Question Six: Are Widows Less Emotionally Damaged than Divorcees?




An Anonymous Questioner asks:

I divorced about 4 years ago, and have been through two relationships (one about 2 years, the other about 8 months) with women who were divorced. Lots of passion, but emotionally frustrating. Both of these women carried deep scars from their previous marriages, scars what made them either skeptical of or scared of real love. I am in my 40s, and find it difficult to connect with much younger women, particularly those that have never been married, but it seems like the divorced women I have met or dated are so damaged.

With my divorce, I had married for real love but lost my wife over the years to worsening depression and alcoholism until she became a hollowed out husk of the person I had married. I became like a widower living with a ghost. Losing a spouse/marriage this way was like a death. Made me think that perhaps a widow (in the 35-45 range) might be a good fit for me for many reasons. Curious to hear your thoughts.

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Dear Anonymous,

I sympathize with your plight. I too have met men so damaged by past relationships they seem incapable of forming anything deep with a new person.

I have also met men thought my being a widow gave me a clean bill of emotional health.  One guy said he was thrilled that I was a widow because I “wasn’t broken like the rest of us.” Another said that my being a widow from a long marriage meant that I could get along with men. Unfortunately, both these guys were were frighteningly self-absorbed.  One was such a self-righteous, entitled schmuck that I wrote about him as a “type” to avoid. My Bitchy Article

And now you see the problem.

Each person has different emotional baggage regardless of how they came to be single.

Just because I’m a widow doesn’t make me any less “damaged” than the divorced ladies. I’m probably more bitter and cynical than most.  Just not about my late husband.

Nonetheless, when one spouse divorces another, they’re rejecting their partner, physically and emotionally as well as legally. This rejection can be emotionally devastating to the spouse who didn’t want a divorce, and can inflict psychic damage on a par with, or worse than, death. The rejected spouse feels betrayed by the divorcing spouse.  It calls their entire marriage into question.  Impact of Divorce vs. Death of Spouse

Unlike widowhood, divorce can involve stigma where the person divorced  feels ostracized. Friends may desert her. One blogger characterizes life after divorce as “one of withdrawal by friends and placing blame, one of growing isolation, one of constant interference in efforts to re-establish a recognizable ‘life.’” Daily Plate of Crazy

In death we confront the finality of a loved one’s passing. In divorce, though we don’t generally wish our partners dead, we sometimes realize that life would be easier were that the case.  Self-esteem will take a hit. Legal battles may rage on for years. And although the marriage is over, the rejected spouse still has to deal with her former husband.  We demonstrate more compassion when it comes to widowhood although the ghosts of the divorced still walk the planet.  Death or Divorce: Which is Worse

Personally, I have felt people respected me and were prone to like me because I’m a widow. I stayed with my husband, and was his caregiver, through cancer. I survived his loss. If I’m out and about, I’m exhibiting resilience!  I do not feel judged. But it sounds like some divorced ladies feel they are judged, and consequently abandoned by friends.  This could really damage someone who is already feeling abandoned by her spouse and who feels vulnerable!

Plus, I need not question my marriage.  It ended because of my husband’s death.  I mourn the marriage, but I don’t doubt my choices or my husband’s love and loyalty.

But why your particular ladies are damaged, if indeed they are, is unique to each of them.

Perhaps, they don’t want the commitment you crave.   They may not be ready.  That bond may be something they don’t want regardless of perceived damage.

Offering “real love” can be subjective.  It means different things to different people.  I’ve dated guys who allegedly wanted deep commitments, but really wanted a woman who would cater to their needs. One guy talked about a partnership, but really wanted a de facto mother. Another thought we had an amazing connection, but used me as his shrink. “Real love” is a beautiful idea, but the reality is open to interpretation.

Passion is wonderful; finding someone for a deep committed relationship is so difficult.  I’m going through it wth my boyfriend of one year.  We have passion.  Is he permanently damaged from his divorce and that makes him unable to see outside his  own viewpoint?  Maybe he always lacked empathy even before he was married or divorced. Or is my idea of love selfishly based upon someone who can nurture me through the grief process such that my damage is dooming the relationship? (Nope, he doesn’t read my blog).

You have asked a complicated question which depends on too many variables for a definitive answer:

  1. Is your idea of “real love” something mutual beyond your own construct?
  2. Are the divorced ladies really damaged or is it just that they don’t want the same thing that you do?
  3. Are we dealing with character traits that exist irrespective of divorce?
  4. Would a widow be less “damaged’? (Well, it depends on the widow in question.)

So, by all means broaden your search to include widows, but please don’t expect us to be a less flawed group.  Each woman in question will have her own transcendent qualities, and possibly accompanying baggage, requiring an individual evaluation.

I’m so sorry about your prior marriage. I think the quest for real love is a beautiful one, and I wish you luck in finding the right person.

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Dear Readers, do you think the divorced are more apt to be”damaged” the the widowed?   Does one or the other make for a better prospective mate?   I’m really curious about this.





  • kevin says:

    Everyone is damaged.

    Some are stronger, some are quieter, some are oblivious.

    Many, if not most, lack empathy, typical of mid-life teenagers: married young, now free to learn the harsh lessons of relationships the rest of us figured out in our tumultuous twenties.

    Everyone is damaged, in different ways, to differing degree.

    Whether that damage or their ability to heal is a deal-breaker is up to you. Your willingness to participate shouldn’t only be dependent upon their frailties, but often we get to a point in the relationship when the passion has evened out a bit, and you begin to see the “real” them, and often they don’t want to be “fixed”.

    When people show you who they are, BELIEVE them.

    Best wishes and Happy Holidays.


    • Debbie says:

      You make several good points. Many of the single folk we meet now do seem like mid-life teenagers. And people will eventually show you who they are…Happy Holidays to you too, Kevin.

  • Michael says:

    Everyone carries with them scars and damage that resulted from relationships that were not fulfilling. Some of these walking wounded are widowed, some are divorced, some have never been married, and some are trying to reach the end of something that is failing.
    My experience tells me there is no relationship/marital status condition that is any less “damaged” than another. The hurt, fear, and uncertainties people have are dealt with uniquely and individually.
    Physical pain is better tolerated by some than others. It doesn’t mean the pain isn’t felt, it is more a matter that for some the hurt is a 3 while with others it’s a 7. The same is true of emotional hurt from a past relationship.
    My experiences have also shown that those wanting to move through the hurt and repair the damage, are those willing to share and discuss the discomforts. Which is tied to a few essential elements of “true love”:
    communications; honesty; trust
    Too often, we expect chemistry and passion to take over immediately and with those beakers of colorful solutions percolating away over the flame of desire, all will be made right. When in truth, it isn’t passion that leads us to true love, rather it is empathy, attentiveness, and patience that do.
    Don’t look for the relationship type to be the panacea to your dating conundrums, rather take it upon yourself to listen and appreciate that we all suffered. The ones that are better are the ones willing to partner you into their histories.

    • Debbie says:

      Excellently put. I agree that each person is an individual and can’t be classified by their pasts. So, where would I find your writing? You may need your own advice column.

      • Michael says:


        Thank you. Your compliments are appreciated, encouraging, and thoughtful.

        My writing is where yours was prior to that moment when breath held, you raced towards the precipice’s edge and made that leap hoping to be able to fly. You were willing to fail/fall which is part of moving on. My writing is currently scribbles of scattered sheets of paper, entries stored in my hard drives, and comments on the websites of others.

        As I type this, though, I am racing forward, breath held, and wide eyed because I don’t want to miss a thing.
        I will send you my site information within the next few days, as well as how to hear one of my radio broadcasts.

        May the joy and happiness of the holiday season be with you each and every day — everyone.

        • Debbie says:

          I look forward to getting the information. I think I’m somewhere between teetering and walking. Happy Holidays to you too.

  • neil says:

    Is labeling people to such an extent helpful?

    It’s all about compatibility. If your interest is a LTR/marriage, look for people in their routine settings, find their natural self, not their dating self.

    1. People meet at work.
    2. People meet at their place of worship.
    3. People meet through friends.
    4. People meet through shared interests, hobbies and such.

    The broad, unfocused approach will yield broad, unfocused results.

    • Debbie says:

      You make some good points. But,not everyone has the chance to meet that many people through their regular activities. Or they need a new group of people to meet. But labeling may not be helpful. People are so varied.

  • neil says:

    Yes, you are correct, not everyone has the chance to meet that many people through their regular activities. That was my situation too. My post is based in part on insights learned from one therapist in particular many years ago. Work and worship were foreclosed to me as a place to meet women. My business employed older men. Parochial education put me off organized religion, among other things. Higher education is a good place to meet people. I neglected to put higher education on my list. Taking summer and evening school classes, I met and dated women when I first started working toward an undergraduate degree at age 29.

    Divorced or Widowed, each group represents women with adult life experience. How each woman copes with reality will vary with individuals, personal resilience and coping skills, and the degree of trauma experienced. Death is an unnecessary taboo in American society. That may be changing through education, and literature like this blog, but I am not certain.

    Labeling tends to reduce the afflicted person to their status, such as emotionally damaged widow or divorcee. Survivor is an empowering term. Single woman, whose spouse died, is descriptive. My objection to labeling comes from its use in medicine, describing hospital patients. The heart attack in room 100. The ruptured spleen in room 101. The paraplegic in room 102.

    Coming to terms with one’s own mortality beforehand may lessen the trauma of the death of a spouse or family member. I don’t know for certain. My mother died of Alzheimer’s. I was her caregiver. There was limited support and information, as I recall. One thing that helped was having certain legal documents in place.

    Designation of Health Care Surrogate.
    Living Will (Advance Medical Directive)
    Durable Power of Attorney
    Last Will and Testament

    I think education about death helps remove the trauma and fear surrounding the inevitable experience. “Why Doctors Die Differently” is a good story on the Wall Street Journal

    “Careers in medicine have taught them the limits of treatment and the need to plan for the end. What’s unusual about doctors is not how much treatment they get compared with most Americans, but how little.”

    I also recommend “Washing Kathryn, Touching Death” on The Order of the Good Death blog

  • Jane says:

    The very question i have put to myself multiple times over the last few mont of 21 yrs decided one day to sleep with a much younger woman, then leave his family and all family obligations( bar financial). No warning, no discussion. I feel betrayed and vulnerable and extremely lonely despite having many loving family and friends to take care of me. I have often thought how the grief I am going through would be be much more acceptable to others if he had died. I am judged by mutual friends seeking to perhaps align themselves with one or other of us. Of course I certainly don’t wish him dead . Our teenage kids , hurt though they are, need his support. But for me its hard to see an end to the grief that comes with the demise of our marriage that, given the choice, I would dearly love to still be in.
    I am damaged, but I know I will come out of the fog of pain soon. I will always carry the scars, but I don’t think that makes me a person to avoid on the dating front. I’d love to find someone special, damaged or not. I don’t know many people who get to middle age without suffering some hurt or loss. It doesn’t have to define who we are.

    • Debbie says:

      I’m so sorry about your husband. I agree that the losses we have suffered don’t have to define us, and as we get older, we will have suffered losses. Those losses affect who we become, but they don’t have to make us “damaged.” I’ve heard from divorced friends who felt judged because they got divorced. And my friends whose husbands betrayed them are necessarily cautious about the men they date.

      You seem to be handling all this really well with as positive an attitude as is possible given the circumstances. I wish you luck in finding someone special.

  • Veronica says:

    Divorced my husband after 30 years of marriage, 4 fabulous children, but many episodes of violence from him, rather like manic-depressive episodes on thinking about it in retrospect. Finally enough being enough and the kids off on their own, I left to make my own way in the world…He thought all he had to do was talk me out of it, and didn’t recognize the new me making a complete new start with only $200 in my purse and no intention of fighting him over any material goods ! My new me was ready… I found a new job, moved into my eldest son & girlfriend’s spare bedroom for a few weeks, then found a new apartment far enough away to begin again. Really enjoyed finding stuff in the dollar stores to get my new life going. After 2 years I got the deposit together to buy my own house and threw myself into my new life and had a wonderful 20 year career until retiring 2 years ago. Not a single thought of looking back – except for enjoying some sweet memories of the best times we had together and my kids’ childhood times. They still see their ‘nutty’ Dad and talk about him amicably, I do not put him down, they know the history and we are all rational and non-blaming. He is remarried, hopefully behaving, altho I do not know if that is true. I am sad in my deep soul, but constantly realize how much i have to be happy for, my lovely children & grandchildren, mainly good health & the ability to support myself alone all these years in comparative prosperity..Nothing to complain about for this life of mine – so many with sorrows greater than mine – I wish for everyone to be content and appreciative of the advantages they enjoy in life, May you all enjoy peace and content – happiness is overrated, sweet quiet joy is attainable thru the breath of the wind, the sweet smell of a flower, the giggle of a little child, all belong to us all. I am not religious but I love this gorgeous blue orb with a passion and wish for us all to be custodians for those who follow. Happy New Year to all who are hurting
    and may you find that which you are seeking.

    • Debbie says:

      Thank you for sharing your story. Your resilience is amazing. And thanks for the lovely sentiments. I have a friend who also says to try to find contentment and beauty in the little things. Happy New Year Veronica!