“We’re SO Different!” We’ve said this so many times but it bears repeating. We’re so different! And one of those areas of being different, is how you can approach grieving differently, and yet, how you can give each other grace to do so. When you marry you’re commissioned by God, to take your individual ways of approaching life to marry them together for good. This strengthens each other, your marriage, and God’s Kingdom work.
Through the years Steve and I have discovered how very differently we approach grief. In this area of life, as in others, we’ve learned that different isn’t necessarily bad—it’s just different. I say, “necessarily” because sometimes one or both of us can adopt a toxic lifestyle. That takes a totally different approach. But if that is not the case, and it’s just a different approach, then it’s important to find ways to marry our differences. We are to know when we are to help each other, and when we are to give each other a bit of grace and space.
We believe that when couples marry we vow “from that day forward” are to take our individual ways of approaching life and marry them together for good. This will work for the good of each other, our marriage, and God’s Kingdom work.
For this reason we’ve been learning, over the years, to accept our own “styles” of grieving. We’re trying not to judge or put too much pressure on the other to do things our way own individual ways. The only acceptation is if it is totally unhealthy. That is when we talk about (negotiate) other ways of approaching the matter.
With the death of Steve’s dear father, this again became a reality in our lives. We have both been grieving differently. That is part of the reason we want to share some of what we’ve learned while we’re on this journey.
Learning While Grieving Differently
One thing we’ve learned is: just because one of us cries and grieves more openly and just the other is quieter, withdrawing 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 sometimes it’s handled in different frames. It’s unfair to judge our partner’s way of grieving as being wrong just because it’s not the same as ours. It doesn’t matter if we don’t understand it. The fact is, it is what it is. Deal with it! Don’t judge. Do you want him or her to judge you by his or her reference point? Of course you don’t. And neither does your spouse.
We need to give our spouse the grace to handle this process in their way. They don’t need our judgement. They need our love and grace. But we also have a right to ask them to help us (to the degree they’re able) with our grief. Specifically, with kindness, tell them what we need from them during this time. That’s part of what partnership in marriage is all about.
An Example of Grieving Differently
A good example of how couples can vary in their ways of grieving comes from a book titled, A Gift of Mourning Glories: Restoring Your Life After Loss. In this book, 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 unalike even though we’re dealing with the same situation. If you’re disturbed about it, find a way to talk together about what’s bothering you. Tell your spouse that you are confused and want to better understand and embrace his or her approach. But don’t shame, or judge. Listen, and try to better grasp your marriage partners reaction to their grief. Do your best to build bridges of understanding so the problems don’t gnaw away at our relationship.
If, after you talk about the situation, you still aren’t able to see things from your partner’s point of view, just agree to disagree. Give each other unconditional love and acceptance despite your differences. You may never see things eye-to-eye, but you can accept each other with your hearts. If you need your spouse to hug or hold you, ask him or her to do so. Don’t wait for him or her to initiate this type of contact. Be gracious enough to ask for it. You never know how much this can help if you do this without judgement and shaming.
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!
Vulnerability While Grieving
On the other hand, though, please be aware that during times of grief you need to be “on the alert” as the Bible talks about in 1 Peter 5. The enemy of our faith knows our emotions are vulnerable. These are times where we look for comfort wherever we can to ease our pain. But some avenues of comfort can be dangerous. We can be more vulnerable to falling into the trap of emotionally entangling our hearts (and our bodies) with someone else. We never have “meant for it to happen” … but we want you to know that it happens more often than you may realize. It is better to be careful now, rather than regretful later.
This could also be true of falling into substance abuse to “ease” the pain. That’s another trap that could be set before us.
Please let this be a warning to you to flee, as the Bible tells us that Joseph did. Flee from any situation that can lead you to compromise your values and God’s values. Set boundaries up for yourself BEFORE a situation occurs. Be 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.
Lean Heavily Upon God’s Love and Care
Keep in mind that God said in the Bible, “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.”
Cindy and Steve Wright
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