A few years into marriage we found ourselves shocked recounting some trials we’d experienced: loss, grief, infertility, and other trials. And found 10 ways we’ve worked on strengthening marriage through times of loss and grief that have brought us closer together and made our marriage stronger after hard times.
I often think I have readers pegged as to what they like to hear from us, but a recent reader survey left me a bit surprised at the content requests. The one that came up most often outside of date night ideas and dating advice, was marriage advice. I don’t know that I think of us as marriage experts. I mean is anyone truly an expert?
But I had the overwhelming requests to write more posts about how we tackle a lot of elements of life together and how we’ve strengthened our marriage. One of the biggest requests was what we’ve done to support each other through loss and grief. I thought back to that conversation about trials and thought maybe we have tackled a few huge things together and come out stronger for them.
A few years into marriage I was talking to a friend about what trials we’ve experienced as a married couple, and I quickly shot off that we haven’t seemed to have many problems. But, I bit my tongue as I remembered that we’ve experienced unexpected job loss, death in our families, demanding work and grad school schedules with limited time together, and some financial planning to pay off grad school loans and renovate our first house that was a desperate fixer-upper.
We’d definitely had phases of loss and grief, and times we’ve had to focus on strengthening our marriage through loss and grief.
So, dear readers who want to know what we’ve done and ways we’ve strengthened our marriage through loss and grief, let me share a few things that has made our relationship stronger and got us through some of the hardest moments of our lives.
Strengthening Marriage Through Times of Loss and Grief
- We listen and understand before we offer advice.
We’ve both learned that sometimes emotions need to be expressed, and it needs to stop there. Letting the other share their entire feelings and really listening validates the person, and helps build relationship trust. We also both ask each other if they want help or advice, and respect when they say no. More often than not we do want it, but it goes even further when it’s offered on the grieving person’s timetable instead of bestowed.
- We strive to be a shoulder to cry on when the other is hurting.
Sometimes you just need to know the other person has your back even if they have no clue what you’re going through. Jacob’s grandmother who he grew up next door to and was close to his entire childhood passed away when we were newlyweds. I’d never met the woman, but I hear she was amazing! The funeral and week after were a hard time for him, and clearly, I wasn’t experiencing the same thing. I found just being there to give a hug, to hand a tissue when needed, and to just support and let him grieve was just what he needed. I’ve had similar times of pain and loss.
My teenage best friend died last fall, and he’s been nothing but supportive having only met the guy twice. Jacob booked my flight and arranged childcare the second we knew funeral arrangements. The love and support were amazing! He knows sometimes I just need him to tell me it’s okay to be sad and cry. And having him by my side has made all the difference when I’m really hurting.
Supporting Your Spouse During the Hard Times
- Allowing as much space or proximity needed while grieving.
I’m usually a curl up on a ball and avoid human contact for a while when I’m crushed. I had a friend become a widow unexpectedly a few years ago and she called us asking us to come see her and help her that same night. I realized we all grieve different ways in different situations. Your spouse may struggle and want to be completely alone. They may just need someone they love by their side 24/7 while they process. We both know in rough moments that there’s no time for any personal offense. Sometimes they just need some space, sometimes they need extra attention, and keeping that honest communication and understanding open is the best thing you can do.
- Finding fun, funny, and happy distractions when things are hard.
I’ve been known to bust out some Brain Reagan just to make us laugh for a few hours on really hard days. After one failed infertility treatment we mourned by heading to California and going to Six Flags for a really fun day to distract from tears. We are both firm believers in feeling the pain and sadness in order to heal, but occasionally you just need a break from crying or hurting.
Your significant other is often the best answer to help you find something you’ll love as a distraction. Roller coasters we found, got me through some of the hardest moments of pain and grief. A funny movie sometimes gets us through the hardest work days out there. Have some ideas on hand, and be ready to just help them find a little fun as a temporary distraction.
Helping a Spouse Through Grief
- Offering therapy/grief counseling and not judging the other for their decision to go or not go.
I’ve been through a lot of abuse in my life at the hands of an ex-husband with serious addictions. There are triggers that have popped up that I didn’t even know would be an issue. They seem to be fewer and further between the further from the situation I get. But in our first few years of marriage, Jacob stood by ready to help absorb all that pain and grief I was holding from my former life.
He never said it condescendingly, but if anything was causing me to lose sleep or have anxiety, he’d bring up therapy. Sometimes there’s pain beyond what you can support. Sometimes there are life circumstances that need a specialist. I’m grateful for a spouse who always suggested and never forced, and also never judged me when I said I didn’t want to go.
- Stepping up to help with their responsibilities if they need extra support.
It’s amazing how hard moments and bouts of depression make every area of life hard to get through. I love the weeks we decide to pitch in more with each other’s chores to lighten the load. Helping each other feel we are still accomplishing what we want and need to makes the hard times feel so much more bearable.
Strong Bond Relationship Habits
- Remind each other that they are loved unconditionally.
When you’re hurting about something really deep, there’s nothing like your spouse strengthening your marriage reminding you that they love you through the hardest moments. They love you in the ugliest of cries, and the ups and downs of life. Unconditional love is a very real thing, and it’s something that strengthens marriage bonds indefinitely.
- Focusing on gratitude and what we do have.
It can feel really overwhelming to start having talks about if we need to put up our house for sale because of a job loss. It can feel really hard to move forward when you lose a loved one. We’ve found stopping to remind each other that there’s no one I’d rather be homeless with, or how much we have because we have each other while we lose other people and things is so important. We love to stop and count our blessings and focus on the good. It really makes a difference in putting life into perspective.
Getting Through Hard Things With Your Spouse
- Creating events and new things to look forward to.
When you feel something was lost, there’s nothing quite like realizing there’s still new to be had and found. Having a fun date night has got us through the roughest of weeks. It gives us hope and something to look forward to. There may be the pain, but planning the next big trip or the next fun meal is really healing in aiding each other in hard times. I can attribute our relationship surviving and thriving through infertility directly to fun plans we could look forward to.
- Never put a time frame on healing.
I think some people think after so many years you should be completely fine. But with any loss or grief, sometimes it’s more like a wave creeping up on you than an ocean you had to swim through. We’ve found things can be great for a long time, and then something happens that reminds us of pain or loss. It’s okay to have feelings resurface. It’s okay to have to re-explore some of the things mentioned above. We both know we’re happy people by nature and we’ll get through, but we also both believe in letting each other have the time we need to get there.
One of the most beautiful parts of marriage is the vow “For better or for worse” and really meaning the worse part. When pain and trials come along, it’s the chance to prove your love and commitment. This is when strengthening marriage really happens! We’re grateful that we’ve found ways to support and strengthen our marriage in hard moments. And we’ve found the for better moments to feel even sweeter for the support and love shared during the for worse moments.