If you are married any number of years you will encounter some kind of tragedy that will rock your world together. It could be a serious illness, death of a child or another family member, losing a job, your home… the list goes on. And when this happens you are faced with grief that will encompass you and your life together. But what makes it all the more difficult is when you and your spouse grieve differently and you feel a distancing happening between you.
It’s the time in life when you most need each other to cling to, but instead a wall seems to be building up that is separating you, pushing you further and further apart.
To Grieve Differently
The first time that Steve and I had this happen to us was after his mom died. I was deeply and openly grieving and he was quietly grieving. At times it looked to me like he wasn’t grieving at all. (I now know was not the case at all; but it sure looked that way). I couldn’t understand this. It was his mother, after all, so why was I the one who seemed to be doing all of the crying?
As time continued, we found that the different ways we approached this issue caused a rift and then developed into a chasm of confusion that pushed us apart. I just couldn’t understand what was going on with Steve. I felt alone in my grief. And Steve just thought that he was handling all of it in a “normal” way… quietly. He grieved his way, and I grieved my way. He thought that everything was how it should be under the circumstances. But it wasn’t. The problem was that we weren’t emotionally united at a time when we should have been—when the emotional support of the other was needed.
Thankfully, through the years we have learned a few things about grief and grieving differently as marriage partners. We’re going to share them with you because we believe it is information that could help you too. Perhaps you know of others you could share it with, as well. In our marriages, it’s important that we don’t allow anything, anyone, or any set of circumstances to push us apart.
Important Points to Know When You Grieve Differently
Here are a few points that the Jumelle web site brought out in an article titled, “Grief and Its Impact on a Marriage.” They are ones that we had to discover over a long period of time. It’s so important to know these points when you are experiencing times of deep grief. The Jumelle article discusses the grieving process when you lose a child, but many of these principles apply to other times of handling grief, as well. Please know that:
• “Grief is a journey, not a destination. …”Just when you think that you are feeling OK and doing well, Grief will ‘rear its head’ and you may feel overwhelmed all over again. This is normal.
• “Grief has no timeline.”
Those points are ones that we stumbled over and didn’t know at the time. We kept stepping all over each other’s feelings, without realizing it. Other times we stepped away into our own worlds when we couldn’t understand or feel that we could handle the way the other partner was reacting. We were clueless as to the times we needed to pull closer, rather than pull away from each other.
What we’ve come to know is that as couples we need to give each other grace, and space, when needed. It’s important not to crowd each other when one of us expresses that need. But we also have to be sensitive to be there for the spouse that needs us to listen to him or her. Above all, we must give each other grace, but also remember to act in partnership to help each other. We aren’t islands onto ourselves.
Here are a couple of other points related to all of this:
• “Grief is personal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.”
• “Just when you think that you are feeling OK and doing well, Grief will ‘rear its head’ and you may feel overwhelmed all over again. This is normal.”
Related to this point, Dr David Hawkins expounds:
“Realize we all grieve differently. Grief is, by its very nature, disruptive. We may have trouble concentrating, ruminate about the loss, and experience a myriad feelings about it. But don’t expect your mate to grieve the same way you do. You may openly cry and talk about your pain while he may process the issues quietly, alone. The key is to remember there is no right way to process grief. Don’t push your husband [or wife] to express grief the same way you do.” (From the Marriagetrac.com article, “Grieving Differently”)
Keep in mind something that the Jumelle web site also brings out:
• “Grief can leave [some] individuals with a sense of isolation, loneliness, anger, powerlessness, guilt and/or fear. All of these emotions are normal.”
Here is something that Tanisha Garnier says about this point:
“Men and women tend to differ significantly in their experiences of and expressions of grief. We err if we think the obvious expressions of grief like crying, talking with others about sadness, and depression are the only signals that mourning is taking place. This assumption can limit our purview of those who are bereaved, especially fathers. Oftentimes their signs of grief may take on a more internalized, physical nature. Gastrointestinal issues, chronic pain, changes in blood pressure, insomnia, changes in appetite (significant increase or decrease), addiction/relapse, and other physical symptoms may signal complications in processing grief, especially for men.” (From the Christianity Today article, We Lost Our Baby, But We Didn’t Want to Lose Our Marriage)
As we grieve differently, it’s important to note (although there are exceptions):
“In general, women talk their way through grief. They need to process it by verbalizing their feelings. They want to talk about the child that has died. Plus, they want to relive memories, talk about what events will be missed in the future. Women often need to say the same thing, (re-hash) what happened; they are trying through words to make sense of an act that doesn’t make sense.
“In general, men do not want to do this. Most men do not like to talk grief out in the same manner. More often, men usually are focused on acts. On doing. On fixing things. The death can’t be fixed. They feel powerless and do not want to rehash same sadness. They are often more hesitant to seek counseling or support from others. ‘Talking won’t change what happened,’ they might say, and therefore resist sharing.
“If the death was of their own child, this difference can drive a wedge if the mother of the deceased child feels the father is not sharing her grief. She may not recognize that he is, just in a different way.” (Lisa B. Adams, in the lisabadams.com article, “Some Differences in Grieving Styles Between Men and Women”)
Do You and Your Spouse Grieve Differently?
Dr Hawkins advises spouses to:
“Explore ways to talk about the loss together, taking your different styles into consideration. Ask your mate to be available to you as you express your loss openly. Then, gently ask him questions as you share your thoughts and feelings. Be curious and listen carefully, taking his cues into careful consideration.”
Here are a few additional suggestions “to aid your marriage” if you grieve differently. They come from the Jumelle web site (with more that we advise you to read in the linked article above, as well):
• “Don’t expect your spouse to be a tower of strength when he or she is also experiencing grief.
• “It is very important to keep the lines of communication open.
• “Be sensitive to your spouse’s personality style. In general, he or she will approach grief with the same personality habits as they approach life. This may be in a private manner or open and sharing, or some place in between.
• “…Allow yourself and your partner to feel whatever it is you are feeling without judging yourself or each other.”
These are all points of information that have helped us to grieve together in healthy ways. We hope this helps you, as well. It is important to interact as partners in all aspects of marriage. This includes the “for better” as well as the “for worst” of times.
Lets keep in mind that we are told in God’s Word:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
God is the third strand in this cord that we are hanging onto. May the Lord minister to you as you lean into Him!
Cindy and Steve Wright
Additionally, When You Grieve Differently:
Here are a few more related articles we recommend you read with added information:
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Marriage Insights