This weekend I celebrate 13 years of marriage. We experienced our first loss in year one. We were literally celebrating our first anniversary when I began miscarrying our first baby. We buried our 6 week old son in year three. Our marriage, from nearly the beginning, was wrought with pain and loss and learning what it meant to be married while also learning how to heal together.
Divorce rates are high for all marriages and increase with the loss of a child. I can understand why. Two different people, grieving different ways, walking a path that can easily lead to isolation and miscommunication both of which can quickly lead to hurt, frustration, anger, resentment and bitterness.
Over the years, my husband and I have made lots of mistakes but through those mistakes we have been able to identify a few things that are helpful; giving us the ability to fight for joy and healing together.
- Choose to believe that although you are grieving differently, you are both grieving.
- When our spouse isn’t obviously grieving in the way that we are, we can tend to assume that they don’t care or aren’t sad. Choose to believe that they are as broken and hurt as you are but are just expressing it differently. When we choose to believe this truth our hearts are more tender towards our spouse, more empathetic, more compassionate, more gracious and less prone to look for fault (where there probably is none.)
- Schedule time to talk about how you’re feeling.
- One of the quickest ways to feel in opposition to your spouse or isolated in your grief is to stop communicating about how you are feeling. This isn’t easy and it’s definitely messy. And if #1 isn’t happening then it’s especially difficult. Often, grieving people don’t actually know how they’re feeling. It’s simply too much to process. Giving space and time to talk through the emotions and thoughts that you are experiencing will bring unity and understanding not only to your marriage, but to your own grief as well. Doing so, allows you to better empathize with one another, even though you aren’t grieving in the same way.
- I would recommend making this a weekly habit. Set aside a specific time to ask each other questions like: “How are you? What has been hard this week? What has been good this week? How can I pray for you? How can I love you better?”
- And remember, this isn’t a time to fix all the problems. The best thing you can do is listen and then pray for each other. Providing space to talk and process and be reminded that you are on the same team is the only goal.
- Pray together daily.
- This doesn’t have to be a long-winded-super-spiritual prayer with all the big fancy words. In fact, my recommendation, keep it simple. Read a Psalm together and pray the words of the Psalm back to God — ask for comfort, for peace, for rest, for joy, for hope and for healing. The important thing is not the words of the prayer itself but the act of praying with your spouse and for your spouse and entrusting your hearts, your healing and your marriage to a God who is able to bring healing and comfort, peace and rest.
- Schedule date nights.
- Scheduling a regular date night may feel a bit rigid and yet in this season of life, you will most likely, never feel like getting dressed and going out. It might actually feel wrong. By scheduling the date night you simplify the process — making it easier and more likely that you will pursue your marriage in this way. Getting out of your normal every day rhythm while grieving can be incredibly helpful and a date night is a perfect way to do so. Again, it doesn’t need to be a fancy extravagant thing — just time that is a little more thoughtful and intentional than your normal night at home.
- I would recommend having a weekly or bi-weekly date night. You don’t always have to go out but intentionally planning “Tuesday night is date night” and changing up the rhythm each week for that night and guarding that time as sacred for you and your spouse will be tremendously helpful in protecting your marriage.
- Schedule fun.
- You need to laugh and you need to laugh with your spouse. This too may feel wrong but I promise, it’s good for you to be physically reminded that you can experience joy again. So schedule fun. This should be different than a date night that lends itself to more serious conversations. This should be an opportunity to be silly and light-hearted — even if for just a few moments. Go for a bike ride, take a cooking class, play mini golf, see a comedian — make a list of fun things you’ve always wanted to try and start doing them together.
- I would recommend making this a weekly habit. It doesn’t have to be long or expensive each time, the point is to simply provide opportunity to laugh together.
- Include your closest friends.
- Invite your friends into your grief (no matter how many times they say something stupid and hurtful.) Instead of pushing them away because they don’t understand what you’re going through, graciously educate them. Help them understand. Talk to them. Tell them how they can help. Ask for their help. Give them permission to ask the hard questions about how you are doing and how your marriage is doing.
- It is incredibly helpful for each of you to have a friend to walk through this with, at least one. Women tend to grieve differently than men, so having that female or male who could relate to specific ways I was thinking was incredibly helpful. And vice-versa.
- Seek out professional counseling.
- Professional counselors will provide a different type of help than even a good friend can. They are knowledgable and trained in the area of grief and can offer objective expertise while a sweet friend, even the wisest friend, will always be a bit subjective. This is one mistake that my husband and I made — not pursuing counseling earlier in our grief process.
- Plan a getaway.
- Go on a simple road trip or an exotic vacation. Just get out of town. Make the planning of the getaway part of the fun, an opportunity to get your mind off of your everyday hard reality.
- Plan & be aware of hard dates.
- Write the hard dates on the calendar. The due dates. The monthly anniversaries the first year. The birthdays. The diagnosis dates. Etc. Write them down, put them in your calendar and be aware when they are coming. As the dates approach ask how each other if there is anything you want to do that day to celebrate or to mourn (depending on the day.) Make plans together for how you want to spend those hard dates — keeping in mind that you are different and you grieve differently and this process requires compromise.
- Find community who understands loss.
- Find a couple who has walked through a similar loss and ask them for help. Even one shared dinner or coffee date could potentially bring an abundant amount of freedom, understanding and empathy towards one another. Being able to hear another couple communicate that what you are experiencing is normal is invaluable.
- This type of community could be found within your local church or a local support group or an online community like The Joyful Mourning Community.
What advice would you give to couples who are experiencing loss?