Tools to Keep Your Grief From Breaking You Apart
Losing a child is quite possible the greatest pain you can experience in your life. The stress of the tremendous grief you must walk through is not only detrimental to your own personal mental health, but it can wreak havoc on your marriage. Men and women often grieve in opposite ways, and when you navigate through your pain differently than your spouse, sometimes it seems like you are in it alone. If you experience the unthinkable and lose a child, this is the time when you need most to turn to each other for support, even if your grief looks very different from your partner’s. Here are some ways to stay close as you go through the loss of a child.
Acknowledge Gender Differences
Individuals will grieve according to a lot of factors, and one of them is gender. While women are more likely to cry openly and want to talk about the loss of a child, men will often take on the role of “the rock,” trying to remain strong. This can lead to bottled up feelings that exist but are not readily apparent to the wife. As a result, the woman in the marriage can start to believe that her husband doesn’t feel as much pain as she does, or doesn’t seem to care about the loss. The husband might feel as though his wife is too stuck in pain and doesn’t have concern for him anymore, or that she insists on “stirring up” the worst feelings in everyone. In reality, you are both grieving and feeling the loss and aren’t trying to hurt each other. Once you acknowledge that you are ultimately still on the same team and want to fight to keep your family strong, you can start to show more understanding to each other.
Don’t stay bottled up in your own version of grief. Talk to your partner about why you are reacting the way you are and listen to their explanation, even if it’s brief. For instance, you might explain “It’s not that I don’t care that we lost our child. I feel the pain too, but I focus on work because it gives me a way to channel my energy and forget for a few hours.” That lets your wife know that you do think about your child, but also need a distraction for your own sanity. As a wife, you might explain that talking about the loss helps you feel some relief from your emotional pain – but you also understand that life will move forward and you aren’t trying to ignore the needs of everyone else in the family.
Always Turn to Each Other
Find ways to turn to each other, even if you also lean on other family members and friends as you grieve. Your spouse is the only other person who truly feels the same loss, so you need to support each other. As a husband, you can find a few minutes at the end of the day to talk about your grief so that your wife knows you are willing to open up. During this time, you can also allow her to unload her emotions and comfort her with hugs. As a wife, you might promise each day to dedicate 30 minutes to a walk outdoors or a mutual hobby where you put aside your despair and try to stay positive, and let your husband talk about whatever he wants. These compromises will help you understand your mate and keep your bond strong.
Seek out couples counseling. The feelings you have are so personal and deep that it might be hard to know where to even start a conversation. A therapist will provide a safe, sensitive environment where you can each express your grief in your own way without judgment.
Are you going through the loss of a child in your relationship? Come see me so we can work together to improve your communication in the relationship and keep your secure attachment strong. We will work at the pace that is right for you.
About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653