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How To Cope with Grief in a Relationship

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Helping a partner who is grieving and going through a loss together can be extremely challenging for both parties. As everyone grieves differently and every loss hits a different nerve, inevitably, you cannot prepare for it. Some people might just want to move on, some might want to talk about it and others can shut themselves away from everything and everyone. It’s a battle but there are ways to navigate through it as a couple.

When in a relationship, you tend to lean on each other a lot and have some sort of expectation of them, but balance is nowhere to be found where grief is involved. In a sense, the whole relationship might come to a halt, certain topics might not be discussed, and certain events might be cancelled to allow yourself or your partner to grieve.

Progress is rarely a straight line and there is no timer waiting to go off and that’s grieving down. Your partner might slow down or speed up or it won’t hit them until months down the road. All you can do is your best, and if you’re struggling to cope, I hope this article inspires you and helps your relationship for the best.

Related: Signs of unhappy Relationship

How Grief Can Affect Relationships

Grief can create a whole variety of difficulties when it comes to trying to support your partner or both of you while grieving.

It is not uncommon for someone whose partner has experienced a loss to feel a desire to be supportive and make the pain go away but lack the knowledge of how to do so. You might be concerned that you’ll say or do something incorrectly and make it worse. It’s possible to feel stuck in the middle, unsure of how to proceed. Breakdowns in communication may occur, particularly if the bereaved individual is currently withdrawing from everyone. 

You might also find that you’re receiving highs and lows from your partner, where they might be more snappy or moody. Anger is a common response to grief and is unfortunately directed at the people closest to them. This is hard; as you know, they don’t mean it but there’s only so much a person can take being spoken to.

Patience can be hard; if you aren’t grieving, then it might be hard for you to be that person to lean on all the time and for an extended period. The expectations or certain things might be different during this period but they can get too much by a certain point and potentially cause some sort of resentment.

Guilt is a cousin of grief, usually associated when you are trying to support your partner through such a difficult time in their life, not because you don’t want to but because it’s emotionally straining on you and can be stressful. This might be because you’re on edge when you’re around them or because you feel like you’re failing to make things better.

How To Support a Grieving Partner

01. Create a Support System

It might sound typical but one of the most important things you could do is be there for your partner during this time. Sometimes all that someone needs is your presence; just knowing you are there can be enough. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be there physically but just knowing when things might get dark for them that they have that support system does wonders, even if it might not look like it on the outside.

02. Be Flexible

You must respect your partner’s wishes and understand the difference between being pushed away and needing some time to grieve on their own. Sometimes the best way to be supportive is to give them distance and allow them a chance to sit and process their emotions.

It’s not uncommon for some people to want to avoid being on their own as a way to distract themselves from reality and while that might be fine for them, eventually your partner will need to process these so try and encourage them to get there space and not run away from their feelings.

03. Be Patient and Understanding

It’s normal for your partner to have highs and lows and to swap between these states rapidly, sometimes a lot during a single day. It’s best to go with the flow. While it might be confusing or difficult to deal with, you must be understanding of their situation and just be a support system during those lows.

It might help to think hypothetically about what you want and what you would need from your partner. When in doubt, ask your partner what they need from you; if they can’t give you an answer, then try getting some self-care products, a tracksuit or their favourite flowers and brighten up their day with little gestures.

04. Identify the stage of the grief

Knowing the stages of grief, as defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying,” is helpful. She created her model to represent individuals who are facing death due to a terminal illness. However, it was quickly modified to become a general grieving theory. 

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the five phases of grief. These phases of grief are not sequential; individuals may go through them at different times, and there is no set sequence in which they occur. A person going through grief might not go through all of these phases. Furthermore, some may stand out more than others. 

In the initial days after a loss, denial is common because it can be difficult to accept that a significant member of their life is not returning. After someone has passed away, anger is a common and quite normal emotion. This can be directed either at the one who has passed away and left us or at ourselves for the things we chose or did not choose to do before their passing. 

For example, bargaining: “If we could go back in time and alter things, would they have ended differently?” This happened with my mom; after my grandma passed, she wished we had moved in with her and thought that would have helped her live a longer life. My dad supported her and gave her space. It was hard because they both had to mourn the same loss in different ways and still support each other.

Depressive disorders, marked by extreme melancholy and longing, can cause excruciating pain that lasts for months or even years. Acceptance: Most people discover that it is possible to accept what has happened and that the pain usually subsides. Even though we might never truly “get over” losing a loved one, we can learn to live again and eventually love and reminisce about the fun times we had with that person.

Having a sympathetic and complete understanding of the different stages of grief will help you navigate through this and learn to not take this personally if you feel neglected or have anger directed at you. It might also help you feel more in control during this hard time. There is no right or wrong way to feel but as long as this is handled with love and understanding, everything will be fine.

What Can You Do?

Having compassion and pure understanding can allow you to be open and supportive with your partner. Patience truly is a virtue and they need it more than ever. 

One way to manage this is by regularly checking with your partner to see if they need anything from you. This just shows that you are thinking about them and that you are always there just in case they need anything.

While grief is a complicated process, it is similar to a lot of challenges in relationships and forces you both to work on things such as boundaries and communication, amongst other things. As unlikely as it might seem, these things can bring couples closer together, and as you’re the lifeline during such a vulnerable and emotional time, it should solidify the foundations of your relationship.

One temptation might be to avoid them until they express their unhappiness. This carries the risk that your distance could be interpreted as neglect or indifference if they feel unable to communicate what’s going on with them.

Asking directly will usually reveal whether or not they need assistance, as opposed to learning later that they did but were unable to express it at the time.

Keep in mind that since everyone’s perspective will differ, it’s usually not helpful to share your own experience of grief with your partner if they do talk to you about their feelings. Pay attention to your partner and express your desire to comprehend their suffering if you want to be genuinely empathic with them. 

Practically speaking, make an effort to persuade your spouse to engage in enjoyable activities with you, such as working out or taking a stroll. something you two like doing in tandem. Because exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals (hormones) our body releases in response to stress or pain, it can lift our spirits. Like that famous saying, laughing is the best medicine.

For a brief period, it can also be beneficial for your partner to be temporarily distracted from their grief; this is not the same as ignoring it; rather, it is a break from it. Reminding bereaved individuals that their loved ones would want them to be happy can be helpful because sometimes they feel guilty about enjoying themselves.

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How to cope with grief in a relationship

Lucy Couser
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