How to Navigate Grief After Your Partner Dies (And You’re Unmarried)

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The death of your partner is a devastatingly significant major event in your life. When you grieve your partner’s loss, you not only mourn their death, but also grieve for your future.  

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But what happens if your partner dies and you are not married? There’s no specific word for a person who’s lost a partner. Navigating your new existence without an official term to help you cope with your new identity can leave you feeling lonely as well as directionless.

Along with the loss of identity, there are also legal implications you may need to figure out as you move forward. 

Tips for Navigating Grief When Your Partner Dies

Grieving your partner’s loss can leave you devastated and unable to carry forth even with the most basic everyday living. You may be thinking that you can never love again and that no one will ever replace the love you lost when your partner died. These are natural and normal responses to grief and loss. There’s no rush to hurry up and get on with your life and to find someone new.

Below, we share some tips that may help you survive this loss and find a new way to live in your new normal.

Be aware of disenfranchised grief

Whenever you find yourself in a domestic partnership or similar setup where you and your partner were unmarried at the time of their death, people can tend to gloss over your grief. Disenfranchised grief occurs when you’re unable to grieve openly when the relationship’s loss isn’t socially sanctioned or publicly recognized, among other things.

Not having been married can loosely fall into this category because you may not be recognized as a socially significant and valid aspect of your partner’s life as a spouse in some cultures and traditions. You’ll even find that your partner’s family may be focused more on their grief than yours because they were the family, and you were not a legal part of their lives. All of these things can create a sense of disenfranchised grief, and it is important to recognize it.

Allow yourself time to grieve

After your partner dies, it is completely normal to mourn the relationship that you two once shared. You’ll find that you’ll also grieve over the loss of your future together as time passes by. All of the plans you may have had to get married, start a family, or possibly explore the world together are now lost.

An average grieving period lasts from six to twelve months, but there may be some complicating factors that extend your grief beyond this timeframe. Give yourself the time necessary for you to process your loss and to mourn your partner’s death. Your grief will start to lift in time, and you can adjust to moving forward with your life without your partner. 

Don’t be so hard on yourself

You can expect a lot of different thoughts to race through your head after your partner dies—everything from feeling sad and lonely to feeling guilty that your partner died and you survived. You may be blaming yourself for all the things you and your partner didn’t get to experience because your time together was cut short. 

You may also feel guilty and regret the things you said or did right before they died, or even for the things you didn’t say but wished you would’ve. These feelings of guilt and resentment are a natural part of the grieving process. In time, you’ll start seeing their death from a different perspective as you work through the stages of grief. Learn to forgive yourself for past mistakes. Focus on the positive aspects of your life together, your love, and companionship.

Your home may feel lonely

Once the death of your partner sinks in, you may find yourself feeling incredibly lonely. The home you once shared may be strikingly quiet without them, and you may not know how to live alone. Your shared living spaces where you spent a lot of time together will all of a sudden feel so empty and incredibly lonely. 

To combat this loneliness and keep yourself from falling into despair, consider becoming involved in new hobbies or activities where you can share in others’ company. You can also consider becoming a pet foster care provider or adopting a pet from the shelter if you don’t already have one. Pets tend to fill your life with something to do and can give you unconditional love and emotional support. 

Ask for help when needed

You’re likely to be feeling anxiety after the death of your partner. They were the person closest to you with whom you shared your life with. After their death, you’ll likely feel sad and alone and unable to cope with your grief from time to time. Your support group may not understand your sorrow and despair’s depths until you explain to them how your partner’s loss has affected you. 

When your partner dies, and you’re not married, those around you may not understand the significance of their death to you. Some people sometimes assume that because you weren’t married, that the void left by their death isn’t suffered the same as when a spouse dies. You may need to let people know when you’re hurting and are in need a little extra support to get through your grief. 

Seek therapy

A specially trained grief counselor or therapist can get you to understand the depths of your feelings and emotions. They help you work through your grief and get you to navigate the more complex emotions that may be a source of confusion for you.

Online grief counseling and therapy is an excellent place to start when seeking professional help. There are many low-cost alternatives available to you online to get you on a path to healing from your loss. 

ยป MORE: Need help navigating the 500 hours of logistics after a loss? Start here.

 

Tips for Dealing With Your Partner’s Estate And Things, But You're Not the Executor

When an unmarried person loses their partner to death, many legal implications can follow if you’ve failed to do the proper estate planning. In most states, an unmarried partner has little to no rights to the estate of the deceased. The next of kin, or heirs named under the will, would have access and control of the deceased’s remaining estate at the time of their death. 

If you weren’t named as the executor of your partner’s estate, chances are you have little control over the execution of the will and the distribution of their estate. The tips below may help you deal with your partner’s estate and things when someone else has been appointed the executor. 

Seek the advice of counsel

The first thing you should consider is seeking legal counsel’s advice to help you sort through all of the legal red tape that follows an intestate (without a will) death, or one where your partner didn’t name you as the executor. 

You are legally required to inventory all of your partner’s real and personal property in some areas and hand it over to the estate’s appointed executor. Because the laws can vary from state to state, you may need to consult with an attorney licensed to practice law in your area to advise how you should proceed with your partner’s property. 

Identify joint property

Make a list of all the property that is jointly held by you and your deceased partner. If it’s real estate that you owned together, locate the deeds and have them reviewed by an estate attorney.

They can help you determine the ownership succession of any jointly held property.  They can also tell you if you’re obligated under estate laws to include this property as part of your partner’s estate, or if ownership transferred to you automatically upon their death. 

Have receipts handy

Before deciding if anything belongs to you where ownership is questionable, try locating the receipts for all major purchases to track whose money was used in their purchase.

You may need these to prove to the probate court that the asset belongs to you and is not a part of your partner’s estate subject to distribution under their will.

Discuss ownership of gifts

The law is very particular regarding individual high-value gifts and transfers made before a person’s death. The probate court will have the final say regarding the distribution of estate assets, but not of personal gifts deemed to have been legally made before your partner’s death.

One typical example is purchasing a pricey engagement ring that may have been gifted from one partner to the other. Who legally owns the ring if the contract to marry was never fulfilled? These, and similar questions, become part of what the probate court will be tasked to answer. 

Request personal property 

Don’t assume that you’re automatically entitled to your partner’s personal property because you were living together. Their next-of-kin may have ownership rights that supersede your rights of ownership as an unmarried partner. Again, the area where you live and your state’s laws will determine who is entitled to what. 

There are many free online resources to help you figure out some of the most fundamental questions you may have regarding your partner’s property. You should start there to get an idea, but don’t rely on information found online to determine legally significant questions. 

Grieving Your Partner’s Death

The grief you’ll experience after your partner’s death may take you by surprise. You may find yourself feeling anxious and alone when the security and comfort your partner provided is no longer there. Take things one day at a time and as they come.

To help you cope with your loss, focus on surviving from day to day until grief’s hold begins to let up. 

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