For Better or For Worse: How Personal Tragedies Can Change Your Relationship

For Better or Worse - How Personal Tragedies Can Change Your Relationship

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 BhatiaMalini 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. 

Read more from Malini on her website, Marriage.comFacebook, and Twitter,.

 

16 Comments

BB

I’m grieving terribly for my 7-year-old Saint Bernard whom we euthanized on Thursday as she had bone cancer. Everyone in the family loved her, but she was my soulmate dog, always at my side. She was more like a daughter to me and had many special qualities. For example, she called me “Mom Mom,” and she’d wake me up each morning, calling me as she brushed me with her soft fur.

I’m finding it very difficult to live without her. Through the years, we’ve lost many pets, but this is the absolute worst for me.

My husband and I have been at odds. I want to talk about my grief and feelings about her, whereas he has been “keeping busy,” working on house and hobby projects. When I tried to explain my grief last night, he interrupted and started talking about his train set. Angry and feeling invalidated, I stormed out of the room.

To me, it seems like he’s not dealing with his grief. I’ve never seen him cry for her. I, on the other hand, have cried every day since she was diagnosed in August. What’s more, he doesn’t talk about her. For him, life is seemingly back to normal. He’s even going into work tonight though his boss said he could have a few days off. The only outward sign of grief he has shown is difficulty sleeping.

I feel somewhat resentful about his seemingly lack of grief for her and concern about my feelings.

This morning, we got into an argument about it, making everything worse. He claimed that this is how he deals with grief. I know we all grieve differently, but he’s not supporting me in the way I need.

On the bright side, we have a 7-month-old Saint puppy, and I hope she brings our hearts healing. I’ve not developed a close bond with her as I was so busy caring for the sick one. I’m hoping that will improve in the weeks ahead.

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Felicia

My husbands daughter died a tragic unexpected death. At the time we were living seperately (about three hours apart). He and the childs mother have been spending a lot of time together, even sleeping in the same house. They both say they just find comfort being around each other and their is nothing going on. Should I be concerned???

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Bennie

I have a girlfriend who lost a brother unexpectedly and she is still grieving and in depression we have not seen each other for 6 weeks we text maybe two times a day she will not answer the phone will not call me I am very concerned about her and I relationship don’t know what to do or say anymore but hopefully y’all can help thank you very much

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Naomi

Hi Bennie,

It’s hard to know what she’ll be feeling because we all grieve differently. I don’t know if she has a big family and they’re all just taking time to keep to themselves or of she’s on her own and just needs space to deal with things.

I lost my Mum a month ago and it was expected, she had cancer and I don’t know which is worse: the prolonged, slow crash of a terminal illness or not when death just sneaks up on you – both have their positives, I guess.

Personally I feel love from every message I get from someone but I don’t always reply. Sometimes I forget to and sometimes I don’t have the strength which sounds weird I know but grief is tiring, physically and emotionally.

Keep letting her know you are there. If you can visit maybe do that? But again, that’s just me projecting what I’d want.

Also, grief doesn’t come in fixed stages, it really is like a rollercoaster. I feel like I want my boyfriend around me but when he is, everything he says and does is irritating me. I’m so angry a lot of the time but simultaneously I feel like a machine, a robot and a bit dead inside. Crying happens a lot. It doesn’t help that I just moved to a new town and have no friends here. Or a job yet and it’s a blessing in some ways as I’d have had to take so much unpaid time off but then the distraction would really help. Hopefully she’s busy with stuff, doesn’t have too much time on her hands?

The idea of being sociable again terrifies me. I am not the same person anymore and I feel like I have to pretend to be normal and I hate that! I used to love going out.

I criticise my boyfriend for not understanding what I’m going through but the thing is, he can’t. I would tell you to read all the advice you can find online for ways to support her and if you’ve got some one you can tell then that’s good too because it must be stressful for too.

My aim is to book some therapy because I definitely think it would help.

Is there something that she likes to do or used to enjoy? Maybe you can write to her and invite her to do something, to give her something to look forward to or try and take her mind of this, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time? Does she like to write? Maybe get her a notebook to spill or draw all these feelings in to.

Being outside is really therapeutic, too.

All is not lost. Good luck to you and her and everyone else going through this.

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Cindy

I moved to Canada (Im from the US) My husband of 4 months was in a motorcycle accident and lost his left leg amongst other injuries 16 months ago. I had NO ONE there to support me, while he laid in a coma for a week. I been caring for him, and his eldery mother (who lived with us). He has become so angry and bitter, and is angry that I “didnt just let him die”. I left after 6 months of verbal abuse. We are trying to work things out but im not feeling very optomistic. I feel that he will never accept what has happened and the verbal abuse and accusations will continue.

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Sharon

My father just recently died and all I received from my husband of 31 yrs was a text that said “I’m sorry”. He didn’t come home from work when he learned the news , nor did he call off the next evening. He went on as if nothing happened and I didn’t need anybody. He works midnights and sleeps during the day, so he want there for me at all. I honestly don’t know what is hurting me more now, the loss of my father or the lack of support given to me by my husband. I can’t stop crying now.

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joseph

There is nothing more horrible and tragic when you lose your love, your spouse, your wife and worse when murder/death occurs in front of your eyes. There are no books or words how to describe the pain in your heart and in your soul , it is deep so painful that yourself feel the dagger into your chest slowly inching into your chest but you cannot see the blood. There are no preachers, no counselors, friends that understand the tragedy is there. I suffered and I continue suffering asking why?

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Karen Young

Joseph I’m sorry for what you have been through. The pain sounds unimaginable and so deep. I wish I could take the pain away, even just a little, and I wish there was a way to make sense of this but there isn’t. There are no words that can make losing your love in this way, or losing your love at all feel less painful and less traumatic. All I can do is wish hard for your pain to ease soon, and send you love and strength.

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Beth

I went through a lot in a short space of time: death of a close relative while expecting second child, then discovered I had kidney cancer, and my mother had an operation the year after. My husband was brilliant through all of this. Sometime later he retired, and I had a second operation relating to the earlier one. My husband was fantastic again, but looking back now I feel I got overwhelmed by everything and down on things, and hubby was lost in his thoughts like I was. I thought I had a good friend to chat to to in between for extra support. Wrong! Found out too late how toxic she was – and jealous and it had created a wedge between me and hubby. She really embarrassed us in front of neighbours and we ended up divorcing. I was at my lowest for ages. I have never felt that way, always a strong person. I had lost myself completely and have even had sessions with a counsellor. I love him alot. It took a little while to get talking again – I had had an accident and he wanted to know if I was ok. We get on great now, and see each other daily (he helps me with my part time job and other things). He’s always been so caring and thoughtful. I have wanted to talk about things, but find it awkward. I am frightened of pushing him away, even though I sense he wants to say things, too. We have been such a good team and just gel together, until this person started her agenda. We thought she was ok and even chose her to be godmother to our first child.

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E. Jones

How awful… it is good that you got rid of her when you found out she was toxic.
I do not understand people that are jealous.
Jealousy people can cause havoc.
Hopefully you & your husband can get together & be a family again. Sounds like you guys are both taking steps towards a reconciliation.

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Melinda Dreiling

This is exactly what happened to my marriage. We had been marriage 20 years when my then husband had a 6 way heart bypass. At the age of 40! He went into surgery a loving husband, father, uncle and friend, he woke up 24 hrs later an angry man that unfortunately never chsnged. He said and did hurtful things…he would not take his depression meds because” there is nothing wrong with me”. He drove our son to suicide attempts, and then me….I’m out and I’m healing…but he is not and will never be capable of a relationship until he gets help.

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Donna

Where is there family councilling in southampton.my parents have got my son. I don’t See them – there behaviour is unacknowledgeable .i dont see my son very much. They don’t seem to realise how devastating to my life that is and that i feel i can’t move on.

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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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#parenthood #parenting #positiveparenting #parentingtips #childdevelopment #parentingadvice #parentingtip #mindfulparenting #positiveparentingtips #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️
Speaking to the courage that is coming to life inside them helps to bring it close enough for them to touch, and to imagine, and to step into, even if doesn’t feel real for them yet. It will become them soon enough but until then, we can help them see what we see - a brave, strong, flight-ready child who just might not realise it yet. ‘I know how brave you are.’ ‘I love that you make hard decisions sometimes, even when it would be easier to do the other thing.’ ‘You might not feel brave, but I know what it means to you to be doing this. Trust me – you are one of the bravest people I know.’
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting #parentingtips #parentingadvice
So often, our children will look to us for signs of whether they are brave enough, strong enough, good enough. Let your belief in them be so big, that it spills out of you and over to them and forms the path between them and their mountain. And then, let them know that the outcome doesn't matter. What matters is that they believe in themselves enough to try. 

Their belief in themselves might take time to grow, and that's okay. In the meantime, let them know you believe in them enough for both of you. Try, ‘I know this feels big and I know you can do it. What is one small step you can take? I’m right here with you.’♥️
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting
Anxiety will tell our kiddos a deficiency story. It will focus them on what they can't do and turn them away from what they can. We know they are braver, stronger, and more powerful than they could ever think they are. We know that for certain because we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen them so held by anxiety, and we’ve seen them move through - not every time but enough times to know that they can. Even when those steps through are small and awkward and uncertain, they are brave. Because that’s how courage works. It’s fragile and strong, uncertain and powerful. We know that that about courage and we know that about them. 

Our job as their important adults is to give them the experiences that will help them know it too. This doesn't have to happen in big leaps. Little steps are enough, as long as they are forward. 

When their anxiety has them focused on what they can't do, focus them on what they can. By doing this, we are aligning with their capacity for brave, and bringing it into the light. 

Anxiety will have them believing that there are only two options - all or nothing; to do or not to do. So let's introduce a third. Let's invite them into the grey. This is where brave, bold beautiful things are built, one tiny step at a time. So what does this look like? It looks like one tiny step at a time. The steps can be so small at first - it doesn't matter how big they are, as long as they are forward. 
If they can't stay for the whole of camp, how much can they stay for?
If they can't do the whole swimming lesson on their own, how much can they do?
If they can't sleep all night in their own bed, how long can they sleep there for?
If they can't do the exam on their own, what can they do?
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When we do this, we align with their brave, and gently help it rise, little bit, by little bit. We give them the experiences they need to know that even when they feel anxious, they can do brave, and even when they feel fragile they are powerful.

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