How to Stay Close to Your Grieving Spouse

No matter how long you’ve been married, you and your spouse will grieve differently after loss. Your husband may withdraw after a death of a family or friend, or withdraw from you emotionally and physically. These tips for staying close to your grieving spouse will help you stay close through the stages of grief.

Grief feels scary and overwhelming, and close relationships are sometimes the first to suffer. Even the strongest marriages are affected by an unexpectedly painful grieving process.

These tips on how to stay close are inspired by a man whose girlfriend is grieving the loss of her child. “My girlfriend lost her spouse four years ago, and just lost her son 2 weeks ago,” says Scott on How Do You Help a Grieving Friend? “She is staying with her family…she does not want to talk to me at this time and I want to help her. I am giving her space and only sending her a text message every 4 days. It bothers me that she will not talk to me. I know it’s early and she still is in the disbelief stage. Should I just keep to the side and give her more time? I have never been through this with someone I care about. What should I do to understand more and be ready when or if she reaches out to me?”

One of the most important things to remember is that losing a child is “worse” than losing a spouse. It’s more traumatic, because we’re supposed to outlive our children, protect our children, and even lay down our lives for our children. Parents who have survived the worst tragedies are totally unprepared to deal with the death of their child.

5 Ways to Stay Close to Your Grieving Husband

“After the death of our child, we find ourselves thrust into a period where, while there is no foretelling the future, we suddenly have no plans, and our dreams have been shattered,” writes Charlotte Mathes in And a Sword Shall Pierce Your Heart Moving from Despair to Meaning After the Death of a Child. “The death of our child attacks our understanding of life’s rhythm and purpose, leaving us wandering in unmapped territory.”

Whether your spouse is grieving the loss of a parent, child, or other loved one, the bottom line is the same: her sense of security, innocence, and faith is challenged. You can’t erase your spouse’s grief, but you can stay connected during and learn how to survive the grieving process.

Allow yourself not to have the answers

How to Stay Close to Your Grieving Spouse Many people ask “why did this have to happen to me?” after someone they love has died. There aren’t any answers, whether or not you believe in God or destiny. Life isn’t fair, and we are all equally vulnerable to painful tragedies.

Why do some people experience more tragedy than others? I don’t know. But I do know that when your spouse asks why this death had to happen, all you can do is hug her and tell her the truth: you don’t know.

This may not be the time to tell your spouse that death is a normal part of life. In North America, we tend to avoid talking about death or grieving overtly. We’re scared of death because we feel powerless – it’s the ultimate unknown. I think that if we were more accepting of death when we’re not grieving, we’d have an easier time with the grief process. For example, my parents refuse to talk about death – it’s almost like talking about it will “jinx” them and someone will die! They refuse to face death when they’re healthy, which will make the mourning process more painful when someone actually dies.

One way to stay close to your grieving spouse is to talk about dying and death before it actually happens. I know it’s probably too late for you to apply this tip right now, as your spouse has already lost a loved one.

Let your spouse grieve death differently than you

Some spouses withdraw emotionally and physically when someone they love dies. Other people want to talk about their lost loved one and find comfort in sharing stories and experiences. When my grandma died, I withdrew emotionally and physically from my friends and family. I thought I was going to die, or at least never feel happy or normal again. But I eventually made my way back to my family and friends. I knew they were there, waiting to reconnect with me when I was ready.

One way to stay close to your spouse – and help her cope with grief – is to let her grieve her own way. Give her books on the mourning process, such as those I listed above, and let her grieve the way she feels most comfortable. This may mean letting her withdraw for the time being – but send her cards, emails, or notes regularly. Stay on your spouse’s radar, but give her the space she needs to grieve.

Learn about the stages of grief

“There are five stages of grief according to Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: Shock/Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and Acceptance,” says family counselor Beth Morrison. “Grief is a very personal thing, and we do not all grieve in the same way.  He may be angry one day, and crying the next. Experts say there is no time limit on grief, but generally two years is the time it takes to mourn a devastating loss.  He has to work through the pain of grief, and find meaning in his life again.”

Don’t worry about which stage of grief your spouse is in, because it’s normal to travel back and forth between stages. Many people are in shock when a loved one dies – especially if they lose their child – and that shock may always underlie the anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance stages of grief.

If your spouse has withdrawn emotionally because of grief, you can stay close by understanding the grieving process. If this doesn’t feel “active” or helpful enough, read 5 Tips for Helping a Grieving Friend – there are a few practical tips for helping someone through the grieving process.

Be aware of “complicated grief” – and know the symptoms

Here’s what Psychology Today writer Carlin Flora says about complicated grief:

“The notion of a particularly sharp and prolonged kind of grief has been floating around for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that a group of bereavement researchers studied it systematically and pinned down its symptoms. They found that ‘complicated grief’ occurs in about 10-20 percent of those who have lost a loved one. The symptoms include an extreme yearning for the deceased, loneliness, even searching for the deceased in a crowd, and intrusive thoughts about the deceased. If your spouse is dealing with complicated grief, she may feel that life has lost its meaning (which is why she may have withdrawn from you emotionally and physically).” ~ from A Complicated Grief.

How do you know if your spouse is grieving normally, or dealing with complicated grief? Normal grief fades after a few months have passed. Complicated grief gets worse over time, and negatively affects your ability to stay close to your spouse.

Signs of complicated grief can include:

  • Extreme focus on the loss and reminders of the loved one
  • Intense longing or pining for the deceased
  • Problems accepting the death
  • Numbness or detachment
  • Preoccupation with your sorrow
  • Bitterness about the loss
  • Inability to enjoy life
  • Depression or deep sadness
  • Trouble carrying out normal routines
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Lack of trust in others

Joining a grief support group or engaging in talk therapy can help your spouse process complicated grief.

How to Stay Close to Your Grieving SpouseRead I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One by Brook Noel and Pamela Blair to learn more about staying close to a grieving spouse.

Each year about eight million Americans suffer the unexpected death of a loved one. When we face the challenges of sudden death, we need a comforting hand to hold. This grief book was written by two authors who experienced the grieving process firsthand, who can guide you through the valley of mourning.

Let your spouse reconnect when she’s ready

Don’t be afraid to let your spouse withdraw from you when she is grieving. It’s scary, I know, but sometimes we need to give our loved ones time and space to breathe, process their emotions, and heal. Your relationship will be stronger and closer if you remember that her grieving process isn’t about you. It’s about her, not about your marriage or your love for each other.

Give her time and space to breathe, to mourn, to reflect on her life and the death of her child. Keep sending those emails, text messages, or cards in the mail – stay connected without pressuring her to talk or be with you.

When your spouse is grieving the death of someone she loves, you may need to accept that there really is nothing you can do to help. Just be there for her. Read Heartwarming Sympathy Gifts for Someone Whose Mom Died if you’re looking for gift ideas.

May you find healing and hope as you journey through the grieving process. May you and your spouse find ways to stay close, and maybe even find a deeper bond through this.


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11 thoughts on “How to Stay Close to Your Grieving Spouse”

  1. This article was so powerful and really helped me finally “get it”. I was all discombobulated after my fiance withdrew from me. It was so painful and hard. I just couldn’t understand why he was rejecting me. This article was truly a godsend. I had been praying trying to figure out what to do with my feelings and all this love I have for this man who lost his son thru murder. It was a devastating time for us to say the least but I just could not accept that he had his own way of grieving and coping until I read this article. So thank you and I thank God for you.
    Peace, love hope and blessings always,

  2. My fiancé (ex now) lost his son 2 yrs ago today October 3rd. We were only engaged at the time for 3 months but we were so in love and so happy and confident that we were meant for each other -that God brought us together. But after his son was killed all that went downhill. From the sounds of some of the comments, I probably should just forgot about us being together again. We’ve been short periods of time together off and on. He’s tried to “be with” me but he’s changed and I understand. We are NOT close. We see each other when its convenient for him only. I have tried to do things with him and invite him and he always turns me down. I love him so much and don’t want to move on but I struggle to stay positive and not take it personal when he doesn’t want to see me. I just don’t know what to do. I try to give him his space and allow him into mine when he’s ready, but he only really wants to spend time with me when he wants to be intimate. It leaves me feeling used and taken advantage of and it angers me – so we are odds more than even. I try to accept that he’s different and maybe never will want to do things together that we used to; his view of the world is ssooo different – and I get it. I just don’t know how to move on when I still love him so much. It’s so hard and so sad. I wish I never met him. I feel like a cruel joke was played on me.

  3. I’m sorry for your losses, Loryn – both your father’s death 10 months ago and your father-in-law’s death more recently. That’s very difficult, to have two major losses in such a short time. The grieving process affects different couples and marriages in different ways, but one thing is for sure: it’s not easy to go through.

    Who can you talk to in person? It’s important to get support from someone who knows you, who can talk to you and help you figure out how to stay close to your grieving husband. I also recommend reading about the grieving process for me, so you know what to expect from your husband’s grief.

    How are you doing today? Feel free to share what’s happening. Writing through your thoughts and emotions can help you untangle painful emotions and thoughts, and give you some clarity.

    In sympathy,

  4. I lost my father 10 months ago with him passing in my lap. My husband and I were fighting that day and he was not around when my dad passed. Finally, I had gotten ahold of him
    And he came to be by myside. I can definitely say this has changed me completely as a person. It does not get any easier as time goes by but you start to find your way in life to be semi normal. Today we just got back into town from our honeymoon we never got to take and got some terrible news that his father had passed away the night before our arrival back Into the United States. We got on the first flight home to be with our families. He has not spoken to me in almost 24 hours now and I’m trying to give him his space and time he needs however letting him Know that I am here for him. But this is really tearing me up inside and has me very scared of what he may do. I feel as if he is pushing me away and putting blame on me for going on our honeymoon instead of him being here instead. I just don’t know what to do! I’m
    Still grieving my father myself and now I’m grieving my father in law as well!!! Someone please help And give me advice.

  5. Our son died almost 3 months ago. He was 33 years old. I was making some progress with my grieving. My husband has not been talking to me as much as usual and seems to get irritated with me. However, he acts like himself around others, including others grieving with us. After talking with him I realized that he is still totally broken up over it. Now I feel I’m more upset than I had been and that my healing has stopped.

  6. My partners sister died suddenly 2 months ago, the day I moved in to his house & city & consequently I left my own support network behind. The first week he was so thankful of my help & support. He showed affection & love towards me. He began obsessing with sorting out the whole of his family affairs, even down to cleaning & decorating his late sisters house for his brother in law. Ever since then, we have argued Day & night bitterly. I can’t say one sentence without being critiqued in some way. If I do anything around the house it is wrong, washing up, doing the laundry.. all done badly or it just annoyed him in some way. He won’t go to a bereavement therapist but he said he thinks we need relationship counseling. We’ve been going for 3 weeks & each time we go the counselor says we need to compromise, I should give him space & he should give me some time with him equally. However the few instances he has to spend time with me he loses his temper & expects me to sit in silence. I have been called a nag, annoying, a horrible person. He has on numerous occasions shouted at me in my face to get out of his house or he’ll chuck my stuff in the street. I can’t do anything right in his eyes. He grimaces if I touch him & doesn’t so much as look at me for more than a second without showing disgust for me on his face, it’s an extreme situation & I feel so helpless. He says relationship counseling is not helping & a waste of money but he is not prepared to do anything they suggest. I feel like the only option he is giving me is to walk away but I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Please help!

    1. Sarah, this sounds somewhat similar to what my husband and I are dealing with. He lost his mother a little over a year ago. They were best friends. He’s the youngest and they were extremely close. I thought he was handling it well but now all of a sudden, out of the blue, he’s angry, says he doesn’t love me anymore (been together 10 years and extremely in love and perfect together). I haven’t eaten in over a week, not sleeping more than 2-3 hours a night because the thought of him leaving absolutely takes my breath. I constantly feel like I’m going to throw up. I try to let him know I’m there but he accuses me of smothering him so I try to leave him alone but it makes me physically sick not to talk to him. I don’t know what to do. Honestly I can’t imagine he actually would leave but I don’t know anymore. I’m scared to death. He won’t go to counseling. He won’t talk to anyone. I just don’t know what to do. So I wanted to ask you how things are now with you and your husband now that it’s almost a year later.

  7. I am so sorry for your loss, Tara. Losing a child is probably the most painful thing a person can experience, and the grief doesn’t just go away with time. My pastor and his wife recently lost their 10 year old daughter, and they also have 2 sons. It’s unbearable…but bear it they must.

    Have you talked to a grief counselor? Even if you don’t go together, you may find it helpful to talk through your husband’s grieving process with an objective therapist. I don’t know what the answers are, or how you can stay close to your husband — I don’t know anything about him or you, or your marriage, or the son you lost.

    I encourage you to talk to a counselor, or join a grief support group. You may not be able to support your husband in his grief the way you’d like – and you may not be getting the support you need. But, you can find ways to heal as best as you can. Probably that’s the best way to support him: to get as emotionally and spiritually healthy as you can.

    I will keep you in my prayers,
    with warmth and compassion,

  8. Thank you, my husband and I lost our oldest son in a tragic motorcycle accident a year ago. It has been so hard on us both and our other 2 boys. We both are so different in our grieving, I am an optimist and he is a pessimist if that tells you how differently we are dealing with the death of our son. We have been together for 25 years and I just CAN NOT let this be what ends our marriage. I want to help him but I don’t know how.

  9. Do the little things for her, like load/unload the dishwasher, make the bed, do laundry, babysit if there are other small children, etc. Your spouse is under tremendous grief (personal experience from losing a child), and knowing someone is there to help keep her world from crashing in around her, is more helpful than you can ever know.