It can be hard to know what to say…
It can be heartbreaking watching someone you love suffer through a tragic loss.
The loss can take many forms — a death in the family, the passing of a beloved pet, a career setback, a miscarriage — but the aftermath is fairly universal. Your loved one grieves. Sometimes they grieve HARD.
And, as their partner, it’s not always intuitive to know what you should be doing in that situation, particularly if the person you love seems to be spiraling down deeper into their despair.
You can offer condolences, but what’s your role supposed to be in the grieving process?
Are you supposed to be their cheerleader? Are you supposed to be their drill sergeant?
Should you actually be trying to do ANYTHING during their grieving or do you need to just sit back and let it happen?
But sitting back isn’t always an option, especially if your loved one is having problems with coping with the grief on their own. And, OF COURSE, you want to be doing something constructive. This is someone you love. You want to help.
If your partner is struggling to cope with a major loss, here are 7 ways you can support them as they cycle through the stages of grief (and remind them that they’re loved in the process).
This can be a surprisingly difficult thing to do. When your partner starts talking about all of the negative emotions they’re feeling, your instinct will be to jump in and say “Hey, everything is actually GREAT!” But that doesn’t solve anything and it can make your partner feel like you’re not validating what they’re going through.
But there’s a simple solution. Two easy words that make everything better — “That sucks.”
When your partner is grieving, sometimes, they just need you to acknowledge their pain and loss. So you just nod and say “That sucks,” and, at the least, they’ll know that you’re hearing them.
2. Recognize that you can’t fix everything.
This goes hand-in-hand with #1. Commiserating is important, but it’s also important that you don’t try to project plan your partner to death.
If they’re overcome by pain, it’s not always constructive to say “We can fix this. We can make this better. This is what we can do.”
They just have to live through the bad parts — there’s not normally an easy solution to grief.
While your intentions are admirable, just remember that not everything can be fixed. Occasionally, you just have to endure the bad stuff until the hurt goes away.
3. Hold their hand.
It’s a simple act, but it can mean so much. Just sit with your partner. Touch them. Hold them. Put their hand in yours.
Let them know that you’re there for them without ever saying a word. Because sometimes they don’t need to hear words.
They just need to feel the warm body of someone who loves them sitting by their side.
4. Run interference for them.
Does your girlfriend’s mom stress her out? When her mom calls, tell her that her daughter is already asleep and you chat with her on the phone for an hour.
Does your husband freak out when the front yard is covered with leaves? Rake the leaves before he gets home.
Basically, if your partner is struggling with loss, make it your job to reduce the stress in their lives anyway you can.
You know the things that stress them out. Throw yourself in front of those stress bullets and take a few for the person you love.
5. Ask if they want to talk about it.
And, if they say “No,” listen to them.
Check in from time-to-time to see if they feel like talking, but, if they don’t, you should NOT press the issue.
Offer yourself as a sounding board if they need it and, if they don’t need or want it, don’t get offended. It’s about them, not you.
6. Pick up the slack.
Your partner needs space to grieve and, when they’re suffering, every minor little everyday detail can feel like an intrusion, like something massively unimportant that’s trying to draw focus away from the pain (and, which, in turn, just makes the pain more painful).
If possible, do whatever you can to reduce the number of things they have to worry about in a day.
Do the laundry, make dinners more often than you normally would, troubleshoot minor household inconveniences without them.
Don’t make a show of it. You’re not looking for a pat on the back for being the best boyfriend/girlfriend ever. You’re trying to make them hurt less. So keep your extra effort on the downlow and give your partner more bandwidth to deal with their pain.
7. Love them.
Duh, right? But it means a lot. It means everything.
Just find quiet moments to reaffirm to your partner that you really, truly love them.
It can make a huge difference.
Show them that you love them (and tell them too) and maybe they’ll remember that the world isn’t all pain and misery, which is pretty much the best thing you can do for them in that situation.