Essential Conversations With Dr. Amy: Finding new thought partners following the passing of a spouse

People often find that one of the greatest benefits of being in a couple is having someone with whom to dream about the future and to think through plans and decisions. Usually a spouse is the number one “thought partner”—the person we turn to when musing about things to come and making sense of things that have passed. As anyone who has experienced it will tell you, losing our thought partner can be one of the greatest losses associated with becoming widowed.

If you are widowed, how can you move forward in your life without your spouse’s valued input? Some people envision what their spouse would have wanted for them as they are thinking through options and plans for the future. Likely you and your spouse knew each other so well that you can imagine what they might say about something you are considering. One thing that is almost certain is that they would encourage you to make decisions that allow you to keep living your life to the fullest.

Although no one will ever replace your spouse, this is a good time to consider who else you might turn to for help thinking through ideas. Below are three different thought partner options you might consider for discussing future plans and concerns.

Your adult children

It’s common for people to assume their children are the best people to engage in these types of discussions. Whether or not this is true depends on a number of factors. The first thing to consider is the type of relationship you have with your adult children. Some parents may have always consulted their adult children as they made decisions; others may inform their children of decisions after the fact; and still others may not discuss their lives with their children at all! Depending on your relationship with your children, it may or may not seem natural to discuss future plans with them. If it is, great! If not, they are definitely not your only option.

The second factor to consider is that your children are not neutral parties and may have feelings that make it hard for them to look at things objectively. For example, if you are considering selling the home you and your spouse shared and where you raised them, they may have emotional ties to that home and may not be able to see that it would be in your best interest to move from that home to, say, a retirement residence where you may have a better quality of life.

Finally, because your adult children are not at the same life stage as you, they may not fully understand what you are experiencing right now. There is wisdom and perspective that we gain from life experience, and they simply don’t have the benefit of that yet. What they may be able to offer us instead is a different and perhaps refreshing perspective that comes from their unique life circumstances.

Your friends

When seeking a thought partner with similar life-experience, a long-time friend may be exactly what you need, especially if they have known you through many stages of your life and understand you well. You may find that you are a mutual help to each other since you may be thinking through similar things and can support each other as you reason out what is best for this next chapter of your life. Often people report that, once widowed, their friends become even more important to them.

Professionals

Sometimes we need to reach out to a professional for help sorting things out in our life. As we are working through decisions about our future, a professional counselor or coach may be very helpful as a sounding board and able to offer objective suggestions that others with whom we are personally involved may not be able to provide. You may even consider turning to current trusted specialists in your life, such as a doctor, lawyer, financial planner or perhaps even a pastor.

As you move through the dreams, plans and decisions of your next chapters, you may find that you have thought partners from each of these three categories. Having a wide variety of thought partners can be like having your own personal board of directors with whom you consult. What a wonderful way to infuse your life with new energy and ideas!