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How Does Grief Affect a Marriage? Plus Five Ways to Cope

Guest Post

Marriage is all about facing obstacles as a team. And one of the most difficult obstacles we face in life is losing someone we love. When grief strikes, every part of your life can take a hit, including your marriage.

Whether you’re grieving or it’s your spouse who’s lost someone, it’s important to consider how grief might affect your relationship and what you can do to maintain a healthy marriage.

How Grief Can Affect a Marriage
So how exactly does grief affect relationships? Here are some changes and challenges you might notice if you or your partner are grieving.

Romance and intimacy have dwindled
Everyone responds to grief differently, but a loss of intimacy in the marriage is a common effect. You or your partner just might not be interested in physical intimacy while grief is in play.

On the other hand, some couples experience an increase in intimate moments as the grieving partner seeks comfort and closeness.

Little fights feel like big problems
Another change you might notice is that your small disagreements–the ones that tend to fade into the background during everyday life–come to the forefront and feel much bigger than usual.

For example, your spouse leaving clothing around the house might usually seem like an annoying quirk. But when you’re grieving, it might feel like something you just can’t get past.

On the other hand, grief causes some people to let go of issues that might usually spark an argument. You might feel like there’s too much on your mind to “sweat the small stuff” or that life’s too short.

You’re taking on a role you’re not used to
Every relationship between two people develops roles and norms. You might usually be the partner who looks on the bright side when issues arise. But when grief is involved, those normal roles can get thrown out the window.

If your spouse is usually the one to cheer you up, they might not be able to do that when they’re grieving. Instead, you might find yourself filling that role, which can be uncomfortable at first. However, it’s important for both partners to “fill in” the other person’s role when they’re unable to do so.

You’re just not on the same page
Every relationship has days where you just can’t get on the same wavelength. But when one person is experiencing the intense emotions of grief, those days can start to feel like the norm.

Grief affects everyone differently, and you or your partner might find it difficult to feel understood. You might feel like they just don’t know what you’re going through and can’t understand.
New strengths and weaknesses are coming to light

If you or your partner are grieving, you might feel like the person you’re married to is somewhat unfamiliar. Especially if you’re facing grief as a couple for the first time, you might notice specific traits in your partner that you never have before.

Maybe your partner isn’t usually the greatest about taking on household chores, but now they’re taking on much of the responsibility. You might find yourself thinking, “Who is this person?” as either you or they are going through an emotional hardship.

How to Deal with Grief in a Marriage

If any of these changes and challenges have come up in your relationship, there are ways to cope. In fact, grief can be a catalyst for positive change in a marriage if you both tackle the challenge together. Here are some ways to cope with grief in your relationship.

Respect the way they grieve
No two people experience grief in exactly the same way. Your spouse might be expressing their grief in ways you wouldn’t. Maybe they’ve taken to the couch for the third day in a row, when you would feel better getting out and exercising as a coping mechanism. However, what works for you might not be what works for them.

It’s important to acknowledge your partner’s unique coping mechanisms and respect the ways they choose to work through their grief.

Don’t put a timeline on grief
Similarly, no one experiences grief for the exact same amount of time as another person. You might feel like it’s time to move on from your grief after a time has passed, or you might believe your partner should be recovering faster.

Whether it’s you or your partner who’s grieving, remember that grief doesn’t have a timeline. Avoid pushing yourself or your partner to overcome grief within a set period of time or before you’re really ready.

Rely on your social support system
When your partner is grieving, you might feel like you’re not getting the love, attention, and support you usually do. And while you understand why your partner isn’t showering you with affection while they’re grieving, this can still leave you feeling alone and unsupported.

Rather than depending on your partner for all of your social and emotional support, reach out to friends and family members for some of those needs. Spending more time with your social circle can help you feel cared for when you’re taking care of your partner.

Make counseling an option
Most people don’t have to seek counseling for grief. However, if your spouse is coping with grief in an unhealthy way, you can let them know that professional help is available.

Although you can’t force someone to seek counseling, you can lend your support by finding a qualified counselor and offering to attend the session with your partner.

Similarly, if issues in your relationship are taking a toll, the two of you might benefit from professional marital counseling as you cope with grief.

Validate your own feelings if your spouse is grieving
If your spouse is grieving, it can be easy to put your own emotions and emotional needs on the back burner. But it’s essential to recognize the impact your partner’s grief can have on you and your well-being.

Take time out of the day for self-care while your partner is grieving, and know that your feelings are valid and just as important as your partner’s grief.

Trust that grief will improve with time
When grief is affecting your relationship, it’s easy to feel like these challenges will last forever. However, as you and your partner adjust to a new normal without the loved one who passed away, the usual ebbs and flows of your relationship will return.

Whether you or your partner are grieving, patience and understanding can make all the difference in weathering the storm and growing even closer as a couple.