Unfortunately, a tragedy can cause a marriage to fall apart at a time when support is most needed. It helps to develop some understanding of how grief can impact a relationship and what to do about it.
Grief that Affects One of You
If your mate is affected by a loss, this can adversely affect your relationship for these reasons:
- It can cause the mate to isolate themselves, and make you feel shut out.
- It may affect their libido and desire for romance.
- Since grief is an individual experience, you may be unsure how to comfort them, or you may feel inadequate to the task.
- They may become stuck in grief and need professional help.
- Grief can take a long time to be resolved, and you may feel impatient.
Grief that Affects Both of You
If you are experiencing a loss that significantly affects both of you, you must realize people go through the stages of grief in different ways. If your partner tries to control your experience or becomes judgmental about how you are coping, resentment can develop.
The seven basic stages of grief are:
- Initial shock and denial which are self-protective mechanisms to keep you from being overwhelmed.
- Pain that floods in as shock wears off. This is often accompanied by guilt, and it can be over a myriad of regrets. Your mate may try to convince you that your guilt is not reasonable which may be comforting, or it may be aggravating to you.
- Anger which can be directed towards others, or at a higher power. A person may also try to bargain with their higher power by promising to do this or that if only the loved one could be restored. This stage is a dangerous one, because if you lash out at people, the things you do or say may not be soon forgiven. It can alienate your mate when you need them the most.
- Depression will come as you contemplate your loss and realize your powerlessness over it. You may need this time to reflect but if your mate isn't in the same place, they may feel impatient with you and want you to "get over it."
- Your life begins to make a slight upturn. You feel calmer and less depressed.
- Your mind begins working better and you start reconstructing your life by tackling practical problems of coping with the loss.
- In the last stage, you begin to find acceptance of the situation and you start looking forward again. You are able to remember the loved one without the wrenching pain you first experienced. You start enjoying life more.
You may go through the stages at different times and some more than once before accepting the loss so sometimes your needs may clash. Your mate may have coping strategies that are not available to you (such as an absorbing occupation), or vice-versa.
As you grieve together, you need to be respectful and non-judgmental. Sometimes you need to just listen as the other person pours out their heart, so they can open up to you. In turn, they need to do the same for you. By allowing and encouraging communication, you can develop understanding of where each other is at.
It helps to realize your limitations. You can't take another person's pain of loss away and you would experience undue frustration if you tried. If you are able, be present when they reach out to you. This will help you both become closer as time goes by.
If you feel anger bubbling up at your mate, you may need to talk to a friend, spiritual adviser, or therapist to help you get through it without harming your mate emotionally.
For professional guidance to cope with the challenges this has brought to your marriage, you will want to get couple's counseling (from professionals such as Bock Belisle & Associates).