If you’re a widow or widower, the prospect of seeking a new relationship brings with it the possibility of upsetting the status quo.
With this in mind you may need to tread carefully when you decide to tell your in-laws you’re thinking of dating again. They might be pleased for you, of course, but they may also be hurt and afraid they could lose you and the association they have with you. Worse still, for them, will be the fear they may also lose their grandchildren, if there are any.
If possible it’s better to wait a few months after meeting someone before you suggest bringing the in-laws into the frame. Tell them you’re dating by all means, but keep it loose and let it seem light-hearted. As time passes, if they see you’ve developed a sound friendship and the new partner is restoring your happiness and is showing a genuine interest in you and your family, they’re more likely to accept the situation.
When you think the time is right to bring them together, introduce your in-laws to your friend by their first names. Adding ‘my in-laws’ to the introduction will immediately underline they are not only friends but also an integral part of your family. If they truly care about you, they will be pleased in the long term and if you’ve made every effort to make them feel included in your life, it will be easier for them to accept the situation.
It is inevitable there will be emotional highs and lows at this time. There will be anniversaries marking particular events you shared with your spouse and I doubt you will want to ignore these. Make it a special occasion where the in-laws and any children share the event together. Explain to your new partner that it’s important you have this time with your family in order to make every one know you have not forgotten their son/daughter. Over time this will not be so necessary as one hopes your in-laws will have come to terms with there being someone else in your life. In the early days, however, I see it as being a good way to keep everyone on your side.
Should you find yourself in the situation where your in-laws just cannot come to terms with the thought of someone else usurping their son/daughter’s role, you will have to have a serious discussion with them, especially if you’re still young. Explain that you do not want to spend the rest of your life on your own. Try and assure them your partner would have wanted you to be happy and you’re not trying to replace him/her.
Help them to understand that you’re adding a new dimension to your life, which has been shaped by your marriage or partnership with their son/daughter. If they are being difficult, they will know in their hearts they are expecting too much of you and will hopefully, gradually accept the situation. Whatever you do, avoid keeping the relationship a secret. This will make it much harder for them to accept when the news gets out and will reflect very badly upon you.
If there are children involved, make a concerted effort to arrange regular visits to the grandparents and encourage all of them to keep in touch on a regular basis. This is easy to do with online communication and making arrangements for visits and meet-ups should be encouraged.
Any changes going on in your life and theirs can be shared and mutually discussed and understood. If you’ve always had a good relationship with your in-laws, the chances are they’ll be pleased to see you moving on and if you make an effort to involve them they will be pleased to be part of your future.
There is no real code of conduct for introducing someone new to your in-laws after bereavement. If it’s been a while since your partner’s death, then it will no doubt be easier than if it is seemingly too soon after. This could be a difficult time for your new partner as well, as he/she will be aware that the presence of in-laws in your life will be a constant reminder of your late partner. If he/she is understanding it is hoped they will be the same with your bereaved partner’s family.
Moving on after bereavement can be a difficult time for you and for those close to you, but providing you’re not rushing into things, making new friends is healthy progress. Whatever direction you take, you will always have memories that can be with you forever, but not necessarily restricting your passage as you go forward.
This article is part of the ‘Love After Bereavement’ series.