Grieving the Death of a Partner or Significant Other

February is often thought of as the “month of love”. Valentine’s Day is a cultural phenomenon – restaurants, roses, chocolates. For many, it is a day to celebrate. For others, it is a painful reminder of what they have lost. At GSR, we recognize that, no matter the relationship to the person who died, no two people grieve in the same way. Although two people may have experienced the loss of a partner, that does not automatically make their grief the same. Noticing commonalities can make the grieving individual feel less alone. When a person loses a spouse, partner, or significant other, there are sometimes unique challenges and these challenges can be exacerbated during specific times of the year when others are celebrating and experiencing the season through a completely different lens. Below, we discuss several of those unique challenges.
  • A shift in identity: When we spend a large portion of our lives with someone, we inevitably take on roles in the relationship. One person may be the financial “breadwinner”, the primary parent, the one who takes out the trash, the person who plans the meals and prepares dinner, the one who handles the banking or vacuuming or laundry, etc. When a partner or spouse dies, our roles shift. Even more profound, many people find themselves asking, “Am I still a husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend?”
  • Need for intimacy: Human beings have an innate need for physical contact – sexual or otherwise. The death of a spouse or partner leaves many without physical contact. For some, the thought of engaging in a sexual relationship with someone new may seem impossible. For others, sexual intimacy with new partners may be a place where they find healing, whether the healing is perceived or genuine.
  • Changing relationships: Many people report that when their partner died, they lost their “best friend”. This can make their loss feel heavier or more overwhelming because the grieving person had more than one relationship need fulfilled within a single relationship with this person. In addition, people often report that they feel isolated from social circles they were once a part of, and feel excluded from “couples” events with friends.
  • Parenting challenges: Imagine going from co-parenting to being a single parent. The pressures of raising children can feel very difficult under the best circumstances, and can be overwhelming when the grieving person is alone with the responsibilities. Many times the overwhelm in decision making, conflict resolution, etc. in solo-parenting can concretize the solitude found in being forced to move through the journey of parenting without their partner.
  • Financial challenges: The death of a partner can be emotionally devastating as well as financially devastating. If the partner was the breadwinner in the family, that creates a financial burden for the surviving partner. If the relationship was a two-income relationship, that still means that the family has lost at least half of their income. If the partner who dies was the primary parent, then the surviving parent must figure out how to pay for childcare. Life insurance can be helpful in these cases, but does not always solve financial problems.
  • Pressure to date/remarry: Sometimes, friends and loved ones can “push” a grieving spouse into dating and/or remarrying. Often this push is out of love, but for the bereaved it can sometimes feel like an impossible task. People who play a supportive role in the grieving person’s life don’t always know how to support them. In order to help them “move on” or “get over” the loss, people in supportive roles may think that finding love again will heal the loss. What gets lost, however, is that the grieving person doesn’t simply “move on” or “get over” the death of a spouse or partner. Grief and mourning take time, and the only person who gets to decide the timeline is the person grieving. Beginning to date again and the possibility of remarriage may be of interest after time and healing have occurred. Sometimes they won’t be of interest. Both are okay.
How can you take care of yourself?
  • Make friends with your grief – practice self-compassion
  • Talk to friends and family – don’t be afraid to set boundaries if you are not receiving what you need from them
  • Attend a support group, church service, or talk with a friend or acquaintance who also has lost a spouse or partner
  • Write in a journal or write a letter to your partner
  • Keep their photos out and visible
  • Say their name out loud
  • Engage in physical activity – the endorphins released when we exercise can improve our mood. Simply changing environments and getting out of the house can help too.
  • Don’t isolate – Some time alone can be important, but spending all our time alone and not opening ourselves up to the love and support of others can be a slippery slope in our grief and can lead to further isolation, depression, and other symptoms that may inhibit the healing process.
  • Lower expectations for yourself – Listen to your body and mind. If you are tired, rest. If you are thirsty, drink water. If you need to take time off from work or school, do it if you can. Grief is work.
Resources after the death of a partner: Finding Your Way After Your Spouse Dies, by Marta Felber Getting to the Other Side of Grief: Overcoming the loss of a spouse by Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge One Fit Widow on Facebook Grief Support of the Rockies

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Co-founder Amanda D. Mahoney, MA has another offering of her Compassion Cultivation Training coming up in Fort Collins and Boulder! Fort Collins: March 23-May 11, 2016, 5:30pm-7:30pm Boulder: March 29-May 17, 2016, 5:30pm-7:30pm Do you crave a more authentic connection with others during your daily interactions, wanting to see life through a more compassionate lens? Learn to intentionally choose compassionate thoughts and actions that help relate to others and yourself in a more connected way. Register today for Stanford University’s Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) led by certified CCT teacher Amanda D. Mahoney, M.A. Register at coloradocct.com baf6da5d-3955-44ca-ab1e-a72707305e72 Are you Grieving? Bonnie Cochran, LCSW and Maggie Tibbetts, LCSW Certified Grief Recovery Specialists are accepting registrations for The Grief Recovery Method Training. This is an action program for moving beyond death, divorce, and other losses. There are over 40 loss experiences including death, divorce, moving, pet loss, change in financial stability and loss of trust. This interactive workshop is a safe place to examine what you’ve been taught about loss, explain your beliefs about grief, and will guide you in completing a set of actions that will enable you to move forward in your life with hope and healing. Once equipped with these tools, you will be able to work through other losses that you have experienced in your life. Fort Collins Schedule: Free Informational presentation: March 23, 5:30 – 7:00 3 Day Weekend Workshop: April 29 – May 1, 8:30 – 5:30 3 Day Weekend Workshop: July 15 – July 17, 8:30 – 5:30 6 Day Workshop: September 29 – November 3, 5:30 – 7:30 For more information and to register please contact Bonnie Cochran, LCSW at 970 222-1517 or bonnie@growtobestrong.com
“One knows what one has lost, but not what one may find.” –George Sand
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