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4 Steps to Overcome Loaded Loss.

Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo


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?

What Your Spouse Really Needs in Times of Loss

Copyright: pressmaster / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: pressmaster / 123RF Stock Photo


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.