Grieving Differently – Marriage Message #249

Dollar Photo - Boyfriend consoling woman“We’re SO Different!” We’ve said this so many times but it bears repeating. We’re SO different! When you marry you’re commissioned by God, at that point, to take your individual ways of looking at and approaching life and work for the rest of your lives together to blend those differences for your good and also for the good of God’s kingdom, bringing glory of God.

One area of difference, which you may need to work on, is to give each other grace and space when grieving the loss of someone or something dear to you. Through the years Steve and I have discovered how very differently we approach grief. In this area of life, as in others, different isn’t bad —it’s just different. For years we’ve been learning how to accept our own “styles” of grieving —trying not to judge or put too much pressure on the other to do things our way.

Upon the death of Steve’s dear father, this again became a reality in our lives and the Lord made us aware that there are a lot of you who may never have thought of this aspect of marriage (or you may know someone struggling with this issue and you want to help them).

One thing we’ve learned is: just because one of us cries and grieves more openly and just because the other is quieter and withdraws more during this time, it doesn’t mean that one or the other of us is wrong. It simply means that we find comfort in handling grief in different ways and time frames. It’s unfair to judge our partner’s way of grieving as being wrong just because it’s not the same as ours and we don’t understand it.

As long as our partner is working through their grief in a way that isn’t unhealthy and they aren’t trying to push us permanently out of their lives or bury the truth of the situation so it eventually unearths itself later in a hurtful way, we need to give our spouse the grace to handle this process in their way. But we also have a right to ask them to help us (to the degree that they’re able) with our grief and specifically and kindly tell them what we need from them during this time. That’s part of what partnership in marriage is all about.

A good example of how couples can vary in their ways of grieving comes from a book titled, “A Gift of Mourning Glories” where the author Georgia Shaffer says this:

“When 17 year old, Nate Heavilin was killed by a drunk driver. His mother, Marilyn, wrote that her marriage was severely tested before she and her husband understood that they were grieving differently. Marilyn’s Melancholy/Choleric personality wanted to make everything right and have control, even if it meant fighting for it. Glen, a Phlegmatic, yearned for peace and hated the conflicts brought on by the insurance company and manslaughter trial. ‘Glen didn’t look like a peacemaker to me anymore,’ Marilyn says. ‘He looked like Mr. Milk Toast. I wanted him to protect me from the cold, cruel world and make people be nice to me. Instead, he kept telling me I should be patient.”

When Marilyn realized that each personality has distinctive goals, she said,

“Glen wasn’t responding differently from me just to buck me, and he wasn’t necessarily saying I was wrong. We simply were looking at the world through different eyes.”

Different ways of looking at things and our personality tendencies, sometimes brings us to the place where we react dissimilar to each other even though we’re dealing with the same situation. So it’s important to make the time to talk together about what’s bothering us to try to build bridges of understanding so the problems don’t gnaw away at our relationship. If, after we talk about the situation, we still aren’t able to see things from our partner’s point of view, it’s important to agree to disagree and give each other unconditional love and acceptance despite our differences. We may never see things eye-to-eye, but we can accept each other with our hearts.

Something David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates wrote in their book, “Please Understand Me” might be helpful in this case. They wrote:

“If I do not want what you want,
please try not to tell me that my want is wrong.
Or if I believe other than you,
at least pause before you correct my view.
Or if my emotion is less than yours, or more,
given the same circumstances,
try not to ask me to feel more strongly or weakly.

“… I do not, for the moment at least,
ask you to understand me.
That will come only when you are willing
to give up changing me into a copy of you.

“… If you will allow me any of my own wants,
or emotions, or beliefs, or actions
then you open yourself, so that some day
these ways of mine might not seem so wrong,
and might finally appear to you as right —for me.

“To put up with me is the first step to understanding me.
Not that you embrace my ways as right for you,
but that you are no longer irritated
or disappointed with me for my seeming waywardness.

“And in understanding me
you might come to prize my differences from you,
and, far from seeking to change me,
preserve and even nurture those differences.”

You may never understand each other’s ways in handling grief, but that doesn’t make them (or you) a defective human being —just different! And different isn’t wrong —it’s just different!

We pray that if you’re grieving for some reason today you’re able to receive comfort from God and your spouse and those around you to help ease some of your pain.

We also hope that you’ll be aware that during times of grief you need to be “on the alert” as the Bible talks about in 1 Peter 5 because the enemy of our faith knows our emotions are vulnerable. These are times where we look for comfort wherever we can and some avenues of comfort might bring us more problems of a different kind in the future. An example of this might be that if our spouse isn’t comforting us in a way we think we need, we could be more vulnerable to falling into the sinful trap of emotionally entangling our hearts (and eventually our bodies) with someone else even though we never “meant for it to happen.” This could also be true of falling into substance abuse to “ease” the pain. This is another trap set before us.

Please let this be a warning to you to flee, as the Bible tells us that Joseph did, from any situation that could lead you to compromise your values and God’s values. Set boundaries up for yourself BEFORE a situation occurs so you’re alert and prepared to dodge the dangers ahead. Don’t allow your emotions to take you to a place you’ll eventually regret. Guard your heart and your actions.

Keep in mind that God said in the Bible that “it is not good for man to be alone.” This came even though God was with man at the time. So look for healthy ways to be with God, your spouse, and others to help you work through your grief. If your spouse or others just aren’t there for you, lean more heavily upon God to lead you through this time. God’s shoulders are big. And as the Bible says, “He cares for you.” He may be quiet in the way He is there with you, but you can count on the fact that as the Bible says, He “will never leave or forsake you.

God Bless,

Cindy and Steve Wright

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