Marriage means tackling challenges together as a team and relying on each other for support. One of the challenges that many, if not most, marriages must overcome is the challenge of grief.
If your husband or wife is grieving the loss of a beloved family member or friend, you might feel your marriage changing in subtle or dramatic ways. Although grief is bound to alter your relationship, those changes can be for the better, rather than the worst.
So how exactly does grief affect a marriage, and how can you navigate those rough waters with your marriage intact and healthier than ever before?
How Grief Affects a Relationship
Whether you or your spouse is grieving or you’re experiencing grief together, you might notice some of these changes happening in your marriage.
You’re not on the same page
Every marriage has days where you’re just not on the same page. Communication is harder than it usually is, and you just can’t get in sync emotionally. But when one or both spouses are grieving, you might experience this imbalance more acutely and for a longer period of time.
You feel lonely
Loneliness isn’t something you want to experience in a happy, healthy marriage. But sometimes, it can happen despite your best efforts to support your partner and receive support in return. Grief is inherently isolating because it’s different for everyone.
Existing problems have intensified
Every marriage has its sticking points and specific issues that seem to come up again and again. While these minor discrepancies can usually fade into the background, grief can bring them to the forefront and make them seem bigger than they truly are. That’s because, although sadness may be the most prevalent emotion you feel after a loss, grief also causes anger, guilt, and even increased impulsivity.
Your usual roles have reversed
Taking on a role you’re not used to in the marriage can cause discomfort and distress. If you’re used to turning to your husband for emotional reassurance, for example, you might find yourself acting as the pillar of strength while he’s grieving. It can be incredibly difficult to take on a role you haven’t filled before or don’t usually fill. It can also be frightening to see someone who’s usually so strong showing more vulnerability.
Romance and intimacy have changed
Another common change in a marriage when grief is involved is a decrease in physical intimacy and romance. On the other hand, some people find the opposite to be true. You or your spouse might be seeking more physical intimacy as a source of comfort and normalcy during a tumultuous time.
How to Manage Grief in Your Marriage
So, what can you do to mitigate the changes that grief causes in your marriage, and even turn them into a positive?
Understand and respect your differences
The most important step in dealing with grief as a team is understanding and respecting the differences in how you process grief. Avoid judging your spouse and where they are in their grief. There’s no set timeline for mourning a loss, and everyone copes differently.
Don’t push them to “get over it”
It’s easy to get impatient for your husband or wife to move on from grief. But, as mentioned, there’s no timeline that you should expect them to follow. Try not to push your spouse to recover and return to “normal” before they’re ready.
Get support from family and friends
While you or your spouse is grieving, you might not be able to offer each other all of the support you need. Especially if your husband or wife is grieving, you won’t be getting the full emotional support that you’re used to. It’s important, during this time, to get some of your social and emotional needs met outside the marriage. That means reaching out to friends and family members for love and support.
Keep counseling in mind
Counseling isn’t always necessary for grief, but if your spouse is handling their grief in unhealthy ways, such as drinking heavily or isolating themselves, it may be time to recommend outside help. You can’t force your husband or wife to get counseling for their grief, but you can offer to go with them and let them know you would support their decision to see a counselor.
Don’t stop showing affection
If grief has caused your relationship to feel more distant and detached, it’s important to keep making an effort towards emotional and physical intimacy. Spend some time each day showing affection to your partner, even if it’s just a hug or cuddling on the couch while you’re watching TV.
Don’t minimize your own feelings
If your spouse is the one who’s grieving, you might feel guilty taking time to care for yourself. However, it’s vital that you pay attention to how you’re feeling and know that those feelings are valid. Watching your spouse grieve is, in itself, a painful experience. Do what you need to do to help yourself feel safe, cared for, and loved.
Learn about your spouse
There are some qualities in people that only really show during tough times. Although seeing your spouse grieve is difficult, it’s also a chance to learn even more about the person you’re spending your life with. Pay attention to who your spouse is during hardship, especially the ways in which they’re showing strength, resilience, and other positive traits.
Wait it out
Grief can feel like it’s changed everything in your marriage, and it’s true that grief changes some things for the long term. But most of the turmoil your marriage is experiencing will just take time and patience to work itself out. It’s important to keep this in mind and not jump to conclusions about the fate of your relationship.
Grief Changes Everyone
Grief can result from many different life events. The most common source of grief is the loss of a loved one. But it can also occur after a change in finances, the loss of a job or career, or the end of a friendship.
No matter the source of grief, that sense of loss almost always changes the person experiencing it, either in subtle or more noticeable ways. But grief can also change the people around them, including and especially their spouse.
If you or your husband or wife is grieving, it’s important to take the time to reflect on how it’s affected your relationship, and to take the necessary steps to keep your marriage healthy.
This article was reposted and used with permission from Awesome Marriage
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