Whether you’ve been together for one year or 20 years, somewhere along the way you’ve endured a personal tragedy that has affected you and your partner. These can range from small tragedies, such as not getting that promotion at work, to big tragedies, such as a life-altering accident or even the loss of a child.
The little tragedies can be a test, especially at the beginning of a relationship. How does each person react to the tragedy? Then, how does each support the other? As a couple, we learn and grow with each other, and this includes all of life’s ups and downs. How we support each other, even while enduring a tragedy ourselves, shows a lot about our personal character as well as our how we value the other person’s feelings.
When the big tragedies come along, they can change us and our relationships. After a horrific accident, a death in the family, or some other type of loss, things will never be the same – for each person and for the relationship. The important thing is to get through it together, as a couple. Support each other, and love each other. You never know what the future holds, but if you are there for each other, you can both lean on each other and get through it together.
Some things to think about if you and your partner have endured a tragedy.
We all deal with tragedy differently.
It’s important to understand and expect that we all grieve differently. Even in entire families or cultures, a full outpouring of emotions is normal and expected. For example, in some cultures it is traditional for families to cry openly and spend as much time possible at a funeral (including services, burial and viewing) mourning the loved one who has died.
Other cultures, on the other hand, grieve more privately. It is the same with people. Even in one household, each partner may be different. One may not cry openly or want to talk about the tragedy at all; but the other may want to talk about it all the time. No one way is wrong and no one way is right. They are just different.
The hard part comes when both partners are grieving in their own way for the same tragedy. Find a way to support your partner in the way he or she needs to grieve while your way of grieving is supported. Try to find some common ground so you can communicate our feelings about what is taking place. It’s ok to grieve the way your own family or culture does, and it’s also ok to change how you grieve. Grief isn’t right or wrong. Allow your partner to grieve in their own way, and support the healing process.
Grief doesn’t have a deadline.
After a tragedy or loss, grief can take time. For some, they seem to get over it quickly, but for others the grief stays around. If one person is still grieving while the other seems to not be, try not to be angry or resentful. Just because someone took less time or more time doesn’t mean they are stronger or weaker. Grief has no deadline. It can go on for years and years, and it can be triggered by obvious and not so obvious things. A relationship can be affected negatively if one partner tries to hurry the other’s grieving process. Don’t do it. Don’t give grief a deadline.
How to support your partner.
Listening and loving are the two best things you can do for your partner during a tragedy. Many times, there isn’t anything you can do to take the pain away. But you can be there—even if it’s just to hold each other. Listening without judgment will be required on an almost daily basis for some time. It is normal for each of you to feel anger, resentment, extreme sadness, a loss of interest in daily activities, and other reactions sometime during the grieving process. Sometimes you’ll be experiencing these big emotions at the same time and sometimes not.
When a partner directs his or her anger towards you, try not to take it personally. They may not have been taught how to deal with it in a healthy way. Just listen and hold your partner. Help them direct their anger in another way, where it won’t hurt you.
The biggest thing anyone can do, besides being there, is to not lose hope. A person who has gone through tragedy may start to feel as if all hope is lost and that nothing is worthwhile any longer. It can become a spiral of negativity that can be hard to come out of. Always listen to their concerns, but offer hope. Healing will eventually come out of hope.
One 2010 study from professors at the University of Georgia and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (U.S. National Library of Medicine) showed that parents who had lost children had more depressive symptoms overall and some even had health issues. But one thing they did find was that that for married couples who had lost a child, having a life purpose after the loss helped them greatly to heal. The study went on to say that intervention of a grieving spouse is vital in helping them get past the tragedy.
Is Divorce or Separation Imminent?
Unfortunately, when tragedy occurs, sometimes couples grow apart. They let big and small things get between them. Perhaps they want to grieve alone, or life just seems too hard and they are longer motivated to deal with life, and so they simply stop communicating. This can drag on for months or years, until finally there is no connection left. Or just seeing the other reminds them of something they have lost. Other times, they are negative or offer no support. The unsupported partner feels lost and alone, and seeks solace elsewhere.
Remember that you can’t control how your partner behaves. If your partner chooses to grieve away from you, try to give them space, but always keep the door open for them to return to you. At some point, if your partner decides that the marriage will not work in their new life after tragedy, it will be a hard time for both of you. Try to work through it and exhaust all avenues. Never give up hope, though realize that sometimes despite your best efforts, some relationships do not survive harsh tragedies.
Go to a grief counselor and/or go to relationship counseling.
If a tragedy in your life has caused you or your partner (or both) to develop anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue, then go see a therapist. If the tragedy is causing issues in your relationship and you aren’t sure how to resolve them, go to relationship counseling.
Some couples may feel there is a stigma of going to relationship therapy—as if something is wrong with their relationship. Relationship therapy is simply a tool to help people resolve issues and move forward. It can help you face tragedy in a constructive way, offer tools to help deal with it in everyday life, and also offer advice for partners on how to give support.
A final word.
Tragedy is a hard thing for anyone, single or in a relationship. For couples, it brings a new dynamic into your relationship. You may feel as if there was a life before, and now there is a different life after. The best thing you can do is be there for each other and get the help that you need in order to weather the storm.
About the Author: Malini Bhatia
Malini Bhatia is the founder of Marriage.com, a website dedicated to providing value in every marriage. Marriage.com provides resources, information and a community that supports healthy, happy marriages. Malini has global experience in international management and communications, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 11 years and two daughters.