Grief might bring a couple together, or it might have the opposite effect
Grief is a very individual experience and everyone reacts differently. Grief might bring you and your partner together, or it might have the opposite effect and tear you apart.
Here, we cover grief responses as a couple and how you can support each other.
Grief might cause conflict between you
Even if you and your partner are grieving for the same thing, you may find you’re both reacting differently. This can feel very challenging, especially if one of you seems to be getting on with it, and the other is feeling distraught and unable to function.
This can also happen if you’ve lost someone close to you but not close to them, or vice versa. There can be an apparent lack of empathy or understanding with what you’re, or they’re going through, which can cause disconnect.
Everyone reacts differently. There’s also no timeline to grief. Just because your partner seems ok to the outside world, they might have buried their grief, or they might feel able to function. It doesn’t mean they’re not feeling the loss. They are just reacting differently.
Try not to compare your grief. It’s individual to you, just as your relationship with the person who died is unique to you.
Understanding male and female grief
Men and women tend to grieve differently from each other. Many men have been brought up to be strong and hide emotions.They try to fix things and find practical solutions, such as buying gifts to make you feel better.
However in doing so, he may be unintentionally denying you the space to express how you’re really feeling. Men might struggle to cope with women crying and might find it unbearable.
Most women find it natural to need to talk about how they feel. If a man doesn’t enable this, they might feel he doesn’t care. Men can react to their grief very privately and actively by keeping busy. They might cry alone but it doesn’t mean they don’t feel the hurt just as much, it’s just expressed in different ways.
Men can be more angry when they are grieving and women can find this uncomfortable to witness.
Grief might bring you closer
Sometimes, grief can bring the opportunity for bonding. If you’re able to communicate with each other about the loss, it will make it easier to ask for and receive support from each other.
Ultimately, the shared experience of loss can help you both find strength and solace in each other, knowing you’re not alone in your grief.
How you can support each other
A lot of work and understanding is needed to survive the emotional rollercoaster of grief.
1. Look out for grief symptoms
When there’s unresolved grief, it’s not unusual for it to manifest itself in other ways, such as numbing the pain with alcohol or food, anger at the slightest thing, or ill health. Symptoms of depression may also surface.
Talking doesn’t come easily for some, and grief can become buried. They might not recognise they’re even grieving. It might help for you to go first and talk about how you’re feeling. This is a signal to your partner they’re not alone with how they’re feeling, and they might feel ready to share their feelings with you. It’s ok to ask them how they’re feeling and it’s ok to ask them for a hug.
It’s very easy when you know someone inside out to anticipate or tell them how they’re feeling. Don’t. Just listen. Listening to someone going through loss requires a different kind of listening, where you remove any distractions around you or in your mind, and focus purely on what they’re saying. Don’t interrupt. Really just listen until their talking comes to a natural stop, and offer them a hug. It might not feel like a natural conversation but it will help them and they will feel heard.
Be patient with your partner and ask your partner to be patient with you. Grief isn’t a hurdle you just jump over. It can go on. Sometimes for years. However, opening up about it can help to ease the pain.
5. Additional Support
If you or your partner, or both of you are really struggling and can’t see a way out of your grief, or even if you’re only feeling a small amount of discomfort, don’t be afraid to seek out support.
There are lots of peer grief support groups out there, which are fantastic for knowing you’re not alone. However, in order to take action to move beyond feelings of pain and sorrow, professional support can work really well, such as the grief specialists you can find in the Find an Expert section of our website.
Tracey Mills is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist based in East Sussex, near Brighton and Eastbourne. Tracey offers one-to-one personal sessions (in person or on Zoom) and group workshops. In her own words Tracey "Wants to help you feel the joy of life again, because I know it is possible after loss"