When someone is grieving a partner, regaining a sense of intimacy can be exceptionally challenging—there’s a reason why this step comes in the later stages of grief, says psychotherapist Liam Reilly.
The first step of grief is denial. This may involve withdrawing yourself, avoiding others, and closing yourself off from relationships. But as you begin to heal—which may take a good deal of time—you may find yourself ready to love and be physically intimate again.
The importance of intimacy while grieving
People tend to feel isolated when they’re grieving—a sense of abandonment can arise after the death of a partner. This is why it’s important to foster intimacy (though not necessarily sexual or romantic intimacy) during the grieving process. Find people who can support you and serve as anchors as you navigate the different stages of grief, Reilly says. “That can help you to connect to others when you feel like so much has already been lost.” Grief groups can be exceptionally helpful, in addition to reaching out to family and friends.
When to seek intimacy after the death of a partner
“Each person has a different timeline,” Reilly says. For some, the most intense parts of the grieving process can last for years before they reach a point of acceptance that allows them to seek sexual and romantic intimacy. Starting a relationship or having sex with another person after the death of a partner can feel, at first, like a betrayal. And if that’s the main emotion you feel when you do seek intimacy again, that may be a sign that it’s a little too early for you to explore a relationship with someone new.
“If you begin to feel a longing for connection, a longing for intimacy, a longing for sex, that is when you need to listen to yourself,” Reilly says. And don’t stop listening to yourself—after your first few dates or sexual encounters, really think about how you feel. Does it feel like a welcome release? Does it feel great to feel a spark with someone new? Then, you’ve likely reached the acceptance stage of your grief, and you might be ready to welcome new romantic and sexual relationships into your life. It will help to be communicative with your new partner(s) about what you’ve been through, as your emotions and reactions may rightfully fluctuate. Give yourself time to heal.