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How To Grow Together Instead Of Apart After Loss

“Women are talkers, men are solvers.” This is one of the first statements I make to couples when we begin our work together.  I have found that this one difference is often the underlying cause of the infamous statement “They just don’t get me.” This difference is even more prevalent when either one or both individuals within the marriage are grieving. Grief changes us, and when we change our relationships have to adapt or else, they won’t make it. If you or your spouse have recently lost someone you love, I encourage you to read the tips below to help you grow together, instead of apart.

Tip #1: No two relationships are the same

Therefore, no two people will grieve the same way. A mother and father will grieve differently for the loss of their child. There is no right way to grieve. Crying doesn’t always mean healing, and silence doesn’t always mean denial. We do what works for us, in an effort to make it through the pain. Talk to your partner about how he/she can support you, and in return ask how you can support them. Do not assume your partner knows how to support you, regardless of the time you have spent together. Ask for what you need, and ask for what you can give.

Tip#2: This is not a PROBLEM to be SOLVED

You can’t take the pain away. Trying to fix your partner will lead to feelings of failure, and potentially resentment as you ponder over what else you can do to offer support. The best way to support your partner is to allow them to be heard. Offer your shoulder, and lend them your ear. Be present, allowing yourself to sit with them in their pain. Acknowledge that you can’t fix this, but you can walk with them along their journey.

Tip #3: Manage your expectations for yourself, and your partner

The expectations we set for our partners can develop into resentment if we expect them to grieve a specific way, or be a specific way. A man who cannot solve the problem, or “fix” their partner will often end up thinking, “I am a failure.” This belief often leads to another belief regarding the likelihood that the marriage will remain in tact. A woman who wants to be heard, but instead receives solutions, will come to the conclusion that “he doesn’t get me, so I am going to stop talking.” Two people, two different approaches to grief; but our partners can lead to growth together within marriage, instead of growth individually outside the marriage.    

Tip #4: Tragedy will alter the way you and your partner see the world

If death was unexpected or tragic do not expect to be the same person as you were before, and do not expect your PARTNER to be the same as he/she was before.  We are who we are because of not only genetics, but also our life experiences. Tragedy is a life experience that will alter the way you see the world. Wishing that your partner would return to be the person that they were prior to the event will only lead to resentment and loss of hope. Get to know this new person. Just because they aren’t happy today, doesn’t mean they can’t be tomorrow also. Grieving takes time and energy. Partners can become a better version of themselves; it just takes a little time.   

Tip #5: Find a way to memorize the person you lost

We have this belief that moving forward means forgetting. Moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting, it means learning what your relationship looks like now that the person is no longer here in the physical sense.

Tragedy can drive a wedge between two people who love each other dearly, but it can also make a marriage stronger, and better than it ever was before. The key is to ask for what you need, and offer what your partner asks for, not what you think they need. Manage your expectations, and most importantly, give yourself time to work through the pain that accompanies grief.  

  VERIFIED EXPERT
Jessica L. Hutchison is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, and Certified Family Trauma Professional specializing in grief and loss therapy for individuals, couples and families. Her desire to assist those who are grieving and dedication to educating current and future clinicians on the topic of complicated grief was heightened after losing her father to suicide in 2011. She co-founded www.oursideofsuicide.com, a site dedicated to offering hope, comfort and support to survivors of a suicide loss. She also speaks publicly to groups and the media about her personal experience with loss. Jessica has also developed a number of continuing education programs on the topics of sudden, traumatic and violent loss to educate clinicians on how the grief process differs from that of a natural loss. Jessica consults with clinicians around the country through her website, www.JLHutchison. Jessica is in private practice in Chicago, IL.