Relationships and Grief

As we enter the holiday season, many of us struggle with how to manage our own grief as well as the grief of people we love.  How should we include our loved one’s memory in our celebrations? How does our family feel about adding new traditions that our loved one did not get to experience?  Are there things that are too painful to discuss at family holidays?  When is it ok to cry?

While family members and friends may be grieving the loss of one specific individual, it is important to remember that each person’s grief journey is a unique and changing thing.   No two people grieve in the same way, or at the same pace.  Based on social cues and family traditions, men and women may find an extra challenge in understanding the grief experienced and expressed by the other gender.  Our guest author today helps us to see these differences not as faults or flaws, but as nuances of grief that need to be recognized and considered as we each move towards healing.  Rather than getting angry about our differences, we can learn to accept them as a part of the grieving process.

It is widely known that men and women grieve differently and being in a relationship with someone who has lost a loved one can be particularly challenging, be it from a male or female perspective. Whether you are both grieving together or in a new relationship with someone who is grieving  ’alone’  this information may help you to traverse the journey together.

If you are a man, you may want to take away her hurt and make her feel better, most often by distraction or trying to lighten her mood. In an attempt to remove her pain, you may however be denying her the ability to express her feelings and emotions in a safe way. Women need to talk and express how they feel; it is natural to them, it is what they do. Remember, you don’t have to solve anything. It can also be excruciatingly uncomfortable to be with your partner who is crying and your natural response may be to try and deflect this in some way. This action may serve also, to protect yourself from your own vulnerabilities in relation to the expression of such a strong emotion. She is processing grief in her own way, as a woman.

If you are a woman, you may want him to talk about his feelings and wonder why he doesn’t even seem to care or shed a tear. You might be amazed that he wants to make love to you at a time when it is the last thing on your mind or spend hours out in the shed, keeping as busy as possible. Men generally process and respond to their grief very privately and actively, they like to keep busy. You may not see the occasions where they do cry just like you do, they feel the pain just as much, but express it in different ways – they still hurt. You may notice that he is flying off the handle at the slightest thing or muttering and swearing at the lawnmower that wont ‘go’ – men are more likely to be angry when they are grieving. As women that may be an uncomfortable emotion to witness. He is processing grief in his own way, as a man.

Whichever way you deal with grief, try to nurture and support each other during such an extremely difficult time:

♥   Be near – in physical and emotional closeness, sexual or otherwise

♥    Refrain from offering solutions or becoming judgmental

♥   Listen without interrupting

♥   A silent comforting hug heals much

♥   Remember significant difficult days – birthdays, anniversaries

♥   Understand that grief never ends, the individual person simply adapts over time

♥   Invest in your relationship – take the time for whats important

♥  Value talking

♥   Love generously

This article was first published by Esdeer. Maureen’s free inspirational guide “Opening the Door to Hope: Helping you Step through Grief” is available here:  www.esdeer.com/hope.

Photo Credit.

27 Comments:

  1. Tal said on December 12, 2011 at 2:12 am ... #

    My boyfriend is always making rash promises to me. He is more committed to his job more than his relationship with me. He tells me he loves me and I really can’t reconcile that with his actions. Should I quit or remain in the relatioship.

  2. MARK KOHOUT said on December 15, 2011 at 5:46 am ... #

    To be honest with you and this might sound quite blunt but, his job or career is more important than you and it should be and should come first it acts as a way to survive and without it your boyfriend can’t take care of himself or help take care of you…in this world money comes first it keeps you alive then after you keep yourself alive then if there is time left over you can invest it elsewhere to the next natural thing after survival is to reproduce to keep the bloodline going and species…so work then sex keep yourself alive then reproduce to keep your colony alive…all natural and true and if your man has invested time in his career he is going to be more devoted to it because it means more money and respect and benefits to come along with it to help him survive and his family…He must be more committed to his job than you because that’s how he is surviving and without it he and his family(or future family) would perish so quit all the bull crap and cut him some slack because after his job your the next thing on his list so have sex with him if your reproducing or not at least you can trick his body into thinking it…He will always have time for the sex so if you do this more and more then you will have him more and more and get the love and whatever else you need in…GOODLUCK

  3. Kat said on January 4, 2012 at 3:03 am ... #

    I have been in a serious relationship for almost three years. We are devout Catholic. The last year has been rough. My dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Cancer in May and died in August. My life will never be the same. I was advised to not make any life changes for the first 8 months- year. There is danger in rushing into it. Allow myself time to grieve but understand the pain will never go away. Otherwise, risk not having the clarity of mind to plan and prepare for life as a married wife and mother. Others say despite how much we want marriage, it may never happen. Hearing that adds pressure and is frustrating. We take dating seriously.I have always dreamed of my dad giving his daughter away to her husband. I firmly believe Marriage is forever. What to do? Any books you recommend? I sense pressure from people around us. The topic is more common between my boyfriend and I. Any insight you can offer is greatly appreciated.

  4. Emily Stone said on May 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm ... #

    Having had much loss in our community lately, I appreciated this post. I shared it on fb and in our weekly “Saturday Sampling” at http://www.stonewritten.com/?p=4031

  5. gerda byrd said on November 27, 2012 at 9:11 am ... #

    my husband died of cancer this april. we have no children only animals and i am alone in this country. im am 62 years old he was 62 at his death. husbands mother is taking me to court trying to take my husbands and my farm and animals away from me. she is saying we were not common law married after 15 years. i am having a very hard time griefing. have to feed animals every day and it is the same routine day in and day out. being reminded of all the places were we were together every minute of the day. there seems to be no escape. i watched him die alone the mother and father did not come to the hospital nor did the mother go to his funeral. now she wants to take over. i am suffering from anxiety and panic attacks and agoraphobia and am on disability for this illness. just want people to know you are not alone out there and do not complain about your petty problems. be thankful to god for what you have here on earth and appreciate it while you have it. it can be taken in the blink of an eye. i have seen it and i am living it now.

  6. elmore said on November 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm ... #

    In response to Mark; Tell me how does it feel to have your job wrap it’s arms around you when You’re having a down moment in life? If you make your job, your money, your health, your material possessions in this world your all in all, you are going to come to the end of life and you will realize that you’ve lost it all. God first, Family second, Career/Job/Occupation (whatever you choose to call it)Third.

  7. gerda byrd said on March 23, 2013 at 7:38 am ... #

    It has now been almost a year since my husband charlie patton died of cancer. It is not getting any better with the grief. i am still having very bad days. still the mother is trying to take everything away from me out of pure hatred and the greed for money. still waiting for probate. my anxiety and panic attacks have gotten worse. grief can be a very very complicated thing. seeing a psychiatrist for my condition. you are not alone out there.

  8. Barbara House said on March 24, 2013 at 7:35 pm ... #

    This page sounds like me, I have lost my parents,
    my father in law and my husband five months after.
    I don’t think I have started to greive for anyone,

    I just do what I have to do. Won’t call anyone
    Have never shed a tear for anyone. I have been treated for anxiety and depression for the last
    20 years.

    Am all confused about what I want to do, have so
    much money,, doesn’t matter.

    What is wrong with me.

    Barbara House

  9. Ann said on September 21, 2013 at 5:45 am ... #

    Take one day at a time, get rest, sleep when you can. Try to remember to eat. Sometimes you can only manage one hour at a time. You will never get over it, but you will learn to live with the loss. It won’t be easy– give yourself time. As time goes on you will have some good days and then more. Time is key.

  10. msj said on November 17, 2013 at 8:30 pm ... #

    My boyfriend lost his son at the end of August. Everything between us changed in an instant.. I’ve tried to be there/supportive/just care for him so he knows he isnt alone.. He is very distant and not the same.. I know i cant imagine what losing his son feels like and im sure it hurts like hell.. I also am not telling him how to grieve of for how long– all i would like ot know is that someone else has experienced this? Does it end this way or will he ever come round? Is this normal by any chance? Please let me know. Thank you

  11. Brit said on January 26, 2014 at 10:00 pm ... #

    Make yourself go out and do things. Join some clubs. Get on with the business of life even if you have to fake it. Keep at it until you start to feel again. I took this advice after the sudden loss of my husband of 40 yrs. Now three years later I have a new man in my life and I am in love again for the last time. Force yourself to be with people, even if you’re acting. Sooner or later you will re-engage in life.

  12. Josie said on February 4, 2014 at 10:50 pm ... #

    My boyfriend just lost his biological father last night. He really tried hard not to keep up a relationship with him, but now that he knows that his father has passed I can sense a tremendous amount of guilt.
    After four hours of my boyfriend crying, he suddenly wanted to have sex. At first I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea because I thought he should do other things in order to properly mourn but I didn’t want to argue (for the sake of keeping him happy).

    Is this normal? To have sex after finding out the death of the loved one? I figured it might be a bit morbid.

  13. andy said on February 17, 2014 at 6:36 pm ... #

    hi my boyfriend of nearly a year has just lost his uncle from liver cancer which he only was diagnoises a few weks ago with. my boyfriend and his uncles family are from albania but living in ireland and the boyfriend wont talk to me and is pushing me away do not no what to do any more i have told him im here when he needs me and if he needs anything that i am here no problem. so can some one pleas advise me of what to do or say? it is his mothers brother and she lives in albania and therefore trying to get her here for the funeral is proving difficult??? any advice would be appreciate.

  14. T_T said on February 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm ... #

    My partner’s mom just passed away in January after a month of being hospitalized for kidney failures and resulting complications. Since her hospitalization he has gradually become distant. And a day after her funeral, he decided to move out of our home, move in with his elderly dad, his 2 older sisters, one of whom has her own family and 2 sons and the other one single. His mom, sisters and I never had a nice relationship although I tried my best to live with them in our early years. I think I’ve suffered enough abuse in the few instances when there were disagreements. They even threatened my family. And the mom made my partner choose if he wanted to be with them or with me. He chose me, and for the years that I’ve distanced myself from them, he was also distant. He reconnected when his mom got sick and was the one with her before she died, and I was also able to make peace with her. He feels guilty for the choice he made 8 years ago of standing up for our relationship. Once he decided to move out, he told me he needed time alone and that WE each needed to learn how to live alone. He became afraid of everything, of commitment, of marriage of having children. Just last year we were planning to get married and have kids this year. It seems he has forgotten all the good in our relationship and made this a justification for his abandoning me. Funny thing is I AM ALONE and HE ISN’T. He wants to support his family financially, including older sisters who all have capacity to make a living. I was, and still am, devastated. Yet I try my best to just be here for him, healing while waiting for him to get his act together. I love him a lot and attribute his words and actions to his brain being muddled by grief. We still have constant communication and he says he still loves me, but sometimes the relationship feels like a touch-and-go one. He texts me or visits me when it is convenient for him. Sometimes though I feel as if I’m here for him but he’s not there for me, like everything is so one-sided. Still, I always tell myself that though I am suffering, I have no way of knowing the extent of his grief and other emotions right now and try, always try, to be patient and understanding. I know deep inside that this is what I should be doing, but for how long? I keep myself busy with work and yoga much of the time, but it just feels so sad to come home to an emply 2-bedroom apartment, our home, where I live alone now. Everyday I hope and pray that he gets clarity and be able to let go of his guilt and finally be able to get on with his life, hopefully to still be with me, but if not, I just want him to be happy again.

  15. Strat said on April 29, 2014 at 4:26 pm ... #

    MSJ I hope things have worked out for you. Reading your post was very familiar. My mother died three weeks ago after a very tough two year illness. My relationship with my boyfriend of five years changed immediately. We have become strangers. When I talk about my Mother he says nothing and seems unable to empathise. I don’t know if this is just the grief talking but I have gone from being in a happy perfect relationship to a disaster. I tried to split up with him and he wouldn’t let me. Do I try again? As MSJ said, is this normal?

  16. Elizabeth said on May 21, 2014 at 3:45 am ... #

    I happened to find this website as I was researching for a story I’m writing (one of the main characters loses his father, and since I’m not familiar with the way men typically grieve, I went looking for answers). I can’t claim to understand what any of you are going through, but I hope what I have learned will be helpful in some way.

    To MSJ and Strat: Withdrawal seems to be a normal symptom of grief for both men and women. It’s not healthy to completely withdraw from others, but it is a normal grieving behavior. Being vulnerable with other people is hard because there’s always a chance that they may not understand you or what you’re going through. Also, chances are someone who is grieving may not know how to express himself/herself. I haven’t yet experienced the death of a loved one, but I went through a long period of grieving when my dad left and my parents divorced. I was a child, so I wasn’t really sure how to deal with the situation or the emotions that followed. Anger often seemed to be at the forefront though. I was angry at my dad, but since he wasn’t around, I took it out on the people closest to me. I also went through stages of depression and withdrawal. My own emotions were so alien to me that I often didn’t know how to clearly express what I was feeling let alone why I was feeling a certain way. What I did know for sure was my estranged relationship with my dad was changing the way I related to others.

    Strat, I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. I honestly don’t know what you’re going through, but my heart goes out to you. I don’t know you or your boyfriend, but my guess would be your boyfriend really cares about you, especially if he doesn’t want the relationship to end even though things have changed. He’s probably just not sure how to respond. I’ve struggled with depression for a good portion of my life, and I cannot even tell you how many times people have said hurtful things to me without meaning to simply because they didn’t understand what it’s like to live with a mental illness. There have been even more times than that when people had no clue how to respond. The guy who was my boyfriend a couple of years ago responded very similarly to my situation as your boyfriend is now responding to yours. He didn’t know what to do when I was depressed, but I didn’t expect him to know what I needed. (Sometimes even I don’t know what I need, but when I do know, I’m not good at communicating my need to others.) I was disappointed that he didn’t understand what I was going through, but just having him hold my hand and listen to me made me feel loved. That kind of comfort was way more helpful to me than when my friends drilled me with questions (“What’s wrong?” and “Why aren’t you happy?” were the two most common questions. But they didn’t know what to do, and I don’t blame them. I never communicated to them that what I needed most was just for them to be there, to listen, and to give me a hug and tell me everything was going to be okay.)

    I don’t know if this advice will be helpful to you or not, but it’s really up to you to decide what you want to do. If you do know what kind of comfort you need, try telling your boyfriend and see how he responds, or maybe even ask him why he doesn’t say anything when you talk about your mom. Who knows–he may surprise you.

    To Josie: I know it may seem odd to the female brain, but I think it’s normal for men to want to have sex after losing someone. I’ve learned a lot about how men get their emotional needs met through having sex from Shaunti Feldhahn’s book For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men. The title might sound a bit cheesy, but the information has been so helpful. One man told the author, “‘A man really does feel isolated, even with his wife. But in making love, there is one other person in this world that you can be completely vulnerable with and be totally accepted and nonjudged. It is a solace that goes very deep into the heart of a man.’” The author goes on to say, “This is one reason why some men may make advances at times that seem the furthest from sexual. One woman relayed a story about her husband wanting to make love after a funeral for a close relative. Making love was a comfort and a way of being wrapped in her love.” Hope this is helpful!

  17. Arlene said on July 24, 2014 at 8:31 pm ... #

    My daughter died from cancer after a 2 year battle. My son-in-law immediatly got into a relationship. I was shocked and disgusted. I think he has lost his mind. I have lost all respect for him. This has put a real stress on our relationship and I worry about my three grandchildren that are exposed to his poor judgement and lack of respect. He tries to push her on me and I want nothing to do with them and their relationship. He has made my grieving so much harder. I’m hoping this relationship will not last. He is acting like a teenager in love. Whats going on with him?

  18. Glenn J said on July 30, 2014 at 8:24 pm ... #

    at 4 months the loss of my mom, is numbness, she had 13 days, died with lung cancer, it just feel long.
    I try and walk and get out in the sun shine

  19. arnold said on August 4, 2014 at 8:17 am ... #

    I am a guy of 28 years and I’m dating a widow of 31 years,she recently lost her husband in May andwe just met around July,things is going well besides that she still grieving her husband,we share every thoughts and sometimes when I call her over the phone she’s crying and saying she dreamt or she is thinking about his late husband,I understand her and I try by all means to make her comfortable .we love each other so much and I don’t want to loose this treasure .help me ,how can I make her feel that being with me while she’s still grieving her late husband is not a mistake?

  20. Xtalahh said on September 25, 2014 at 4:55 am ... #

    Hi. my boyfriend recently went home to attend his brother’s wedding, but the day after the wedding his dad died so sudden and I terribly feel devastated as well. Even if I haven’t met his dad in person I cry at night because I know he was a very good man based on what I’ve observed on how he would constantly call or message my boyfriend. In general I can see he was a very sweet and caring dad to him and they had a good relationship. But I cant help but feel sad especially because I cant physically be there for their family cause I’m still a student and have no source of income and I have no means of money to buy for a plane ticket. As much as I want to be there but I have no money :( And now I feel so guilty that his dad is gone and that I haven’t met him. I should have introduce myself when I had the chance or maybe talked to him over the phone. Its just because I had this constant battle in my mind that if my boyfriend wants me to meet his family he would initiate to introduce me. And now I regret for thinking that way. Much more because before when my boyfriend went home we had this talk that he wanted me to go with him. And yet I dismiss his request because I thought he wasn’t serious. And now all of that happened. Its just so sad. I know this is not about me but I cant help but regret. Plus the fact that I cant be on his dads funeral is driving me insane. Please I dunno what to do. How can I help my grieving boyfriend when I’m far away?

  21. Lil said on October 15, 2014 at 3:48 pm ... #

    I came upon this site accidently while searching for answers to my grief over the death of my husband.

    GERDA, I am nearing 65 and my husband was 66 when he died 2 years ago due to cancer. Like you, I am still crying every day. But I am lucky in a way than you cause I have no mother-in-law to worry about. Keep on fighting what should be yours.
    My husband and I have a song by Tex Ritter ” Beyond the moon”. We came upon it accidently on the satellite and have been our song. I left a cassette of that in the niche for him.

    I don’t cry over anyone before or anything …tears had not been in my life till now.
    We never had an argument in our whole 11 years together. He refused to argue with me. With no one to argue with….there is nothing to argue.
    We were so entirely different….in lifestyle, work etc. He showed me a world that was so different and I learnt to love it.
    I never had to worry about food or cloth on my back…whereas he had.
    I am not a snob or anything like that, but I learnt to buy 2nd hand things (Before I knew him, it was …I am not buying any 2nd hand things. But he taught me how to purchase a penny to a dollar things. I am learning a new side of life.
    I lived in the city and he lived in the country. Before was…..me living in the country…no, no, no…
    NOW I love it and would not trade for the city.
    I have not accepted his death and still prayed that this is all a dream…it is very difficult.
    I learnt how to use the tractor, the riding lawn mover and how to use the hammer (so to say)…things he did. I am a paper-pusher and not this.
    I talked to him every day as if he is still with me…many a times I heard his answers.
    NO, I do not want any relationship with any man. Nobody can be like him.
    Family and friends think that I am managing great as I do have a humorous side of me and love to laugh and be busy here and there. They do not know when I am alone how tears come as I miss him. My family loved him too.
    I guess I am still in denial. I do not want him to go…I still need him. To me…life is so unfair…you can never find a couple like us…so different and yet so compatible. One day I may be able to let go but not yet. My head does hurt when I think and cry. I did not have headaches before ( believe it or not…a small headache is foreign to me).
    My health is great. If I die it will be from missing him. Sometimes I feel like joining him BUT ( a big but) what if I will not be with him after death. I am looking for a medium. Anyone has any luck with one?
    Thanks for allowing me to share this.

  22. Noor said on November 16, 2014 at 8:47 am ... #

    My boyfriend are pushing me to introduse him to my family, I have the plan for it, I just need the right time because both of us still build our life to be better..beside that I’m scared to explained to my parents about our relationship, because of the religious and racial between us. Please I don’t know how to start with my parents and my bf also pushing me for this.

  23. pat said on November 16, 2014 at 4:58 pm ... #

    I am dating a widower that was married 39 years. His wife passed away nine months ago. He is very attentive and loving towards me but after dating him for four months he has not introduced me to any of his friends or family. He says he’s afraid they will say it it too soon since the death of his wife.
    How can I get him to introduce me or even admit to them that he is seeing someone?

  24. John said on November 18, 2014 at 11:36 pm ... #

    I just found out around thirty minutes ago that one of my closest friends committed suicide. And now I’m scared of myself. I don’t feel any sadness or guilty or anger, or even any longing to see them again.

    Is what I’m feeling wrong? Does it make me a monster to not feel like there is anything wrong with someone so close dying?

    I feel like I should by crying or raging, or something but I feel the same as I always have…

  25. Jill said on December 2, 2014 at 8:04 am ... #

    My partner of 12 years lost his father first then years later lost his mother, his mother was his whole world and they were very very close. After his mother passed away of brain cancer, he changed, he was always a little quick to lose his temper and take a long time to calm down, but he became worse. He would nt listen to anyone and he became always right, his grief he said made him look on a dating website, why I don’t know, I caught him out and he said that he was grieving. We kept fighting and over petty crap, then went to counselling and that didn’t work either, he just kept being aggressive and wanting to nik pick all the time. He moved out after we had a massive fight and moved in with a friend, we became more distant as he changed, but he dosnt realize that he became distant and cold, we are not nasty to each other and just so cold, I wish him well, but miss him us so much.

  26. Emma said on December 3, 2014 at 11:07 am ... #

    I find comfort in writing on this page, just because so many people are going through such a hard time, and though a bad time, it’s nice to know I am not alone.

    My boyfriend lost his mum to cancer in December 2013. He did everything for her and paid for everything to let her live her life to the fullest while she could. He bought her everything she wanted, and looked after her with meds etc. She died at home just before christmas.
    We had been together for almost 6 months when she passed away, and at first, he needed me, shown affection and thanks, looked forward to life together, appreciated the things that I did to make things easier for him. He has been left to look after his sister who is 18 years old, he promised his mother he would take care of her, and at 18, she relies on him to pay her rent, bills and fund her entire life, he even bought her a new car. He works overtime constantly now to pay for her to live and feels some ‘guilt’ I imagine, that his mother is no longer here for her.
    I have struggled for the past year, he has pushed me away, he has changed his views on life that he never wants children or marriage, which was not the person I met originally. He is no longer optimistic and the promises to me of us travelling, holidays, days out, have completely been diminished.
    I am constantly trying to make his life easier, I don’t ask anything of him, I don’t nag him, I don’t argue, though he says hurtful things and flies off the handle with me a lot, I can say the sillyest little thing about my own life, and he keeps it in his head and then brings it out in an argument, the type of things that shouldn’t offend him at all, like being late for work or having a bad day etc…

    Now it’s coming up to the year mark of his mothers passing, and he’s so distant, we have been at breaking point so often. I have tried giving him space and staying at my parents, I have supported the things he wants to do, he’s going out with friends and seeing his friends all the time, and I feel as though I am the last resort. I have seen him upset over his mother, and try to turn things on me and doubt himself saying he doesnt know why he is with me.

    I don’t do anything to offend him, I don’t want to make myself out to be a saint as I am human and make human errors, however, since I met him I fell head over heals, he knew what he wanted with me and he knew he wanted a long loving relationship. Now as hard as I try at every angle he shoots me down, and it hurts so much. I know he has a broken heart from his mothers passing and I know it’s that time of the year, but I don’t know how much more I can take in this relationship. He can’t even cuddle me, hug me, kiss me, have sex.. any of those things. I feel a burden to him.
    I guess i’m holding out for the old him to come back. But It’s dawning me that it may never happen…. x

  27. Tiffany said on December 8, 2014 at 4:17 pm ... #

    I have been with my boyfriend for going on five years. On August 27th of this year my mother committed suicide. Now in the past he had seen me fight tooth and nail with her over her actions. Our relationship was strained to say the least. Now when learning what my mother did. I fell and I fell hard. I am still falling. The first few days I was a wreck and crying all the time. I noticed that my boyfriend would start sobbing when I cried and became sick at seeing me at my lowest where he actually developed symptoms. From that moment on I have had to hide my pain in front of him. Now every now and again I slip because I just cannot help it and it all starts again with him crying and gagging for breath. I do not have a lot of outside friends in part because I live a very closed off life and do not like to share my personal business. But I have always been able to count on him because he is my best friend. But now when I need him to listen and I need him to understand I cannot talk to him . So I am left in this thing by myself. I joined a small support group and it helps but it just isnt the same. We have gotten to the point where he no longer even asks how my day was . He rather go out to his friends houses at night than doing something with me alone. I do not know what to do. Am I in the wrong here. I have looked and looked for web pages and articles for help in helping him learn to deal with me but to no avail. My only hope is within the Lord because he seems like the only one willing to listen.

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