Understanding How Grief Can Affect Your Marriage

Grief, with its profound and varied impact, can represent a tumultuous journey among even the closest couples. It can affect communication, safety, intimacy, and more. When one or both partners are coping with loss, the dynamics and normal equilibrium within the marriage can change in uncomfortable ways. At times, however, the grieving process may also bring you and your spouse even closer. While all grief is deeply personal, it’s important to be mindful of how your partner’s grief might impact you and vice versa.

Emotional Withdrawal Due to Grief

Emotional withdrawal refers to concealing emotions and maintaining a sense of distance from others. Withdrawing from others is a way people often try to cope with their own pain after a devastating loss. They may not want to be a burden, or they might fear “opening the floodgates” associated with grief. However, emotional withdrawal can bleed into all areas of a marriage. You may feel like you two are no longer on the same page; physical intimacy may come to a halt; you might not know how to even provide emotional support to your grieving partner.

Grief-Related Resentment, Guilt, and Shame

Challenging and unresolved feelings can sometimes emerge in the aftermath of a loss. Some losses, in particular, bring marital issues to the forefront. For example, if you lost a close friend, you might feel resentful that your partner didn’t make as much of an effort to reach out during those last months as you would have hoped. Or, you may feel guilty about your role in the friendship, and you might project some of that guilt into your marriage.

Different Ways of Grieving and Coping with Loss

Even if you both feel profoundly affected by a death, your own grief process may look very different from your spouse’s. Where one spouse may struggle with immense anger, another may feel entirely numb. One partner might reach out to their support network, but their husband or wife might prefer to spend time grieving alone. In addition, how you talk about the grief may diverge. One of you may find comfort in frequently sharing memories about the loss. However, the other may want to privately mourn and try to focus on moving forward. These varied coping mechanisms can sometimes result in frustration or tension.

Changes in Physical Intimacy

Grief shows up in the body, and it can manifest through many physical symptoms, including digestive problems, headaches, increased pain sensitivity, changes in energy levels, and more. Amid these changes, physical intimacy within the marriage may be disrupted. One or both of you may no longer desire to be affectionate. Even if this is a temporary shift, it can be emotionally challenging.

Desire to Lean On Others

Some people find themselves leaning on other friends or family member members during the grief process. While there’s nothing wrong with seeking comfort, partners may feel shut out or disconnected. This can cause interpersonal conflict within the marriage that can unravel and fester over time. Ultimately, you and your spouse may need to find new ways to reconnect- even if you’re also looking outside the marriage for emotional guidance.

Increased Sense of Closeness

One of the most important takeaways of grief is that it isn’t always completely “bad.” Through grief, people often find gratitude, purpose, and meaning. They sometimes deepen their awareness of what truly matters in life. This can open space for appreciating your spouse and the gifts of your marriage. Although this may be an unexpected surprise during a moment of darkness (which can trigger its own discomfort), it’s important to hold onto this glimmer, as it may be a north star in guiding your marriage forward.

Resurfacing of Other Relational Issues

Sometimes the grief process can bring up unresolved issues within the marriage. For example, if communication was strained before the loss occurred, this problem may become more apparent and paramount. Couples may be able to come together during their grief to resolve relational stress. But, other times, they might find themselves feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about how to best proceed.

Grief Therapy for Managing Loss in Austin, TX

There’s no right way to grieve a loss, and it’s typical to cycle through different emotions during this vulnerable time. If you’re trying to better understand your own feelings or needs right now, grief therapy may be helpful. As a grief therapist, I specialize in treating all types of loss, including ambiguous grief, disenfranchised grief, complicated grief, and more. If you’d like to learn more about my process or how we can work together, I welcome you to contact me today.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

(512) 988-3363

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