Grief can be the silent killer of a marriage or partnership when it is ignored. Most relationships that suffer through the grief of one or both parties can be forever changed.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Support a Grieving Spouse During the Loss of a Loved One
- How to Support a Grieving Spouse After the Loss of a Pet
The way you react to those moments determine how you and your partner get through one of the most challenging times after losing a loved one. You may be left wondering how to support your partner during such a difficult time.
Fortunately, there are many ways to help your spouse or partner get through their grief and to maintain or strengthen the bond between you. It’s important to remember that your loved one isn’t expecting you to fix their grief, so don’t put that pressure on yourself.
How to Support a Grieving Spouse During the Loss of a Loved One
Showing love and support to a grieving spouse when they’ve suffered the loss of a loved one has its own unique set of rules. You may want to find a balance between being there for them and giving them the time and space they need to grieve their losses independently.
If you need to know how to help a grieving spouse demonstrate how much you love and support them, the following tips can help you both get through this difficult time.
If your marriage is running into problems while your partner is grieving, consider reading our full guide on grief and marriage breakdown.
1. Be patient
Patience is key to a successful grieving period when your spouse has suffered a significant loss in their life. You may not fully understand the extent of your spouse’s or partner’s suffering because maybe you’ve never suffered the same type of loss in your life. Don’t try and put yourself in your partner’s shoes.
This isn’t one of those times when it’s necessary to feel what they’re feeling. What your partner needs most from you right now is your patience, love, and compassion as they figure out their grief.
2. Give them time to grieve
Grief has no expiration or end date. When your spouse is grieving over the loss of their loved one, expect that it’ll take weeks, months, or even years for them to process their grief.
Depending on the relationship with the person who’s died, your spouse may need a little extra time to start feeling like their old self again. Try not to rush them through their grief. Everyone is different and will mourn their losses according to their own time tables.
3. Acknowledge their loss
If you’re worried about how to help your spouse who lost their dad, for example, don’t minimize their loss by saying things like “He’s in a better place,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Not everyone believes this to be true, and when you say it, it may create your spouse’s resentment towards you even if you didn’t mean to upset them.
Sometimes the last thing they want to hear is that there’s a reason that their dad died, and you’re okay with it. Those words that are supposed to comfort can quickly turn into wedges of resentment between you two.
4. Let them cry
Seeing your loved one in the throes of sorrow and despair can be a tough thing to go through. It’s indeed tough to sit back and watch your loved one cry, especially when there’s nothing you can do to make them feel better.
One of the best things you can do for them is to let them cry it all out without judgment or interference. Crying can be both soothing and healing to the soul. Encourage your loved one to release those emotions so that they can feel better afterward.
5. Honor their loss
Honoring the loss of a loved one lets your spouse or partner know that you haven’t forgotten that they lost someone special to them. If they’ve lost their dad, for example, their father’s death anniversary is a good time to purchase a remembrance gift for your spouse.
This not only acknowledges their father’s death but lets your spouse know that you’re thinking of them on this special day. There are several gifts available online for the bereaved - everything from sympathy gifts for the loss of a father, to having lost a child, sibling, or best friend.
6. Get them counseling
Sometimes it’s challenging to get someone to admit that they need outside help. If you notice that your spouse or partner’s grief is not lifting after several weeks, suggest going in for some grief therapy.
You may even suggest going in with them to get couples counseling as it applies to surviving grief. Try and minimize the stigma that’s attached to seeing a therapist. Everyone faces these types of hardships throughout their lives, and it’s okay not to be okay.
How to Support a Grieving Spouse After the Loss of a Pet
Your spouse will need extra love, support, and understanding after suffering the loss of a beloved pet. A furry companion is more than just an animal to most pet owners. A pet represents unconditional love and companionship when things get rough.
When a special pet dies, it can be a heartbreaking and devastating loss to its owner. When you concede that a pet is not just a pet, then you can understand the tremendous loss this can represent to your spouse or partner. The following are some ways to lend your support during this difficult and emotionally trying time:
7. Acknowledge their loss
When a person loses a beloved pet, friends and family may not recognize the extent of the grief that ensues after a pet loss. For some pet owners, losing a pet is the same or worse than losing a child. Treat your spouse with the same love and support you would give them if they had lost an extension of their family because, for most, they have.
A pet provides constant companionship and unwavering love and support. If your spouse is otherwise childless, it may very well be that the loss of their pet hurts as much as losing a child. Being supportive after losing a pet means treating the loss as a significant one and following up with your spouse to see how they’re doing.
8. Allow time to grieve
Grief takes time to heal. The process is different for everyone, as many types of grief can affect a person. Giving someone time to go through grief’s motions allows them to explore their feelings without being rushed through it.
You can’t speed up the grief recovery process any more than you can tell someone when it’s time to move on. Your spouse will let you know when they’ve healed from their pain.
9. Give a special gift
After a pet dies, this may not seem like an appropriate time to give your spouse a gift. Usually, gifts are given out of love and celebration on a special occasion. There are unique bereavement gifts that will show your spouse how much you care about them during their time of grief.
Sympathy gifts for losing a pet can include specially engraved jewelry, a garden stone, or wind chime. Any gift that memorializes your spouse's loss is special and will help ease their pain.
10. Help around the house
A person who is grieving may forget to look after themselves and the house. Household chores become unimportant in the first few days following a significant loss.
You can do your part by picking up your spouse’s duties for a few days to give them time to process their grief. They may not readily acknowledge you helping around the house more so than usual, but in time they’ll understand that you provided the extra support where most needed.
11. Give them a chance to talk
Talking about their loss will help your loved one move through their grief in a healthy way. Instead of bottling up their feelings and emotions, having an outlet gives them a chance to release the pain and suffering that they’re going through.
You may need to listen to the same lamentations or stories told repeatedly, but in the end, this is your spouse’s grief process that will help them recover from their loss.
12. Say the right words
When giving a response, try and avoid saying things to your spouse like, “It was just a dog. Let’s go get you another one.” Or, “Aren’t cats supposed to have nine lives? I guess this one didn’t.”
Both of these statements represent examples of what not to say to your spouse who’s grieving the loss of a pet. If you can’t find anything else to say, try a simple, “I’m sorry that your dog/cat died.” Use the pet’s name whenever possible. Your spouse will appreciate that you acknowledged their pet by its name.
13. Share your memories
Your spouse will appreciate you sharing fond memories of their pet even when you didn’t have the same relationship to it as they did. Try and bring up both loving and funny memories. Don’t be afraid to have a laugh remembering the pet’s most famous hijinks.
Another thoughtful way of remembering a pet that has died is by putting together a photo album filled with the pet’s best moments. If your partner’s pet loved to travel, go swimming, or play dress-up, include pictures of them doing their favorite activities. This will remind your spouse that their pet lived a full life filled with love and fun activities.
Ways of Helping Your Grieving Spouse or Partner
Sometimes the best way to help someone who is grieving is to give them the time and space necessary to process their grief. You can be supportive by picking up the slack where needed, offering words of love and encouragement, and simply by just being there to listen and talk to your loved one about what they’re experiencing.
If you're looking for more ways to support a loved one during a period of grief, read our guides on how to support someone who's grieving from far away and the best online grief support groups.