I love you.
I can’t live without you.
I hate you.
It’s all your fault.
When your child is dead, it can be hard to hold on to your marriage.
You’ll hear a lot of frightening statistics about marriage after the death of a child. Pretty much everyone will tell you your relationship will be in rough shape. Plenty of people will tell you it won’t survive.
Ignore them. Only you know what’s going on with your relationship.
When the boys died, I couldn’t imagine anyone splitting up with their husband after a loss. I immediately thought: “I’ve lost so much, how could I lose my marriage too?” But then the doubts creep in. Does he blame me for their death the way I blame myself? Why is he so angry all the time? Why doesn’t he grieve the way I do, doesn’t he love them as much? Is he ready to try again to get pregnant? Why so soon? Why not yet?
So here are my own tips for holding on to a marriage after a loss:
- Your relationship with your child is yours and yours alone. Your partner’s relationship with your child is theirs and theirs alone. All relationships are unique. That’s what makes them special. That’s why your child is not replaceable, even if you were to get pregnant again and have another baby. You need to recognize this.
- Love cannot be measured by how you express your emotions. If he doesn’t cry as much as you do, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t love your child as much as you. If she isn’t ready to try again for a baby, it doesn’t mean that her grief is deeper than yours. The emotions we feel and how we express them are two different things and are shaped by our personalities, our culture, our religion, the gender expectations imposed on us and so much more. But our outward expression of emotion has nothing to do with the love we feel inside.
- You will be selfish in grief. Your partner will too. That’s how grief works. Recognize when he or she needs time to themselves and grant them that. You’ll need time to yourself too.
- You also need time together. Make a point of spending time working on your relationship. Note that you would need to do this even if your child were still alive. When you become a mother, you shouldn’t stop being a wife/girlfriend/partner/lover/friend. Plan a date night, even if it is just going for a walk after dinner, or coffee before work. Think of one positive thing you can do for your partner each week and do it.
- Get help! It is okay to go to couples counseling. It is okay to see a counselor alone too. Reach out for help wherever you can find it. Many employers have employee assistance programs that include counseling. You might be able to find a counselor through your church, synagogue or mosque or another faith-based organization. Many counselors have sliding scale fees to ensure the help you need to available to you, no matter what your income level might be. And if the first counselor you meet isn’t a good fit, don’t give up! They may just not be the right counselor for you.
My husband and I have had normal ups and downs since losing the boys. It can be phenomenally challenging when you aren’t on the same page, grief-wise. I went to counseling on my own. I went to a mother’s group that met once a month. We went to counseling together. And it took a lot of time. It was probably 2 years before it felt like our marriage was back on track.
But as someone told us: “You might be married for 50-60 years. And even if you spent 2 whole years at each other’s throats, that means that your marriage was happy 96% of the time! And that’s pretty good.”
Photo by Richa Yadav on Flickr.com used under Creative Commons Licence.
Amanda Ross-White’s book Joy at the End of the Rainbow: A Guide to Pregnancy After a Loss was awarded the second place in the American Journal of Nursing‘s Book of the Year for Consumer Health.