While talking to my friend the other day, she told me she and her husband are divorcing. She, like me, lost her youngest son to unexplained stillbirth. That got me remembering that one time, jut a few short months after my son died and was born. I Googled in fear. I Googled “Statistics of couples divorcing after death of child.”
I felt for sure that we were doomed to a life of pain and hurt that ripped through everything we knew. The results of that search were inconclusive and unhelpful. I found only one study that was challenging a claim from the 1970s that said 70% of bereaved couples end up divorced. The more current study said couples stood no greater chance of divorcing after the loss of a child as anyone else. Something to note was that if there were problems present in the marriage before the loss, they were likely to be amplified with grief, which could cause a split.
Related: Grieving as a Single Parent
So what do you do if you had a good marriage before and now you are here in the land of the bereaved? I am here to assure you, your marriage isn’t automatically doomed to fail. I thought for sure we were and it was all just bound to go to hell now.
In the days following our son’s death, my husband and I experienced a significant event with my parents. It was the first time in over ten year of marriage that my husband and I found ourselves in disagreement with my parents about something. But this particular issue was worth fighting for. At that moment for me, there was a breaking away from my family of origin. My husband and I and our two young sons became our own distinct family. We were The Carlsons and we were going to do it according to what our hearts needed. This event solidified our “us-ness” and is essential for marriage survival, especially in the wake of grieving the loss of a child. It was us against our newly changed world.
A simple rule of any marriage survival is that there has to be more good stuff than bad stuff. In the death of a child or loss of a pregnancy, there is a lot of bad stuff. So what can you do to secure your marriage?
Turn inward toward one another. We stood at the check-in desk the morning of my induction, my sweet Reece floating lifelessly in my safe, warm belly. My husband said to me as we waited, “We are going to get through this. I don’t know how, but we are in this together.” It was like a vow, a promise that no matter how dark the grief got, we had each other. Therapy was our HOW. So…
Be ok with going to therapy. It doesn’t make you needy or crazy, it restores you to healthy. I was diagnosed with PTSD and my husband attended almost every session of recovery. We continue to go for maintenance as a couple once a month. Grief is complicated and a neutral party was essential for staying centered.
Make space for each other’s grief. You and your significant other may have very different grieving journeys. I am a very open griever. I am a very social griever. My husband is a private griever, a quiet thinker. Through therapy, we learned that different isn’t bad. It took work, but I had to let him grieve in his own way.
Validate each other. There will be moments that you just need someone to nod in agreement or to quietly squeeze your hand when you hear your child’s name being called by a different family.
Hang on to the good stuff. Our therapist focused on us as a couple for a few sessions after the symptoms of PTSD were mending with Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Through all the pain of losing our son, we still enjoyed spending time together. We made a pact to do those things we had plans for before Reece surprised us. We found rituals that held a place for him within our family, including taking part in baby loss awareness events and celebrating his birthday with a cake.
You will find your own way in the grief. Your marriage can survive this.