February 9, 2022
This is a question I’ve occasionally asked throughout the past couple of years as I’ve grieved the death of my dad. The ‘he’ I’m referring to is my fiancé, David.
Just before the official announcement of the global pandemic in March 2020, my adventurous, Harley Davidson riding dad died suddenly of congestive heart failure. And his unanticipated death absolutely rocked my world. It also rocked my relationship with David for a while.
Not only were he and I navigating the typical ups and downs of a dating relationship at the time, but when my dad died, we also had to contend with grief. If you’ve walked the grief journey for even one minute, then you already know how overwhelming and complex grieving is. You also probably recognize the desperation felt in wanting to connect with others who ‘get it.’
I mistakenly assumed that David would respond to the situation the way I did. He’d experienced the death of his own father in 2010. And in the weeks and months following my dad’s death, David undeniably supported me in tangible and intangible ways. His presence as my shoulder to cry on was quite remarkable actually. However, the latter part of 2020 proved difficult in our relationship, related in large part to our responding to loss in drastically different ways.
It wasn’t as if he couldn’t tolerate any grief-related discussion. He just didn’t seem to have the right words to comfort me. More often than not, I found myself sharing a sentimental story about my dad only to be met with a blank stare.
David appeared dazed and confused. I needed him to be attuned and present.
I wanted physical comfort in the form of gentle hugs and kisses on my forehead. Further, I needed time to myself – a cocoon to insulate myself from other’s questions and even my own disbelief. It never dawned on me that David, who had a wonderful relationship with my dad, was even grieving his death.
Therein lies one of the greatest challenges grief poses within a romantic relationship – myopic thinking. It’s not uncommon for the grief process to shift you into a very egocentric space, making it extremely difficult to view things apart from your own emotional, physical, and spiritual experience.
As a matter fact, this is normal and fairly common. Research in the grief and loss arena identifies the impact of grieving on an array of relationships, including ones involving romantic partners.
Three and half years into my relationship – now in the throes of an engagement – I understand that David is grieving too. Recognizing this has helped me connect more deeply with him, as opposed to viewing him as a non-supportive partner.
You may be reading this and wondering how to even make room for your partner’s grief when you’re grieving yourself. This is a completely fair and reasonable concern.
Friend, if you’re wrestling in your relationship as a result of grief, know this is 100% normal. You aren’t alone, and there’s no shame in admitting that your relationship has been taxed due to the complexities of grieving.
I’m hopeful that you now see how important it is to not only name the challenges you’re facing, but also take steps to strengthen your relationship.
Remember, grief changes you, which can lead to unintended stress within your relationship. This can contribute to your partner feeling disoriented and sometimes, uncertain about how to best respond.
Make a point to reflect on what’s needed within your relationship, then respond.
I’d love to hear what you think. Share your thoughts below.
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