When my daughter died almost 30 years ago, I was married. The pastor who conducted her funeral told my husband and I that 50% off marriages do not survive the loss of a child. That was a staggering statistic. I asked myself why? Would not this be a time we would come together and support each other in this hour of need?
Much to my surprise, this was the opposite for us. My husband and I grieved differently. I wanted to talk about our daughter. He did not. I wanted to see a couple’s counselor. He did not. I wanted to be close to family. He wanted to be with friends. I needed him to be there for me. He was not. I cried. He was stoic. I was able to forgive. He remained angry. I eventually drew closer to God. He withdrew.
Our way of handling our grief was individual. Not that my way was better than his. It was just, well, mine.
Our daughter became the elephant in the room. We did everything to avoid talking about her to the point friends and family did not mention her for fear of setting off a fight between us.
My heart was breaking. I was crushed inside but managed to move every day. I took one step at a time.
The cavern in our communication became deeper and wider. We barely spoke and when we did, it lacked emotion, love, caring and compassion. What we had in our relationship before our loss was now diminished.
It was the saving grace of God and that we had other children that we survived for another 17 years. It was our common ground once again. The children drew us closer yet at the same time, our first born was the unspeakable subject.
Not only did our communication suffer, but so did our intimacy. I was no longer physically attracted to him. It is not that his physical characteristics changed. I was lacking the emotional connection. I needed his support. I needed hugs and not just sex. From his point of view, losing our daughter should not have impacted our sexual relationship. This drove the wedge even wider between the two of us. It is a miracle that we even had more children.
Spouses’ expectations on how soon or how to handle a loss can vary significantly. Sometimes, I think this happens more to women than men that they are expected to “be over it” or “should get over it”. There is a lack of understanding and compassion.
I suggest rather than placing great expectations on one another, there are 3 questions you can ask yourself before judging our spouse.
- Ask yourself, what assumptions are you making about how the other person in feeling.
- Ask, how can I think about this situation. Am I possibly projecting how I want them to grieve?
- Ask yourself, what is my spouse thinking, feeling, and wanting.
If you do not know the answer, you can ask your spouse, especially the third question.
Asking them and better yet, listening to the answers will help you demonstrate compassion and understanding.
My hope is that by opening up this dialogue, it will help both parents move through their loss, learn to live without their loved one and enjoy their marriage.
If doing this on your own is not working, I highly recommend you and your partner seek coaching. And if they will not go, just like my husband would not go, seek a coach yourself. You still need to heal. Maybe, just maybe, by being the role model, they will follow.
Remember, everyone uses a coach from top-notch athletes to beginners. The goal is to have someone with experience walk alongside you, encourage you and help you move forward.