How to Deal With an Unsupportive Partner During Grief

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Dealing with tragedy and loss are some of the most challenging things to go through in any relationship. Whether you've had to deal with minor setbacks common to everyday life, or larger-scale disasters, many couples feel the stress and strain of grief on their bond. The effect of these losses can add up over time, especially when dealing with the death of a close loved one.

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Learning how to survive through tragedy as a couple is only a part of growing through the grief experience. Along the way, each partner must also learn to bend and strengthen as they endure through loss together.

When one person in a relationship grieves a significant loss, their partner undoubtedly suffers, and their connection changes. Grief challenges you and changes you. There's no avoiding it. How you support one another through the ups and downs strengthens and reinforces your togetherness.

What Are Some Signs a Partner Isn’t Supporting You During Grief?

Dealing with an unsupportive partner isn't always easy to recognize, mainly when surviving through trauma and loss. You know how they're making you feel, but you can't figure out why you're feeling the way you are. Your partner is, after all, there for you every day, reassuring you that you can count on them. 

But what happens when their behavior makes the grief experience worse for you? 

Your partner's lack of emotional support often leads to your relationship failing following a significant loss. This lack of support adversely affects your overall physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. You may begin experiencing increased signs of depression, an inability to adjust after loss, and a reduction in your quality of life. Some signs that your partner is unsupportive of you during your time of grief is often characterized by:

  1. Minimizing the seriousness of the loss
  2. Ambivalence toward you
  3. Pulling away from you
  4. Showing anger and frustration
  5. Belittling you or calling you names

What Are Common Ways a Partner Can Be Supportive During Grief?

Your partner may have an overall different grieving style from your own. You may not recognize their efforts of supporting you through your loss because you don't see things the same way. While they may be giving you everything they've got in showing their support through your loss, you may fail to see it because it's not the way you would do things or how you would offer help to someone you love who's grieving. 

Knowing the differences in how we grieve will help you understand your partner's efforts to support you. Your partner's grieving style may reflect a need to take care of everything practical in showing their support to you. Some people show you how much they care about you by helping you take care of things that can't wait for later. Tasks needing immediate attention might include:

  • Announcing the death of your loved one
  • Making the necessary phone calls
  • Organizing the funeral or memorial service

These are all acts of support that may seem cold in their practicality but are highly needed and valuable to someone who's just suffered the death of a close loved one or another similar setback. Men and women tend to grieve differently. What one person sees as loving acts of kindness, others may see as impersonal and insensitive.

Other ways a partner can be supportive during your grief are comforting you and making your life easier. Things like spending extra quality time with you, taking time off of work, and helping with the household upkeep and maintenance for a few weeks until you get through the initial stages of grief are all ways of showing support.  

How Can You Talk About Your Partner About Supporting You During Grief?

Talking to your significant other about supporting you during your grief can sometimes feel intimidating. Depending on the type of relationship you share, you may hesitate to have this conversation because you don’t want to add conflict to an already stressful time in your life. However, having open communication with your partner about how you’re feeling and what they can do to help you frequently allows you to get through your grief in a much more healthy way. 

Open up about how you’re feeling

Many people have difficulty dealing with conflict and tend to shy away from stressful situations because they don’t know how to help a grieving partner. Your significant other may have a hard time dealing with their emotions and are pulling away from you as a result. They may not do so intentionally, but their actions still have the same effect.

You may feel hurt and abandoned for that reason, and they may not understand why. Talk to them to figure out a way for you to reconnect and move forward from this setback as wholly as possible.

Teach them how to support you

Gender differences in grief and coping lend to dissimilarities in comforting someone who’s grieving, resulting in relationship difficulties. When talking to your partner, consider their past experiences and grieving style when asking them to support you in ways that may seem unnatural or uncomfortable to them.

Your needs may be very distinct from what they perceive them to be. An excellent method of showing your partner how to help you is gently correcting how they respond to your grief reactions. You can say something like, “Thank you for being there for me. I appreciate you trying to make me feel better. What I need from you right now is….”

Choose an appropriate time

Grief and marriage breakdown seem almost synonymous, especially when dealing with significant losses. But surviving through loss doesn’t always have to end up with a breakup or divorce. There’s an art in addressing sensitive topics when discussing these with your partner.

You may want to wait for when they feel relaxed and not under any immediate outside pressure, such as work or other stressful situations. Allow them the opportunity to prepare to have this conversation by prefacing your need to address what’s on your mind and asking them when it’d be a good time to do so.

Explain, don’t complain

An excellent way of communicating your wishes is to explain what you need from your partner without complaining or undermining their efforts. When going through the bereavement stages of loss, it’s tough to see outside of what you’re going through emotionally. Heightened sensitivities are all around, leading to conflict between you and your partner.

Your attempt to express what you’re going through might result in an adverse reaction from them because they don’t understand where you’re coming from, or they may misinterpret your comments as complaints. Try to balance your emotions when having this conversation and stick to having a conversation, not confrontation. 

What Can You Do If an Unsupportive Partner Remains Unsupportive?

Your partner may remain unsupportive despite your best efforts to talk to them about your wants and needs. Grief confronts both partners in a relationship with a multitude of complex challenges. When one person is often experiencing unexpectedly pervasive grief, intense and enduring, the other may not know how to respond. They exhibit behaviors you find unsupportive, which leads to further conflict. Here are some ways of dealing with this situation.

Get outside support

Partners dealing with grief and loss often don't know how to respond to each other's needs leading to misunderstandings and failed attempts at supporting one another through hard times. A grieving person may rely on their partner for physical, financial, or emotional support without fully communicating their needs.

When one person relies predominantly on another to sustain and understand them, it places a considerable burden on the other, leading to a strained relationship and breakdown of their bond. This type of stress often leads to a general lack of support. Turning to your social support group for help can alleviate some of those feelings.

Have patience

A person dealing with a bereaved partner often doesn’t know how to react. They may feel uncomfortable with death and loss, leading them to feel stressed and anxious about saying the wrong thing. You might experience your partner’s lack of support even after you’ve taken the above steps to talk to them about your needs.

Everyone processes loss differently. How they react to significant setbacks is a culmination of their past experiences, dealing with stress, and other factors such as their age, maturity level, and gender. Grief takes time to get through, and trust that your partner may also need time to adjust to their new role.

Seek bereavement counseling

Consider seeking professional bereavement counseling whenever you’re not getting the support you need from your partner at home. Talking to someone who knows and understands what you’re going through will make the grieving process go more smoothly.

You’ll not only benefit from professional advice and guidance, but you’ll also reap the benefits of gaining a new perspective on what it means to grieve. You’ll learn about the different types of grief and how people typically react to loss.

Grief takes time to process in any situation. Your counselor or therapist will help you map out a plan to do the necessary grief work to help you get through the most challenging times.

Lack of Partner Support Through Loss

Dealing with grief is challenging enough without adding in the stress of an unsupportive partner. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to understand why their partner is intensely grieving over losses that, for them, may seem routine and a part of everyday life.

Lack of spousal or partner support can be frustrating and a source of conflict in many relationships. Learning to understand what the other person needs during mourning takes time and patience, and both individuals can master how to best get through this challenging time with a bit of work.  

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