If you’ve been married for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced your spouse grieving. Maybe it’s the death of a parent or an old friend, or they lose a job or find something else taken from them in a way that impacts them deeply. You want to be there for them, but how?
Here are five things you can give your grieving spouse that will help bridge the gap between the two of you, and let them know that even though you are not experiencing things the same way, you hurt because they hurt. Here is how to be emotionally supportive during this time.
1. Give them permission. Let them know that their feelings are okay with you—whether that’s sad, angry, afraid, guilty, or any of the other mix of emotions that can accompany bereavement. Reassure them that they don’t have to have it all together for you, that you will be their listening ear, their sounding board, their safe space to vent.
2. Give them space. They may not want to talk about it now, and that’s okay. Let them have the room they need to be quiet; many people process things internally. Don’t always keep asking them how they feel. On the other hand, perhaps they need to be able to talk at length, to replay what went wrong. Sometimes people withdraw when they are hurting; they need alone time to sit with their pain. If that’s your spouse’s way, don’t pressure them about your needs for relationship at this time. Be especially attuned to what they don’t say—their body language: Can You Read Your Spouse?
3. Give them time. Don’t expect them to “get over it” quickly. Sadly, bereavement is one of the last taboos in Western culture, but truly coming to terms with the “new normal” that follows loss doesn’t happen overnight. Remember that when a loved one dies there is not only the initial shock, but then reminders as you go through all those firsts—birthday, Christmas, reunion—without them. And everyday moments can trigger heartache: a passing stranger looks like Dad, Mom’s favorite cooking show comes on the television. Be their steady anchor through the seasons of sadness.
4. Give them kindness. When it feels like the world has ended, little reminders that life is still good can be sweet. Small gestures that tell them they are loved and cared for may be very meaningful—a favorite bar of candy picked up from the store on the way home “just because,” a handwritten note left on their driver’s seat telling them that they are in your prayers. Pick up on some of their responsibilities to ease their load; take over domestic duties that can seem overwhelming when you’re emotionally spent. These 4 S’s to Show Kindness might give you some ideas.
5. Give them hope. When people are grieving they can ask a lot of hard questions. You don’t have to have an answer for them all. It’s enough to acknowledge the doubts or concerns or anger they may be expressing. At the same time, as their closest partner in life, you are uniquely positioned to offer words of encouragement. While not dismissing their pain, don’t be afraid to remind them of good things to be grateful for. Don’t try to argue them out of what they are feeling, but look for opportunities to plant some seeds of comfort that life may have changed but it can be good again. You could share these 3 Things to Do When a Dream Dies.
If you have children, you may also want to consider these 10 Ways to Help Kids Deal With the Loss of a Family Member or Friend.
Have you and your spouse struggled through this kind of a loss? What did you learn about how to be there for them? Share your answers here.