Supporting a partner through grief

Posted on: 03 January 2014 by Vicky Dean

Practical tips to help you to support your grieving partner at a time when they need you most

coping with grief

The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult life experiences. Whilst you can’t take away the pain of the loss from your partner or spouse, you can provide essential comfort and support to help them come to terms with the situation.

It can be hard to know how to approach your partner while they are grieving. You may fear being too intrusive, saying the wrong thing while trying to comfort them, or making them feel even worse about the occurrence. This guide will teach you how to support your grieving partner at a time when they need you most.

Understanding grief

The first step to supporting your partner through grief is to understand how it feels – particularly if you have never been through it yourself.

Grief can provoke unusual feelings

Even if your partner is typically a happy, out-going being, grief can cause them to feel depressed, angry, and guilty amongst other intense emotions. They may act out of character for a period of time, lashing out easily over small things and crying for pro-longed periods. Try not to judge your partner’s unpredictable emotions, and also try not to take any of the spontaneous comments aimed towards you to heart. Instead, reassure them that what they are feeling is normal, and offer to talk about those feelings.

Grief operates differently in different people

Grief affects people differently, so you should never tell your partner how they “should” be feeling. You should expect high emotions alongside low emotions, and instead support them through those feelings instead of dictating them.

Don’t rush the grieving process

Just as you shouldn’t dictate the sorrowful feelings, you shouldn’t dictate the timescale for grieving either. On average, the process can take 18 to 24 months, although some people can feel grief for longer or shorter periods. Never pressure your partner to move on from the loss, or make them feel like they are exaggerating the grieving process as this can actually have the opposite effect.

For further information please see the following guides:

NHS Coping with bereavement

BPS Coping if you have been recently bereaved

WebMD mental health coping with grief

How to help your partner

Now that you understand the feelings hidden within grief, you can move onto helping your partner get through the period of sadness.

Saying the right thing

Knowing what to say to someone after the loss a loved one is the most difficult step for those trying to provide comfort in the situation; it is not unusual to feel awkward whilst trying to provide support. Start by acknowledging what has happened and let your partner know that you are open to talking about what has happened.

Secondly, express your concern – tell them that you’re sorry about their loss – and then be genuine in your following conversation. Don’t be afraid to tell your partner that you are unsure of what to say, but do tell them that you want to offer your support as much as possible. Be sure to ask your partner how you can help them in the situation, as they may have particular needs that you can fulfil.

Finally, ask how they are feeling. Their answer will help you to understand their emotions throughout the day, so that you can tailor your support to their needs (i.e. leaving them alone when they wish to be alone, and offering physical comfort when they need it).

Talk with compassion

Always let your partner talk about their loved one if they want to, but at the same time be willing to sit in silence. Letting your partner know that they can talk openly about their loss - whether it be how their loved one died or something from their life- can help them come to terms with what has happened. On the other hand, don’t push your partner to talk about the death if they wish to sit in silence and come to terms with their loss on their own. Instead, offer a comforting embrace or a reassuring hand squeeze.

Offer practical assistance

Supporting your partner goes beyond offering physical and verbal comfort – look out for other ways of offering assistance. Something as simple as helping with funeral arrangements, or taking them out to lunch can provide great comfort. Many bereaved people are afraid to reach out for help in times of grief, so make the first move – they will appreciate your help.

Provide consistent, longitudinal support

Even beyond the average period of grief, your partner may still experience feelings of sadness intermittently. Make sure that your support continues throughout your relationship with heightened support on special days, such as their loved ones birthday, and on days of general low-feeling.

Watch out for warnings

Whilst anger and depression are common in feelings of grief, you may notice some other very extreme feelings. If your partner begins to actively talk about suicide, turns to alcohol or drugs for comfort, or begins to neglect personal hygiene, encourage them to seek professional help. Also be sure to attend the meetings with them, as a method of continual support.

Grief is not easy for anyone to deal with, but by being there for your partner throughout the grieving process, they will know that they have your support – even if they don’t show it. Stay strong, and offer the stability and encouragement that your partner needs during this sad and difficult time.

Vicky is a writer with based in Milton Keynes.

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