How to help your partner through grief
Grief is a profound and deeply personal response to losing someone you love. Everyone responds to and experiences grief differently.
If your partner or someone else close to you is going through grief, it can be very difficult to watch them suffering and hard to know what you can do to help them, especially if you are grieving too.
Whilst many of us associate grief with feelings of sadness and loss, it is a lot more than that. People experiencing grief can go through a whole spectrum of different emotions and suffer a variety of physical symptoms too. Some physical symptoms of grief include nausea, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, headaches, chest pain, and digestive problems.
Watching your partner struggling with grief can be very difficult and may leave you feeling underprepared and powerless to help them.
Whilst you cannot take their pain away, there are plenty of things you can do to support your partner through grief. In this article, we will provide advice that will help you to understand grief better and tips for how to help your partner through grief.
How to help your partner through grief
Often, it’s not what you say to people going through grief that provides them with the most comfort and support, it’s the things you do.
The best thing you can do for your partner if they are grieving is to accept their feelings and be there for them, sitting silently when they wish to be quiet and being a compassionate and caring listener when they want to talk.
Below, we’ve put together a list of some of the best things you can do to support your partner when they’re grieving.
Remember you are there to support, not fix
Grief is a natural response to a painful experience. It can be very unpleasant watching someone you love go through grief, but as much as you may wish you could take the pain away for them, it’s important to remember that grief is not something that can be ‘fixed’. Grief must be allowed to take its natural course. Your role in helping your partner through grief is to provide love, compassion, patience, and support for as long as it takes.
No matter how your partner experiences grief, it’s important not to be judgemental about their feelings or actions or compare them to your own experiences. Everyone deals with grief differently and the way a person reacts on the outside may not reflect how they’re feeling on the inside. Some people may prefer privacy whilst they’re grieving and not wish to see anyone, others may want to surround themselves with friends and family for support or throw themselves into their work to gain a sense of normality.
It’s important to remember that grief is not linear either. Your partner may have good days or weeks followed by bad ones, grief can be unpredictable and that’s completely normal.
Be present and listen
Sometimes it can be helpful for a grieving person to talk to someone and express how they are feeling. Talking things through can help them to process what they’re experiencing and relieve some stress.
Be aware though that there should be no pressure on your partner to talk about how they’re feeling until they’re ready to do so. If they don’t feel like talking then just sitting with them quietly and letting them know that you are there when they do want to talk can be support enough.
Take the pressure off them
Grief can be all-consuming, especially during the early days. If your partner is grieving, they may find basic daily tasks difficult or overwhelming so it can be helpful to take as much pressure off them as possible by taking on more of the chores, cooking, childcare duties, and errands.
Accept their feelings
Grieving can be a highly emotional and painful process that brings out extreme feelings and behaviours, all of which are normal and natural reactions to losing someone. Let your partner know that you accept their feelings and avoid minimising their pain or telling them how they should be feeling or acting.
Help them find further support if they need it
Some people who are grieving find comfort and support in reaching out to helplines or bereavement groups where they can talk about how they are feeling or connect with other people who are going through a similar experience. If your partner feels that this is something that may help them then they may appreciate your help in finding a suitable service or support group.
The Mind mental health website features a useful and comprehensive contact list of charities and groups offering support for people who are going through grief, you can find the list on their website here.
What to say (and what not to say) to someone who is grieving
If your partner is grieving it can be difficult to know what to say to them. It’s common to struggle to find the words, to feel awkward at times, and to worry about saying the ‘wrong’ thing. Try to remember that there’s nothing you can say to fix how your partner is feeling, the best thing you can do is let them know that you’re there to listen to them when they want to talk and support them as best you can during a difficult time.
Here are some key dos and don’ts when speaking to someone who is grieving.
Do let them know you’re there for them
Simply letting your partner know that you’re there for them and ready to listen whenever they want to talk can be a great comfort. If you don’t know what to say, be honest and tell them so, but make sure they know that you want to be there for them and support them as best you can.
Do speak about the person who has died
Although it may feel uncomfortable at first and you may worry about upsetting your partner more by talking about the person who has died, don’t avoid speaking about them or change the subject if they come up in conversation. Some people find that speaking about the person they’ve lost or what happened to them can help them to accept and heal. It’s best to take the lead from the person grieving as to when and how much they want to speak about the deceased.
Do let them know that you accept their feelings
Grief can cause extreme feelings and reactions, and that’s normal. Let your partner know that you accept the way that they’re feeling and are there to support them. Make your home a safe and non-judgmental space for them to grieve in.
Don’t speak, listen
Sometimes, the best thing you can say is nothing. If your partner doesn’t seem to want to speak, sit with them quietly instead. Give your partner space to process their feelings and let them lead conversations when they are ready to talk.
Don’t pretend to understand how they’re feeling
Even if you are also grieving or have been through grief in the past, everyone is different and so is the way that they experience grief.
Don’t give unsolicited advice
Giving advice about what a person going through grief should or shouldn’t do or feel may be well-meaning, but often only serves to make the person feel worse. Instead, be patient and give your partner time to grieve, work through their feelings and find their way, with your support, but on their own terms.
Don’t diminish their pain
Yes, it’s probably true that in the grand scheme of things it could be worse, but right now it doesn’t feel like it, so that’s not what they want to hear. You may feel like you’re helping by trying to put a positive spin on things by using platitudes like ‘at least they’re not in pain any more’, but often, someone who is grieving just wants to hear you agree that things are really rubbish right now.
How to understand what they’re feeling and what they’re going through
Grief can be complex and have many unexpected twists and turns along the way. If your partner is grieving, you may find that it affects their mood and behaviour in many ways. Supporting someone who is going through grief can be difficult and it is useful to educate yourself on what grief is and the different ways it can affect people both mentally and physically to give you some idea of what they are going through, what to expect, and how best to support them.
Here at Care Business Associates, we run a popular masterclass in separation, loss, and grief. The course covers key topics to help individuals support loved ones through grief, including the stages of grief, the factors that affect how people experience grief, and useful strategies and skills that can be used to support someone who is grieving.
For more information, or to book your place on our next separation, loss, and grief masterclass, give our team a call on 01772 816 922.