The smallest coffins are the heaviest, and often couples reeling from the crippling pain of the loss of a child find their bond withering away under the insurmountable grief. Anyone who has experienced grief first-hand knows that it changes you forever. Even more so, when you’re a couple grieving the loss of a child.
Amid the longing to magically be transported back to a time when everything was exactly how it should be, it can become harder for partners to look at each other without being reminded of the stark reality that it will never be. You may not notice it at first, yet slowly but surely, you may begin to realize that your relationship or marriage after the death of a child has changed irrevocably.
Grief can take both partners on different paths, and possibly opposite directions, and rediscovering your connection as a couple can be a journey riddled with hurdles. A recent study also found that 12% of marriages in the US end in divorce after the death of a child. While that is a welcome relief from the staggering statistic from the late 1980s that pegged the divorce rate after losing a child at 80%, the risk that the grief can drive spouses apart is real and can make an already difficult journey all the more lonesome.
Clinical psychologist Devaleena Ghosh (M.Res, Manchester University), founder of Kornash: The Lifestyle Management School, who specializes in couples counseling and family therapy, writes about why this happens and how to survive the loss of a child together.
How Loss Of A Child Impacts A Couple’s Relationship
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Grieving the loss of a child can create a substantial amount of conflict in a marriage as two people in a relationship invariably struggle to understand and express their momentary feelings. Emotions are often misdirected, and intimacy after the death of a child can begin to take a hit.
Also the time each partner may take to grieve is different, and so can be their way of grieving the loss of a child. While the pain of losing a child never goes away, a study found that intense grief usually lasts between 4-6 months, then gradually starts to decline over the next 3-4 years.
Grief also varies from person to person, which often alters their personality either temporarily or permanently, which in turn also affects the relationship.
A new beginning after the death of a child
While the loss of a child can make partners distant, it can also cause people to commit themselves more fully to their relationship because they might just realize that life is short and uncertain.
I saw one such couple in therapy trying to come to terms with their loss and figure out how to deal with the death of a child. Their child had suddenly passed away from a terminal illness, which left the couple in shock and intense grief followed. After being in therapy for over a year, the couple decided to give parenthood a second chance.
They couldn’t go through the memories of natural childbirth again and hence decided on surrogacy. Now, they are proud parents of twins. As a psychotherapist, it’s one of my cherished moments to see how some individuals who walk into my office holding so much pain in them start believing that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
Related Reading: How Grief And Loss Of Loved Ones Impacts Your Relationships
4 Ways To Cope with Loss of a Child
Grief can change individuals, and by extension, the dynamics of a marriage after the death of a child. However, the loss of a child doesn’t have to be a precursor to another debilitating loss – that of your relationship. Even if you and your relationship change irrevocably when you’re grieving the loss of a child, it is possible to find ways to redefine your equation and not drift apart to an extent that you become strangers to one another.
You can survive this hard time in a marriage. Here are a few suggestions on how to survive the loss of a child together:
1. Be in the company of those who care
When a parent loses a child, it can in many ways seem like the end of the road. The feelings of hopelessness and dejection are natural when you’re grieving such a monumental and irreparable loss. It is in these moments that surrounding yourself with people who genuinely care becomes more important than ever. Even if you feel like isolating yourself, don’t push away those who want to be there for you during this time.
2. Let others help you
Your loved ones would want to help you in every way possible when you’re grieving the loss of a child. Don’t turn down this help thinking that you’re going to be a burden on them. Be it help with practical things like caring for another child you may have or emotional support to cope with the grief, allow your family and friends to be there for you.
3. Postpone major decisions
As far as possible, postpone making any major decisions at least until the initial shock and intense grief blow over. The emotionally fragile state can impact your judgment, and you may end up making decisions that you’d regret in the long run.
For instance, even if your marriage after the death of a child is going through a troubled phase, it’s advisable to not rush to decide the future of your relationship. The same goes for quitting a job, deciding to have another child, moving to a different city, and so on.
Related Reading: Broken Heart Syndrome: When Your Heart Breaks, Quite Literally
4. Consider taking up grief counseling
Yes, the pain of losing a child never goes away but with the right help from a trained counselor, you can learn to cope with it better. Bereavement counseling can also be immensely beneficial in working through any feelings of guilt or blame that parents may be struggling with after the loss of a child.
Writer and poet Alphonse de Lamartine wrote, “Grief knits two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever can.” Those grieving the loss of a child would perhaps disagree with this sentiment. Losing a child is not only excruciatingly painful but can also be a lonesome experience. However, with the right help, you can begin to pick up the pieces of your broken heart and chart a new course for your relationship, together.