Experiencing heavy emotions like sadness is no fun. Dealing with the death of a loved one is no day at the amusement park. It’s difficult to see people in pain. It’s especially difficult to watch your spouse, the person you love the most, grieve.
When the times of loss come you may struggle with how to relate well to your spouse. Dealing with loss is a major hurdle in marriage relationships. Death and loss touches emotions otherwise untouched and can cause immense tension and conflict. The good new is a time of grief doesn’t have to be a time of disconnect in your marriage.
You can connect well and make some wonderful in your marriage, even in times of loss. The secret is to mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15. It sounds counter-intuitive; like doing nothing and denying help. It’s natural to want to make people feel better, to fix their pain, to provide a remedy, but fixing grief doesn’t work. What everyone, especially your spouse, needs in times of loss is someone to join them. Grieving with a grieving spouse is hard stuff but so rich.
How to give your spouse what they really need in times of loss: The 4 ways to mourn with those who mourn.
1. Provide space for grief. Provide space for your spouse by listening for them to share how they are feeling. It may be necessary to adjust your schedule to allow for the variety of complex emotions. Slow down and intentionally listen. Grief often comes in waves. Expect changing emotions and times with no emotions at all.
It may feel like listening is doing nothing and provides no relief for the grieving person. Listening and joining them in their grief is not nothing, it’s everything. Listening is the most profound thing you can do. You can’t fix the loss anyway. Restoration comes best when we have space to express emotions and others are near.
2. Validate emotion. Don’t dismiss or attempt to fix how people feel. Pay attention to how they feel rather than how expect them to feel. Please, don’t dismiss the pain and heartache of those around you. Well meaning Christians like to say dismissive things like “rejoice! it’s good when people die because they go to heaven and the funeral can get people to love Jesus.” The brutal message is that grieving and feeling sad is bad, a lack of faith, and unchristian.
For acquaintances, sympathy is fine, “sorry for your loss” is adequate. In close relationships, especially marriage, it’s critical to provide empathy rather than sympathy. Empathy is joining people where they are. When you spouse is grieving it may sound like “I’m not sure what to say, but I’m here to listen, I’m here with you.”
3. Keep at it. Repeat steps one and two, over and over with each new wave of grief. Loss is complicated and grief is never linear. It’s exhausting facing the pain and sadness of loss in each wave of grief. Expressing emotion and validating emotion by listening remains the most effective way to comfort even as time passes. Remember to participate in ceremony; funerals and memorials are deeply meaningful and helpful in the process of grief. If grief continues to significantly impair functioning for months, please seek additional help, contact a doctor or counselor if you suspect grief has expanded to major depression.
4. Tell them they are doing it ok. Many people worry they are doing grief all wrong. They don’t feel what they thought they would feel or are fearful of feeling anything. Everyone is different, every journey of grief and loss is different. There is enough shaming in the world, please, don’t shame people for how they grieve.