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,.

 

20 Comments

Josh

I lost my dad very suddenly over the summer, and have been in somewhat of a daze since then just trying to move on through the fall semester (I’m a sophomore in college). This weekend my girlfriend broke up with me, which also felt very sudden. She said she doesn’t feel the same connection with me as she did last year, and that even though we love each other she doesn’t feel like this relationship is what she wants now. I’ve realized since this happened that we have been somewhat distant, and I haven’t really been communicating with anyone about feelings and emotions I’ve been having. I really don’t want to lose her, but at this point I don’t know if it’s been too long for me to change and reconnect with her.

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Tracy P

Same issue here.
My boyfriend of five years recently lost his twenty two year old son unexpectedly.
His twenty year old daughter seems to need him to come bye or includes her mother (his x) in their plans.
I feel like she thinks it drew them close again after a bitter divorce.
She never even got over it after 15 yrs.
Even the house was exactly the same.
I feel disrespected bye them and wish he would address it.
Iv been there for him day one thick and thin.
We rebuild from the bottom together I’d like him to speak up is that too much to ask?

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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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Roderick

Hi. My wife recently lost her favourite aunt suddenly. They were very close. To make things worse she died on our son’s birthday. I put my all into trying to be there for her. Reading up things I should do and should not do. When she asked for space I gave her. I handled the chores and schoolwork with my son. I checked on her asking if she needed anything. Sent messages while she was out to let her know I care. Only for her to tell me one week after the death that other people were there for her more than I was. This has left me devastated. I really thought I was doing what was needed to be done in the situation. Now I have no idea what to do going forward.

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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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Chad H

Felicia, I would be very concerned that they are engaged, at the very least, in an emotional affair, regardless of how they would label it. That being said, on the surface, their living situation has been the setting for countless tales of infidelity, so don’t play the role of the fool. Find out for sure one way or another and address it appropriately.

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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 things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

Know that whatever happens, it’s all part of what the holidays are meant to look like. They aren’t meant to be pristine and orderly and exactly as planned. They were never meant to be that. Christmas is about people, your favourite ones, not tasks. If focusing on the people means some of the tasks fall down, let that be okay, because that’s what Christmas is. It’s about you and your people. It’s not about proving your parenting stamina, or that you’ve raised perfectly well-behaved humans, or that your family can polish up like the catalog ones any day of the week, or that you can create restaurant quality meals and decorate the table like you were born doing it. Christmas is messy and ridiculous and exhausting and there will be plenty of frayed edges. And plenty of magic. The magic will happen the way it always happens. Not with the decorations or the trimmings or the food or the polish, but by being with the ones you love, and the ones who love you right back.

When it all starts to feel too important, too necessary and too ‘un-let-go-able’, be guided by the bigger truth, which is that more than anything, you will all remember how you all felt – as in how happy they felt, how loved they felt were, how noticed they felt. They won’t care about the instagram-worthy meals on the table, the cleanliness of the floors, how many relatives they visited, or how impressed other grown-ups were with their clean faces and darling smiles. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that what matters most at Christmas isn’t the tasks, but the people – the ones who would give up pretty much anything just to have the day with you.

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