Links

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide