Helping a significant other grieve can be excruciating, both emotionally and in terms of the practical responsibilities you might need to take on. In most cases, our significant others are our closest confidents and the people we feel most comfortable with expressing all of the uncomfortable emotions that come with grief. Especially if you’ve never experienced a major loss, it can be hard to know the best way to support your significant other as he or she grieves. But done right, it will bring you closer and strengthen your relationship.
Exactly how to support your partner—and how much you’ll be able to offer—does depend on the specific loss your partner has suffered. This piece is specifically about how to support your partner when his or her parent, sibling or even close friend has died. The dynamic is completely different when a child dies and both partners are grieving in their own way at the same time.
Offer Non-Judgmental Emotional Support
The first step in supporting a grieving spouse or partner is to recognize the ways that you can support him or her emotionally. This might mean listening to him or her talk through the details of the loved one’s death repeatedly or listening to the same stories about Dad over and over. It can also mean respecting a need for silence and just being present even if your partner doesn’t want to talk.
Providing emotional support while your partner is grieving can also mean shelving your own need for emotional support, whether because of your own grief about the loss (especially if you’ve been with your partner for a long time and are close to your in-laws, this grief can be significant) or simply the usual emotional support we expect from our partners in everyday life. Now’s the time to lean on other people outside of your marriage for emotional support so you can focus on helping your partner.
Take On More Responsibilities
Your partner needs some time to process his or grief—and potentially to support other family members and take care of practicalities related to the estate. Don’t expect him or her to pull the usual weight when it comes to managing a household.
This doesn’t actually mean that you need to take on all the chores yourself. What you can do is manage the offers for help that come in from friends—or just be ok with the fact that the bathroom isn’t going to be as clean as usual. The important thing is taking some of the pressure off your partner, not to be a superhero who handles everything.
Be The Gatekeeper
When we experience a major loss, there can be a flood of well-wishers—some welcome, others not. Your spouse might already be trying to manage this flood for other family members, but you can help protect him or her and your immediate family. A death in the family is, unfortunately, often an occasion for a lot of awkward conversations with friends, co-workers and relatives, and it can get draining. Taking care of as many of these uncomfortable interactions for your spouse will give him or her the space to focus on the things that can’t be outsourced.
If you have a long-term relationship it’s almost inevitable that you will help your partner through grief at one point or another—and likely that he or she will have a chance to return the favor. It’s a chance to show how well you know your partner and how important he or she is to you—and the rewards for helping your spouse through a hard time will last throughout your relationship.