Saturday, August 20, 2011

Grief can strengthen parents relationships

Despite old rumors that relationships can't survive the death of a child, recent studies indicate just the opposite. A recent study shows that the death of a child actually appears to draw bereaved parents together as they travel life's grief journey." (Source: "When a Child Dies" - survey for The Compassionate Friends Inc, October 2006).

This is good news, but don't misunderstand - staying together isn't something that is necessarily easy.. Without question, staying together takes a lot of effort on both sides and in many different ways. However, there are some common areas that can be worked on to help ensure that despite the tragedy you are facing, your relationship will strengthen - not fall apart...

Communication. This is perhaps the most important area. Keep talking - tell each other how you feel, listen to what the other person says, express your love for each other regularly. When you feel that sharp stabbing pain of loss - tell your partner. When you remember something about your child - tell your partner. When you have found something encouraging or caring that someone has said - tell your partner. And when your partner tells you something - listen (and show that you really are listening)!

Give each other space. This may seem strange in the light of the comments above. One of the things many couples find in the weeks and months after their child's death is that they couldn't always be the support that the other person needed. Yes there will be those times when one of you is up and the other is down and so the one who is “up” can give the love and care that was needed. But when you are both down, and that will happen, neither of you may be strong enough to provide the support needed, and that’s when tensions become more evident and you have to give each other a few minutes' space. Often times taking a short 'time out' is helpful and can help make your relationship stronger.

Recognise your differences. You are both different people and will grieve in different ways. What is important to one person may seem trivial to the other. It is vital that you each recognise the other person's views and needs as being valid. Don't think that because they aren't acting in the same way or holding the same opinion as you that they didn't love your child as much.

Remain affectionate. The area of sexual intimacy is one where needs and desires may vary. Charlotte M Mathes, a psychoanalyst and member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, expresses the difference between men and women very helpfully - "Commonly, men feel loved when they feel they are valued. Women feel love when they are shown compassion. Sex plays a very unique role with each gender. Men often need sex to feel loved by their wife while women may feel that sex is wrong after such a loss, but their need to touch may become more prominent." Try to remain affectionate, reassure each other of your love. Be patient with each other - you will in time find a place again for the physical side of your relationship.

Don't blame each other. Anger is a natural part of grieving, but it is important not to aim that anger at your partner. You may at times find that you are more easily hurt by insensitive words, so do take extra care that the phrases you use to each other don't convey blame. Phrases such as "I feel sad when you ..." (said gently) rather than "you really upset me when you..." (said in a harsher tone) can avoid aggravating raw emotions and provide better paths to good communication.

Seek outside help. For both of you, being able to talk to someone who isn't so closely involved, who will understand and listen, can be a real help. This might be a close friend, a support group such as Journey from Mourning, Compassionate Friends, Bereaved Parents' Network, your minister, priest or rabbi, a professional counsellor or your doctor. It is important that you both have someone you can turn to. Women often finder it easier to talk, but for men this can be a challenge, but most parents find that being able to turn to someone they trust was a real life-saver.

There are no quick fixes. But in time you will find yourselves more able to cope and even to laugh and find ways of enjoying life together again. Be assured that your relationship can survive and can grow even stronger!

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