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Question of the Month

My husband never acknowledges his grief (if he has any). I feel very alone and he makes me feel there is something wrong with me for being so distraught. How can I get him to talk to me?

Ann DouglasFrom Ann Douglas . . .

It's not at all unusual for men and women to express their grief in different ways -- something that can, unfortunately, lead to a lot of hurt and misunderstanding.

There are a number of forces at work -- both cultural and personal. While women in our culture are encouraged to be open about their feelings, men are taught to be more stoic when it comes to expressing their emotions; and, what's more, a man can feel tremendous pressure to "hold it together" if his partner seems to be falling apart. It's also important to keep in mind that no two people will grieve in exactly the same way and on the exactly the same timetable. It's unreasonable to expect otherwise.

If you and your partner feel totally out of synch with one another, you may find it helpful to seek out the services of a therapist who specializes in working with bereaved parents. Sometimes you need a neutral third party to remind you to be patient with your partner -- no easy task when you're both raw with emotion. You may also find that the counselling process helps your husband to open up and express some of the feelings that he may be keeping bottled up inside him. He may feel safer in expressing his own pain if there's a third party there to provide support to both of you.

I hope these comments are helpful and wish you all the best in dealing with this complex situation.

Ann Douglas

Marilyn HeavilinFrom Marilyn Heavilin . . .

It is true that we all grieve differently. My husband and I weren't alike before our three children died, and we most definitely weren't alike in how we handled our grief.

You mentioned your husband won't talk to you about this. May I ask, did he talk to you much before your baby died? Grief enlightens us to how much pain a body can bare, but it does not change our reactions to significant events; it just amplifies our reactions.

I know one woman who left notes in her husband's underwear drawer to let him know how important he was to her. After a couple of years of him finding notes in his drawer, he started to talk. If people have not normally put their thoughts into words, it will take a lot of encouragement for them to feel safe enough to do so.

In the meantime a support group may provide the conversation you so deeply desire and need.

Much love, Marilyn Heavilin

From Laura Randolph . . .

One of the many difficult issues that couples who are grieving face is learning to relate to each other in the midst of their sorrow. While there are exceptions, women are generally openly emotional and men tend to withdraw within themselves, even if at first they display emotions freely. Often in everyday circumstances when the wife is upset about something the husband tries to fix the problem. There is nothing a husband can do to “fix” the problem of losing a child which leaves him feeling helpless to help himself feel better or to help his wife who is hurting so deeply.

I’ve heard many husbands explain the urgent need to comfort their wives and to stop their tears. Many have expressed feeling inadequate for being unable not only to prevent the death of their child, but for being unable to stop their wife from hurting. This can be a blow to the husband’s ego causing him to withdraw even deeper within himself. It is then easy for the wife to misinterpret this silence and distance in the husband. She may be expecting him to comfort her as he normally would if she is distressed or to at least be openly sad with her. His seemingly lack of emotion can leave her wondering if he truly misses the child, or wondering, as you are, if he thinks something is wrong with her for being so distraught.

Try to convey your feelings to your husband without being accusing or hurtful. Remember that just because he doesn’t cry or talk about the child daily doesn’t mean he isn’t grieving. One father told me he cried everyday on the way home from work, but never in front of his wife because he needed to be strong for her. After telling your husband how you feel, let him know you care about how he’s feeling and while you respect his silence on the issue, hearing how he is feeling is important to you. If he doesn’t want to talk, don’t pressure; just remind him you’re ready to listen if he changes his mind.

Sometimes letting your husband know what you need is helpful as well. I remember one time after tearfully telling my husband how deeply I was hurting he responded, “I don’t know what to do for you.” My response was, “Let me cry. Don’t always try to make me feel better. I need you to listen to me, hold me, and let me cry.” After that, the pressure was off him to help me stop crying. We then began to relate to each other better despite our vastly different ways of grieving.

If, even after talking to your husband you are left feeling as you do now, I suggest you find a counselor, friend or other bereaved mother whom you can talk to and share your emotions. Being distraught after losing a child is natural and expected and you need to be able to discuss your feelings. Also, there are books specifically dealing with how men grieve. Reading one (or more) of them may give you some insight into your husband and his grief. Good luck.

Additional Resources:

 Pregnancy/Infant Loss & the Marriage Relationship


By Dezign