WHEN YOUR GRIEF AFFECTS YOUR RELATIONSHIPS, THERE MAY BE TROUBLING TIMES AHEAD
By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor
This topic comes up very often in my grief counseling practice. So, let me share with you some ideas around this topic.
Life’s big tragedies can wreak havoc on the person who endures them. But also, that person’s relationship with others can be affected too. And so it is with grief.
A griever may cry frequently. A griever may “shut down” their emotions and withdraw. A griever can have mood swings without warning. A griever can have difficulty making decisions. A griever may want to be isolated from social situations. When you’re grieving, anything goes. And some actions or behaviors may not be optimal for your relationship.
When someone dies, he or she will never be quite the same as they were before the death. And so it is with their relationship. As a result, it too may change. And for sure, in the beginning, the relationship will be harder to maneuver.
Need help dealing with your grief existing within your relationship?
Some thoughts to consider…
As in any relationship, communication is key. You will have to learn to share your feelings with your partner so that he/she knows what’s going on with you at all times. Don’t be afraid to say "Hey, I need to be left alone right now." Or "Hey, I need some TLC right now." Don’t assume that your partner is a mind reader. And if he/she doesn’t know how you’re feeling, it will be hard to know how to interact with you.
Understand that no two people grieve the same way. Just because your grief looks different from one another doesn’t mean that either of you are suffering less than the other one. It’s just different.
Don’t put a timeline on grief. Don’t expect that your partner will stop grieving within a certain timeframe, even though you may wish it to be so. Grief goes on, and it changes, but it is not always a short event. It’s a process.
If you feel helpless in helping your partner, it might be helpful to gently recommend that he/she find a professional grief counselor. Nobody teaches you how to grieve, so sometimes the guidance from a grief counselor can be a life-saver. There is no shame in seeking help, especially with one of life’s most difficult experiences.
When grief walked into your world, it took part of you away from your partner. Be sensitive to that. While your partner may be grieving the loss of the loved one also, he/she may also be grieving the loss of part of you in the relationship. It’s a hard adjustment. Be gentle and patient with each other.
Listen. Listen. Listen. Be present. Sometimes the only thing you can do to help your partner is to be there, with them. You can’t take away the pain, but maybe you can lessen the loneliness.
Make time to grieve in solitude. If you are conscious of not wanting to grieve in the midst of your daily life and activities, allocate a time and space each day to think about the deceased loved one, or feel your feelings and stay with the grief. Then, try to resume your activities. See if that may help you keep the grief from interfering in your relationships at times when you’d like it to stay away.
Try tuning in or checking in with your partner once a day for a brief period of together time. During that time, check in with each other for a few minutes. Ask each other questions like: How are you feeling today? What feels really hard for you? Can we share some memories of the loved one together? Is there something I can do for you right now that would ease anything?
ABOVE all, understand that this going to be a VERY rough time for both of you for an undetermined amount of time until you figure out your new selves and the new relationship.
Be patient. Reach out for professional help too.