There are a range of normal and healthy responses to grieving a loss. However, couples sometimes experience distress when they perceive their partner’s way of grieving as different. Difference is actually okay. But it is often the stories couples tell themselves about this difference that causes an issue: i.e. “He/She just doesn’t care,” “He’s/She’s taking too long to get over this,” “He/She is too emotional,” etc. Here are 5 things to keep in mind if you and your partner are grieving differently:
- People Express Grief Differently: And this is okay. How people express grief is related to a number of factors including spiritual beliefs, how grief has been modeled in their family of origin, prior experiences of loss, preferred coping skills, having depression or anxiety, etc. Try to recognize that your partner’s way of grieving is likely different than yours, but this does not necessarily mean it is unhealthy or inappropriate (unless your partner is actually engaging in unhealthy or inappropriate behavior like acting out with addictive behaviors or having affairs). Respect this difference, and give your partner the time and space to heal the way they need. Remember to afford yourself the same respect and patience!
- The “Same” Loss May Have Different Meaning To You and Your Partner: Even when you and your partner loose the same person in your life, the meaning of this loss is likely different based on the type of relationship you had with this person or even who this person also represented or reminded them of (like a sister/brother they never had, like their mom/dad, etc.). Also, sometimes a recent loss can force a past painful loss back into the present. Couples struggling with infertility sometimes have to grief the loss of the image or idea of what they thought their family would be. Grieving the loss of a biological family after struggling with infertility likely has different meanings to each partner based on real gender differences, the importance of a biological family to both of you, how fulfilled your life feels outside of family, etc.
- Tell Your Partner What You Need: Neither you or your partner is ever going to become a mind reader. Think about the way you are grieving and tell them what kind of support would be most helpful to you right now. The type of support you need may change over time so make sure to update your partner if your needs change.
- Ask Your Partner What They Need: Specifically ask your partner how you can help them during this time. This question alone often makes partners feel understood and cared about, even if they do not specifically know what they may need from you. Make sure to check in over time as their needs might change.
- Increase Your Own Self-Care: In order to best take care of yourself and support your partner, make sure you increase your self-care. As airline attendants always remind us just before take off, “Remember to fasten your oxygen mask first before helping others…” If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to take care of your partner.