Many couples find it difficult to talk about their feelings in every day life let alone when they are facing the death of a child .So often women tell me their husbands don’t talk and refuse to listen or make them feel rejected , unloved , alone , and very angry . Men tell me they hurt too, that they are afraid to let their hurt out because they may not be able to manage it and they feel a need to be strong. There is no doubt in my mind having worked with couples for a few years now that men and women do grieve differently. Where some women seek comfort , support and understanding from their partner , some men feel unable to give ,to open up, it is as though they freeze up inside in order to survive .It is normal, very normal to experience marital difficulties after the death of a child . In fact any death can create divides between couples and where there are already difficulties the problems can become greater, and yes many couples do separate as a result.
Women often loose the desire for sexual intimacy after a death, whilst men often look for intimacy as a comfort. Men may seek the closeness, enabling the expression of their feelings. This can leave women feeling used or even more isolated.
Sometimes the longing for another child…. can be so great that women want to conceive and for men this can cause great anxiety and impotency. Also whilst seeking comforts from each other a couple often feel guilty that they have indulged in sexual intimacy so soon after a death. There are no set ways; whatever is happening to you is normal for you. Being individuals it follows that the way that we grieve will be unique to us as individuals …….It can be a comfort to know that others share similar experiences. For some women sexual desire returns gradually, whilst for others it may take months or years. Men may also feel unable to initiate sex and whilst the partner feels she would like to have intimacy the male may be unable to reciprocate.
Sometimes after intimacy there can be overwhelming grief, once the barriers between you are lowered the flood of grief races out and can feel unmanageable for a short time. Understanding that we are all different and accepting that your partner will be feeling differently because we are all individuals, may be the first step towards healing the broken relationship.
Death and sex are two of the most taboo subjects that we as human beings find difficult to discuss and one will most certainly impact the other. Grief is stressful, exhausting, trawls through every which way and emotion you have and affects every area of your life…..not least your relationships with those closest to you.
Sometimes one partner may want more intimacy than the other, this can lead to feelings of rejection and frustration, pressure and failure.
Some feel that the deceased person may be present or that any satisfaction or pleasure can only mean that they aren’t grieving enough.
Sometimes when the sexual relationship is not present the contact also stops and both partners can feel alone and isolated
Holding, cuddling and being held is very necessary as when you are grieving you need to be touched and comforted.
Sometimes you feel so angry at your partner, there may be unresolved
incidents in the past where you feel they have failed, let you down or not been a good parent. You may feel that you weren’t a good parent and feel angry with yourself. Most of all there will be anger at life itself for cheating you, for stealing away your precious child, and with him/her, your hopes, dreams, and future plans.
Whilst your world is so devastated and you feel unable to communicate to your partner you can feel isolated and if this continues eventually, because of time moving on, unable to talk at all. It may seem that everyone else in the family is doing ok and there can be a sense of having to pretend that you are ok too, whilst underneath inside you feel you are drowning, fighting desperately to function, keep things together, then eventually, because it has to come out somewhere, it will and it can come out in many different ways.
Anxiety, Nightmares, Physical Pain, Depression, Self Hatred, and not least focused at your partner.
Getting Grief Out
If you are unable to verbalise your feelings, writing can help to create a way of communicating. Sharing your feelings and talking to others that have experienced something similar can also be useful .Make a time just for you where you can think about your feelings, write them down, along with what your needs. Things that could help to make things feel a little less painful or more manageable. When you have done this think about one small thing that your partner could do for you that would make one small difference.
Keep it manageable, small so that your partner won?t feel it is too much and so that you won’t feel you are putting on him or her. If you can both do this, you will find that a step can be made towards the bridge of exchange between you. If you can talk maybe you could agree to go somewhere quietly together and to listen to each other in turn. Try not to compare your grief but to accept that you are different and so will be grieving differently. Grieving differently doesn’t mean you can’t share or be a comfort to each other even when you find some of your partner?s feelings difficult to understand, or make sense of….. it is about listening, hearing each other and accepting how you both feel.
” I don’t want to talk “……..often in my experience means , I can’t talk …… because I am afraid …. I am afraid that if I talk I will become unable to control, to manage my grief and I may be consumed by it, I may say things that I am unable to control and I may hurt those I love and must protect .I don’t want to talk ……. because I don’t know how to, I don’t know where to begin and if I begin will I be able to manage all that I feel.
Talking out grief is the only way to work through the feelings.
If anyone feels able to share their experience of how grief affects marriage /partnerships / relationships please do post on our forum.