10 Ways To Help Your Partner Cope With Loss
When romantic partners grow together, it becomes inevitable that they will see each other through life's most tumultuous and traumatic experiences: death, loss, illness, failures, the list goes on. Often, you will be the first person that your partner turns to in times of trouble. It is a beautiful aspect of a strong partnership, but it can also be incredibly overwhelming for one person to handle. You want to do what is best for your partner, so knowing how to help a partner grieve is key.
I wish we didn't have to prepare for it, but one horrible day, the love of your life will lose a parent, sibling, relative, or friend. As you two journey through time together, your partner will experience financial stress, self-doubt, job loss, depression, anxiety, etc. While you have, of course, survived your own trying times and can reflect on your personal coping mechanisms, it is important to remember that your partner's struggle is unique and individual to them. You can't assume that what worked for you will benefit your partner, but you can listen to them, hold them, run errands for them, sit in silence with them, etc. Just be present.
As a side note, remember that in order to take care of your partner, you have to take care of yourself. Supporting your partner through grief is necessary, but exhausting. Get enough rest, eat well, and relieve your own stress with friends, family, and any relaxing activities.
Here are 10 specific ways that you can help your partner cope during tragic and stressful times. We'll begin by talking about loss:
1. Let Them Cry
No one likes to watch the person they love break down. You feel powerless and desperate to ease the pain. You may even feel uncomfortable because you are so uncertain of what to do. But if your response to your partner's tears is "don't cry," even if it is meant in a comforting way, you are essentially telling them not to feel their emotions. First of all, the act of crying can be extremely cathartic. Secondly, if your partner's grief is causing tears, then crying is a part of their grieving process. It is something they have to go through. Let your partner know that it is safe to cry in front of you. You will support them and let them do whatever they have to do — your possible feelings of discomfort or powerlessness are irrelevant. They have earned the right to cry.And since crying is not a part of each individual's mourning process, this sentiment stands for anger, depression, yelling, etc. Your partner needs to manifest their emotions any way that they can, so let them. Trying to stop a breakdown may be well-intentioned, but it invalidates the magnitude of their sadness.
2. Be Honest
Your partner needs genuine support. It is both obvious and uncomfortable when you spew out cliches because you are (understandably) at a loss for words. Saying "It will be OK" doesn't help anybody because it isn't OK now. Be real. Tell your partner, "I don't know what to say, but I am so sorry and am here to help you in any way you need." Your partner will be surrounded by well-intentioned but ineffectual sympathy; you need to be their source of honesty.
3. Give Them Room To Grieve In Unique Ways
"There is no right or wrong way to grieve after a loss." Don't tell your partner that they should be over it by now. Don't tell your partner that their grieving process is incorrect because it is different from yours. Don't shame your partner for not crying or for crying too much. Again, you are your partner's safe space. You need to give them room to experience mourning in their own personal way.
4. Be Comfortable With Silence
Sometimes there truly are no words. Don't feel like you have to fill the silence while your significant other grieves. Your partner just needs to know that you are there. Spend hours together in bed, on the couch, on the beach, saying nothing.
5. Offer Practical Help
The only thing that your partner really wants is for their loved one to come back to life. You can't make that happen, as much as you may want to. But you can help plan the funeral, buy your partner's groceries, fix that leaky faucet that had been endlessly annoying them, walk the dog, do their laundry, give them a massage, spend an afternoon watching TV, etc. Let your significant other know that you will take on all responsibilities, and suggest specific ways to help. Or just do things on your own, if you know what has to be done. Your partner can't think in specifics about anything right now, other than what they have lost.
6. Don't Say Any Of These Things
"They're in a better place." "God works in mysterious ways." "Look on the bright side." "Everything happens for a reason." "When my [insert loved one] died, I..."Maybe your partner doesn't believe in an afterlife or a higher power. Maybe they do, but that still doesn't justify their loved one's death. "The bright side" doesn't matter right now — what matters is that an important person is dead. Unless you have a foolproof reason for this death (and you don't), don't tell your partner that there is one. It's patronizing and minimizing. Also, it doesn't matter what you did when someone died. This isn't about your experience, which is completely different from your partner's. As Hannah Morrison Shultz wrote for Bustle, these kinds of comments feel "rehearsed, staged, and insincere."
7. Let Them Talk About Things Over And Over
One of the most important roles that you will take on during this awful time is that of a listener. Your partner may initially react to the loss by not wanting to open up at all. Let them know that you are ready to listen whenever they are ready to talk. Once that moment comes, your partner may need to vocalize the same emotions or memories over and over. That's normal and beneficial for the mourning process. Perhaps your partner constantly needs to speak about their loved one's cause of death or the summer when their deceased relative taught them to ride a bike. Let them do that. Don't tell your partner that you have already heard the story. Just listen again and again.
8. Be A Spokesperson
Following the loss of a loved one, multiple people reach out to those in mourning. Their sympathy is usually beautiful and appreciated, but also extremely overwhelming. Take on the role of spokesperson. Your partner does not have the energy to respond to countless phone calls, emails, or Facebook messages. Doing so may even be triggering; people who mean no harm may ask invasive questions. Instead, you can acknowledge and thank those people for your partner. It's one less thing for them to worry about during a traumatic time.
9. Remember That Grief Doesn't Have An End Date
Your partner will stop crying everyday. Their routines will return to normal. They'll laugh again. It will be easier. But grief doesn't really ever end. If you are in the relationship for the long haul, you have to be there for your partner in this way for the rest of your lives together. Anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays will be heartbreaking, but together, you two will learn how to get through it.
You should employ similar methods when helping a partner cope with stress, especially making yourself available to take on practical responsibilities and comfortably sharing silent moments together. There is another important step you should take with your partner that is useful for both grief and stress.
10. Be A Stress Reliever: Sometimes Comfort Is More Important Than Anything Else
Your instinct may be to help your partner find a solution to the stress. However, your SO's brain is already overworked and anxiety-ridden. They have brainstormed and over-analyzed enough on their own. What they really need from you is relief: a long hug, a deep kiss, a back massage, a good laugh, etc. As PsychCentral states, "Many partners forget to console their significant other and instead try to problem solve." Sometimes, simply reminding your partner that you are there is the solution in that moment.
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