I use affiliate links on some of my blog posts. This means that I could make a commission if you click on a link and purchase something. Read my full disclosure here.
Grief wasn’t just present in our marriage after the loss of our son. It was also present throughout most of my pregnancy. While the Hubs and I had to tackle it individually, it also took a toll on our relationship. We’d been married for over three years and together for more than six when I found out I was pregnant. We had seen ups and downs, bad times and good, but nothing like the stress of a difficult and uncertain pregnancy. We had times of arguing and tension but we held on to the hope that everything would be OK. Making sure our marriage was strong through that time of grief and stress was not a priority.
After Christian was born and we learned that our worst fears were confirmed, we knew we were entering a more tenuous point of life and relationship. As a brand new Momma, I was focused mostly on daily hospital visits to care for and hold my son and my recovery. There were many difficult days and meetings with doctors and specialists, as well as no-win decisions to make. The tension between us escalated and culminated in some heated and emotionally charged arguments.
Learn more about those difficult days by reading Christian’s Story.
All that we’ve been through is enough to crush even the strongest people, let alone end relationships. I have known others whose marriages haven’t made it through the loss of a child. The only reason we are surviving is because we had taken deliberate steps to keep our marriage strong enough to withstand this tragic situation.
Early on in Christian’s life, my insightful husband said that to make it through this entire situation we had to be very open in our communication. My Hubs, insightful beyond his years, knew that unless we talked and shared, our relationship would suffer what could be irreparable damage.
That was not an easy thing to do for a man who talks very seldom about his emotions. But he knew we had to talk or we’d fall apart. We have both been vocal about how we’re feeling and what may be triggering any intense emotional outbursts. It has helped us better understand each others’ moods and when we have “off” days. We can share and validate the other’s emotions, knowing our journeys are similar and that what we are feeling is a normal part of the grief journey.
2. Intentional Time Together
Notice the intentional part? This doesn’t mean just vegging out in front of the TV or showing each other posts on social media while we mindlessly scroll next to each other. Even while Christian was in the NICU, we would occasionally leave my mom to spend time with him while we grabbed a bite to eat at a local place. We had an unspoken no cell phone rule. It allowed us a few private moments to talk and try to make sense of the decisions we were being asked to make, as well as the difficult situation that had become a part of our existence.
After Christian died we spent a lot of time together, but it was mostly just watching TV and napping together. We just wanted to be in close physical proximity. Once we finally got into a bit of a “normal” routine, we began making intentional plans to be alone together at least once a week. We cook together, eat quiet dinners at the dining table, have in-home movie nights sans cell phones, among other seemingly ordinary things.
Did you notice that none of this involves leaving the house? My anxiety has been worse since Christian’s death (you can read more about that here) and leaving the house can oftentimes cause more problems than it’s worth. Although we do go out, we have focused more on the things we can plan at home because it’s easier for me, and really for both of us overall.
The key is being intentional about the quality of time spent together and focusing on each other, leaving the rest of the world behind for a short time.
3. Time Apart
As tough as it is to be away from my Hubs, after several weeks of isolating myself in the house I took a few evenings and afternoons to spend time with friends. Sometimes they came to my house and sat and talked with me. Or one evening I ventured out on my annual Christmas outing with my co-workers. It was so necessary to take that time away.
Though I only have a few good friends who have weathered this storm with me, the time I spend with them is encouraging and uplifting. I am refreshed by their friendship and compassion. The seeming “normality” of our time together makes me feel a little bit more like myself. I feel more energized and like a better wife. It saves my Hubs from having to always be the one taking care of my emotional needs. And then he gets time to internally focus, refuel, and refresh his own soul. It also helps us enjoy and appreciate the time we do spend together.
4. Remembering Together
Grief is an intensely personal journey. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in my own grief and forget that others are grieving, too. It can feel very isolating. At first we kept our memories mostly to ourselves, especially because of the pain it brought to even verbalize them. But as the days went by, we began sharing pictures and brief memories. We could smile and cry together and it began to bring us closer as we shared both the pleasure and the pain of remembering.
Once I was finally able to go to the cemetery on my own, the Hubs and I went together. Sitting together with our boy while I read and we talked to him was a beautiful reminder of the time we used to spend all together at the NICU. Saying his name and sharing memories and thoughts of our Christian helps us feel closer as we share our grief. It also takes away the fear of hurting each other with the memories we share. Remembering him together turns an isolating event into something that allows us to have a closer bond.
5. Don’t Push:
Men and women are often at odds when it comes to grieving. There is not a right or wrong way to grieve, but it can be tough when your spouse has a disparate grieving style. Women often want to talk about their feelings and share emotions. It’s helpful and healing, creating a bond between her and the person she shares with.
But that isn’t realistic for a lot of men. My Hubs keeps the majority of his feelings under wraps and tends not to show his grief outwardly. Sometimes it can be frustrating because I want him to reciprocate verbally by sharing his thoughts. But I don’t ever push. I know it will only drive a wedge between us.
It’s so important not to push your spouse. Don’t force them to share, talk, or grieve in a specific way. As tough as it can be, and as much as you might want to, resist the urge to push. You can’t force them into therapy, communicating or out of a bad mindset.
Instead, be open and patient. You have a right to grieve in your own way. As long as behaviors aren’t self-destructive, they have to do things in their own time and you have to go with it.
When All Else Fails
A strong marriage is tough work for any couple. It’s even more arduous when you’re grieving the loss of a child. The temptation is to let your marriage slide while you deal with the waves of grief until you’re on the road to healing. But that technique can create more problems than it solves.
There is no shame in finding couples grief therapy or a group that caters to both of you. It can help to have a safe place to deal with grief together. And marriage counseling is definitely an option if there are significant obstacles to overcome in your journey to healing.