Grieving death is a heartbreaking and difficult journey. It’s important to know how to maintain a great relationship even in times of grief. You may want to check out my recent post “what your spouse really needs in times of loss” Click here.
I believe in the power of healthy grieving. Understanding loss is a critical first step in grieving well; death is not the only loss people suffer. Loss is also felt when people experience traumatic events like abuse, illness, or disability. Unfortunately, these losses are often misunderstood in society and come loaded with shame and stigma. Many people find it difficult to express their grief related to their trauma and some have even been instructed not to talk about their trauma. You may not know the trauma experienced by those close to you. Tragically, for every well publicized traumatic event or sexual assault like that of Elizabeth Smart, many others go unreported.
Your experiences and the experiences of your spouse matter deeply to your marriage. Often the deepest hurts remain unspoken in an attempt to protect from the pain. In close relationships the emotionally raw and wounded areas are inevitably touched which can lead to relationship difficulties.
Sometimes traumatic losses are experienced by individuals long before getting married. For example: experiencing sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment, and substance abusing parents can be difficult to talk about. Working to address traumatic losses is a critical part of premarital counseling. The earlier in the relationship you can address traumatic loss in your life and that of your spouse, the better you can respond to each other in marriage. If a traumatic experience was not discussed prior to marriage but has come up now, you can still make some wonderful in your marriage. Find a counselor to help as you support each other through difficult emotions.
Other times traumatic losses are experienced by both marriage partners during the course of the marriage. For example: Miscarriage, overseas deployment, mental illness, or having a child with a disability deeply affect both partners and the marriage relationship.
When couples are facing a difficult loss, it’s important to work through the following steps to find a way forward.
1. Acknowledge the trauma. Go there, uncover the loss. Simply describing your pain can reduce its suffocating power. Refuse to stay silent about the pain. It won’t work to stuff your feelings, they will come out eventually especially with your spouse. Don’t keep your losses and related feelings from your spouse; it affects them too. When you become one with your spouse, your stories combine.
It’s often helpful to talk to someone safe who listens well who won’t dismiss your loss or feel threatened. It can be scary and unpredictable. Finding a counselor could make all the difference.
2. Allow grief. It may not look like others expect, but it’s important to express your current emotions. It doesn’t matter what other people think, it’s okay and healthy to have emotions.
3. Begin to heal. The emotional scars may never go away but the rawness of the wounds can heal. The loss you have experienced will always matter and influence you to some degree. No matter the pain, real healing can be yours.
4. Share your story. When appropriate, tell others about your loss and grief process. You are not alone, others have experienced similar loss. When you share your journey it will encourage others to address their trauma and work toward healing. I’ve been inspired by people who have shared their experiences, braving the shame of past abuse. The people I know have named their spouse as a major source of support through their grief and healing.
Warning: When talking about trauma and major losses that impact your life, its easy to get caught in the comparison trap. No matter what you have experienced it always seems like someone else has had it worse in some way. Stop comparing. Don’t dismiss your pain as inadequate or insignificant.
I’ve got awesome news. Traumatic losses are scary but facing them together with your spouse will fill your marriage with wonderful emotional intimacy. The richness of true connection is worth going into the depths of loss and is made possible by doing it well. Not only does it help the relationship to discuss difficult experiences, it helps to process and heal from the loss and trauma. Join with your spouse and journey grief together, your marriage will greatly benefit. The joy of intimate connection overcomes hurt.
What has helped you grieve losses in your life? What does healing feel like?