6 Ways to Help Your Partner Cope with Grief
Grief often brings pain like no other – you might feel helpless to help your partner at this time
Lianna Champ offers six ways you can support your loved one through loss
We have bereavement specialist therapists available here
Sometimes in a relationship it’s only through trauma that we can really learn about one another. When everything is great, it’s easy to be the nicest person in the world but then when we suffer a significant loss, the screens come down and we see reality.
The importance of being honest in any relationship cannot be emphasised enough because it is honesty coupled with love that creates our safe haven and, when we are grieving, that is precisely what we need. A safe haven, where we can fall apart for a while without judgement or fear, until we find a sense of balance.
Healthy grief is what we experience when we allow ourselves to feel the pain of our loss. We take time to identify and understand what we are feeling and, over time come to an acceptance of what has happened.
In those early days, it can be sanity saving to have the right people and proper guidance as this can colour our self talk and feelings of trust and safety with the people around us as we process our grief. Problems can occur when someone who is grieving feels misunderstood or unheard as this may cause them to withdraw emotionally and wear the mask of “I’m fine” when really they are in bits inside.
When you find yourself supporting your partner through grief, here are six ways that may help you to feel more confident and comfortable in your ability to help them:
1. There is no right or wrong when we receive news of a significant loss
Whatever your partner experiences is their own instinctive and natural reaction. Don’t expect a particular behaviour or emotion. We often hear about the stages of grief and it would be encouraging to think that we do go through certain stages and come through the other side stronger and wiser. At least that would seem to give us some semblance of what to expect. However, grief is much more unpredictable than that and we don’t always follow stages but what we do share, rather than stages, are the symptoms of grief.
The symptoms of grief are various and overwhelming and we can feel so many things all at once and in any order. There is no pattern and although you may have experienced your own losses and can remember your reactions to them at the time, this does not create a yardstick for you to gauge your partners reactions, regardless of how much you love them.
2. Be patient
Don’t try and change how they feel. Grief has many expressions, just accept the changes and emotions it brings. Please do not judge. Just be there with open, loving acceptance. You don’t need to lead them through their grief or take it away.
Allow them to talk and don’t interrupt. When someone is speaking from a place of pain, they aren’t having a conversation or looking for a solution, they are making a statement. Just feedback words to show that you have listened. Don’t compare or even say ‘I know how you feel’. As well intended as this statement is, emotionally for the other person it is useless and only serves to create barriers for the griever. No-one knows how we feel.
Be a great sounding-board: encourage them to talk about their loss and just listen. Look at photos together. Suggest a memory box and think of things that it can hold e.g: a lock of hair, a note book filled with special and favourite memories, photos, trinkets of significance and this can be added to over time.
3. Don’t avoid mentioning the loss
We often avoid mentioning it in case it causes upset. It doesn’t. Your partner will probably be preoccupied with things they wish they could have said or done or even not said or done. If you do mention the loss, even though there may be tears, that’s OK. Mentioning the loss opens up conversations and when we lose ourselves in memory we often find laughter.
Sharing our memories is where healing begins. People who are grieving often really appreciate the opportunity to talk and share their memories. By asking, it shows that you care and shows how important that person was and still is to your partner.
4. Working through grief isn’t just an emotional exercise, it’s physical too
Suggest gentle activities like walking. Getting outside in nature can be better than medicine. Build new routines for some physical exercise. Walking is one of the healthiest and easiest things we can do and its something you can do together. Sometimes people find it easier to open up when they are walking side by side rather than seated looking at one another in a room.
Being out in nature is good for the soul. This could also be a good time to introduce an activity you can do together. Remember - the couple that plays together, stays together. Let the loss experience bring you closer.
5. Things might not go back to 'normal'
Sometimes it can take weeks or months for the reality and deep pain of the loss to sink in and everyone else’s lives have returned to normal but your partner may still be learning to cope. Have a code when you are out so you can leave a venue without fuss. There is nothing worse than feeling trapped in a social situation if you are screaming inside. Grievers often need a ‘get out of jail free’ card in social situations.
6. Watch out for signs that they may be struggling
Their time keeping may become poor, loss of care in personal appearance, over/under-eating, signs of alcohol/substance abuse, isolating themselves from the people they would normally interact with.
Don’t berate them or tell them to pull themselves together but let them know that you are worried and offer what help you can and, if you feel it necessary, recommend a bereavement specialist or some good counselling.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience as a grief and funeral care specialist and is author of practical guide How to Grieve Like A Champ