Grief in Marriage

So you think your spouse is causing you grief? I am sorry to hear that. But, this article is not about that. In this article, we will explore the role of grief in a marriage.

When We Grieve

When most people hear the word "grief", they first think of the death of a loved one. Grief is also present in many other situations. And it is related to numerous events.

Grief is related to loss. This could be a loss through death, divorce, separation, a physical move, or something else external. It could also be the loss of something internal. Perhaps you have a dream, expectation, or hope lost or damaged. Grief is how we deal with a loss.

Grief can also be associated with "positive" events that involve change. Change can be stressful. It also involves loss. At the very least, we lose the situation we had before. People vary in how they react to change. Some may grieve and be stressed over many of the changes in their lives. Others may have few emotions in the same situations.

We may also grieve over events in others' lives. These may be strangers far away in a disaster. Or, more commonly, someone close to us such as a son or daughter, a family member, or a close friend. Their situation may also involve a personal loss of our hopes and dreams for them.

The Grieving Process

Grief is a process, not a state. There are three major phases:

  • Shock: Denial, disbelief, avoidance, numbness, a "closing off" period. Just as the body goes into shock after a physical trauma, so does the human psyche go into shock after the impact of a major loss.
  • Suffering: Confrontation, the "opening up" period. The period of time when your grief is experienced most intensely, when you really begin to learn that your life is changed.
  • Renewal: New beginnings, re-establishment, catharsis and healing. A gradual decline in your grief, a slow re-entry into the everyday world. You are changed by the loss, you will not forget it, but you are beginning to be able to accommodate it and to begin to live your life as it is.

For some people, the phases are sequential. For most, the emotions will vary widely throughout the period. And they may exhibit traits of multiple "phases" within one day. This is normal.

Other people do not "know how you feel" each day as you go through the grieving. Some days you may wonder yourself as you try to sort out your thoughts and emotions. Grieving is a complex combination of thoughts and emotions. That complexity and variety should be expected - of ourselves and of our spouse (or other close one who has suffered a loss).

Grief's Effect on Relationships

The most significant aspect of grief in relationships is that we do not grieve alike. Do not assume others think and feel as you do. Because we differ, misunderstandings are possible.

Your spouse may grieve over losses for which you do not grieve. And the reverse is true. With good proactive communication and sensitivity, we should be aware of this occurrence. In the real world, we may not be aware of this though. Be prepared to apologize for any inadvertent insensitivity.

We may grieve differently. The intensity of the loss may be perceived differently. The timing of our grieving process and the varying emotions may be very unlike our spouse's grieving. This calls for understanding.

The grieving process affects our thoughts, emotions, and our physical bodies. When our spouse is feeling grief, we need to be sensitive to this. Some of their outward words and actions may be affected by this. So, in some cases, an angry outburst or a helpless perspective may have little relation to us or our actions. Patience and understanding are required.

Many of the people around us are dealing with losses. Some are major life changes. Others are smaller ones that still have an effect on lives.

When a spouse perceives a loss, their lives will change at least temporarily. Their loss affects them, us, and our relationship with them. Awareness of the loss through honest and open communication is important. Once we are aware, we are challenged to provide understanding and patience. May God bless your efforts and your relationships.

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For a further look at this topic, please see the movie "In the Bedroom". The particular "solutions" and coping mechanisms used in that movie are not necessarily recommended by this site (or the movie itself).