To grapple with loss is one of the most difficult inevitabilities of life.
If you have a partner or close loved one who’s dealing with the challenges of grief, know that it can be an extremely complex and layered journey.
The most important thing to remember is that grief is a complex dimension and the way it manifests in each individual can vary by a lot.
Patience, compassion, presence, and clear communication are going to be your friends when starting on the difficult and transformative journey of understanding your partner’s way of coping—and how best to provide love and support to them and yourself during the process.
Open Communication & Active Listening
Create a safe space
Creating an environment in which your partner can be vulnerable to express and share their grief is the first step. If you’re unsure of where to begin, you can start by clearly communicating to your partner that you’re there for them.
Asking what they specifically need from you and how best you can support them moving forward are great questions to help guide you in what actions to take next.
Listen as they express their feelings, thoughts, and needs without interruption or judgment. Sometimes, the simplest act of care you can provide in the moment is listening.
Grief yearns to be heard, so encouraging your partner to share their memories, thoughts and feelings, regardless of whether or not you’ve heard them before, is a powerful way to help your loved one process and move through their emotions.
Offer physical presence
Providing your physical presence to a grieving loved one is an irreplaceable form of support.
A comforting touch, embrace, or moment of silence spent together in each other's presence is a powerful way to strengthen your bond and communicate that you’re there for your partner. Reinforce that together as a couple, you can get through even the toughest of emotions.
Support daily tasks
While in the depths of grief, sometimes completing the simplest of tasks like cooking, cleaning, and running errands can be extremely challenging.
Easing the burden of mundane tasks and providing a sense of stability can help relieve your partner of unnecessary stresses so that they can create more space to move through their healing process.
Encourage seeking professional help
Coping with grief can be an overwhelming experience, and sometimes, a trained therapist or counselor is essential in navigating such difficult times.
Gently suggesting to your partner that they seek professional help so that they can develop tools to manage the complexity of their unique grief, and nurture their resilience, is a constructive way to show up for your partner.
Empowering them to develop a skill set to understand themselves and build hope is an indispensable gift.
Promote positive self-care habits
In times of duress, we tend to lean on our default habits. Helping your partner maintain and develop habits that help them take care of themselves during a time that takes such a heavy toll on their well-being is essential to their own sense of groundedness and stability.
Reminding them that there are positive actions they can take to nurture themselves, both mentally and physically, can lead to a renewed sense of balance and empowerment that’s necessary on their path to healing.
Respect the Grieving Process
Respect their space, and the way they grieve
Understand that grief is a personal journey and that there is never a right or wrong way to do it. Honoring your partner’s unique process, and accepting their timeline and need for space is a powerful way to provide care.
When desired, space allows your partner the time and energy to navigate their emotions, and help them create a feeling of anchoring and self-soothing in a time of confusion and overwhelm.
While it can feel like a rejection when your partner asks for space, it’s really an act of love to give someone a sense of empowerment and autonomy over their own feelings.
It’s important to remember that grief doesn't follow a set or linear timeline. Intense emotions can ebb and flow at any moment—and that’s completely normal.
Practicing patience looks like giving your partner the time and space to process their emotions without pressure or judgment even after some time has passed since the death.
Knowing that your partner will have good and bad days, and standing by them unwaveringly through the ups and downs, is the foundation of genuine, lasting support.
Avoid the overused statements like, "everything happens for a reason," "they’re in a better place now,” “I know how you feel,” or “life goes on” when attempting to comfort your partner.
While these might seem like well-intentioned statements, they tend to minimize and invalidate much deeper, more complex emotional landscapes.
Instead what you can do is empathize with their pain and say something to the effect of, “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling, but I want you to know that I love you and I’m here for you.”
Show up for special events and remember important dates
Remembering and showing up for special occasions such as memorials, funerals, and birthdays will send a powerful message to your partner that you care, and you’re invested.
Your consistent presence at these emotional events can provide your partner with strength to move through vulnerable moments, and remind them that they’re not alone on this journey.
Caring for Yourself
Find your own support system
Helping someone else move through the traumas of loss can be a deeply emotional and overwhelming process. Finding your own support system during this process is not just useful, it’s absolutely necessary.
By building your own network of friends, family and professional help, you’re creating a space to share your own feelings, fears, and worries.
It frees you to express the emotional burden of taking care of a grieving loved one while also collecting valuable knowledge on how to best support yourself and your partner.
Carve out time for yourself
In the same way that it’s important for your partner to take space to process their emotions, it’s important for you to take time out to process your own emotions.
Taking space for yourself is essential to preserve energy for your needs and to also generate more energy to help your partner. Make time for your hobbies, exercise meditation, simple rest, or any activity that makes you feel alive and helps you replenish your system.
Grief is a long, complicated journey
Supporting a partner through it is a brave and loving privilege. While challenging, it’s a transformative feat that’s capable of strengthening your partnership and deepening both of your life experiences in new and profound ways.