How to Help Your Spouse Grieve
By Beth Ann Baus, Crosswalk.com
In our 23 years of marriage, my husband and I have had many opportunities to celebrate. We’ve also had many opportunities to walk with one another through grief.
We’ve grieved over the death of loved ones, the loss of jobs, unwanted medical diagnoses, the effects of our own sin, and the effects of others' sin. The list could keep going.
Helping your spouse grieve is a privilege because it’s an opportunity to love, support, comfort, and rely on the Lord in a very specific way.
But I would also say, helping your spouse grieve is a burden of love, because grief is hard, it’s exhausting, it takes time, and can change a person forever. I personally haven’t always grieved well or in a way that glorified my Heavenly Father, but lessons have been learned and I hope I can share a bit of that insight with you.
Here are 10 ways to help your spouse grieve.
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1. Demonstrate the Love of Christ
In the early stages of grief, some people immediately run to the Word and find extreme comfort in the love of God. Others, out of anger, disappointment, or numbness, say they find no comfort in God and that his Word almost seems offensive.
If this is where your spouse is, don’t be discouraged. This isn’t uncommon and, in time, their joy in the Lord will return. In the meantime, remember that you can demonstrate the love of Christ through your actions.
The details of this might look different in different marriages, because we all grieve differently. But the goal is to create an atmosphere where your spouse feels safe enough to ask you for what they need in the moment.
Depending on the depth of their grief, they themselves might not know what they need or how to ask for it. 1 Corinthians 16:14 tells us to do all we do in love. If you enter into your spouse's grief in love, you will not only glorify God, but you will bless your spouse beyond measure. As you read through the following points, remember, they are examples of demonstrating God’s love.
2. Be There
Sometimes we don’t understand other people’s grief. If the loss is not a death, then we might not get why our spouse is hurting so deeply, but we must remember this: Romans 12:15 doesn’t say “weep with those weep if we think their grief is justified.” It simply says “weep with those who weep.”
Acknowledge the pain your spouse is feeling, and let them guide you in how they need you to be there for them.
For some, grief gives them a sense of vulnerability and they can’t stand the thought of being alone. This might mean you need to take a few days off work, if possible, to simply be with your spouse
If time off isn’t possible, then find a trusted friend or family member that could stay with your spouse during the hours you aren’t home. Some need a person right by their side to feel like they aren’t unraveling. Others want someone in the house, but without the pressure of engaging with them.
Some want to be completely left alone, but even if that’s the case, they also need to know you’re available when they’re ready.
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3. Be Prepared for Sacrifice
When your spouse is grieving, they likely aren’t going to be themselves and they will need extra of everything. This means you need to be prepared to not only pick up the slack in your family unit, but also to sacrifice your own comfort, time, schedule, preferences, expectations, etc.
There might be times during the grieving process that your spouse seems normal on the outside - meaning they aren’t crying, isolating, or neglecting themselves00but on the inside, they can’t think straight.
Decision-making skills are affected, and the smallest obstacle can seem like the biggest ordeal. This might mean relieving your spouse of as many responsibilities as possible and adding what you can to your own plate. If you aren’t prepared for this, it’s easy, over time, to become resentful and frustrated.
It might be helpful to remember Philippians 2:4, which tells us to put the interest of others before our own.
4. Be Prepared for Your Spouse to Change
If you’ve never experienced deep grief yourself, you might not expect the changes it can bring, especially in the case of losing a close loved one or receiving a life-changing diagnosis.
Changes might seem subtle at first, but can be striking as time goes on. If you have children, you might see a difference in how your spouse relates to them. If your spouse has hobbies, you might notice they don’t bring the same enjoyment they once did. You might see changes in your sex life.
You might notice your spouse becoming more serious and less fun-loving.
Some changes are expected and would even be considered normal. But if you notice changes in your spouse that are concerning, don’t ignore them. For instance, if you can see that grief that has spiraled into a deep depression you should seek out help.
Or if you see changes that are so extreme you find yourself feeling unsafe, or that your spouse might be tempted by self-harm, again, seek help!
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5. Be Kind and Gracious
We all say things we don’t mean from time to time, but grief can bring out the worst in us. We often say and do things we wouldn't normally say or do when we’re hurting.
Be prepared for your spouse to hurt your feelings, to be insensitive, or to just make life all about them for a time. You’ll have to gauge for yourself when the time is right to address these behaviors, but in the early stages particularly, be kind and gracious. Know your spouse’s judgment is clouded, their thought process is not normal, and you might find they stop using their filter when speaking.
I am not suggesting, under any circumstance, that you allow yourself to be the victim of verbal abuse or physical violence. If your spouse becomes aggressive, you should seek help immediately.
You should make sure you and any children in the home are secure and then bring another adult into the picture who can help make sure your spouse is not a threat to you or to themselves.
6. Be a Buffer
Whether your spouse has a large or small inner circle of friends, there will likely be people who will want to be there for them during their grief. This can be such a blessing! If you know your spouse would appreciate a visit from a friend or another family member, make it happen. Don’t wait for your spouse to have the energy to do it themselves.
On the other hand, if you know your spouse can’t handle visits at the moment, be the one who explains this to everyone, don’t make your spouse do that for themselves.
Explain to friends and family that right now, your spouse wishes to grieve privately. Encourage them to send cards, texts, or to drop off meals or your spouse's favorite treat.
Encourage acts of kindness that would help your spouse know they are loved and being thought of, but without the overwhelming role of playing host.
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7. Be Patient and Persevere
Something strange happens in the wake of grief...life goes on. Friends and family are typically on high alert and ready to help in any way possible in the beginning, but then they get back to their normal routines, and the grieving one is left feeling alone and uncared for.
This is when you need to re-energize and set in for the long haul. Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. It’s a beautiful sight to behold when one spouse is long-suffering for the other, just as God is long-suffering for us.
I was given a diagnosis a few years ago that changed how I live my life, and as a result it has changed how my husband lives his life too. I can’t do the things I once did and he has to fill in the gap. But it’s more than that.
I often go through bouts of sadness and frustration, in other words, my grief resurfaces from time to time. Be the spouse that is always on the ready to encourage and uplift. Be the spouse that is patient and committed to persevere.
Don’t be the spouse that tires of your partner's pain, sadness and frustration.
8. Care for Yourself
You can’t care for your spouse in their time of grief if you aren't caring for yourself. Don’t neglect your time in the Word, time in prayer, and time in corporate worship and fellowship with other believers. You can’t care for your spouse’s spiritual health if you’re neglecting your own. In the same vein, you can’t care for your spouse's physical and mental health if you’re neglecting your own.
We all have a different level of “neediness”, and when grief hits, we can even surprise ourselves with how needy we can be. It’s easy to allow your grieving spouse, especially if they’re extra needy, to become all-consuming.
This isn't healthy for you or for them. Take care of yourself, make sure your cup is being filled, so that the overflow of your cup can fill the cup of your spouse.
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This may seem obvious, but sometimes prayer is the first thing that goes by the wayside in a time of crisis. Your grieving spouse may be in a constant posture of crying out to God, but they might also be feeling such despair that prayer seems meaningless. Pray over your spouse, even if that’s not your normal practice and it means stepping way out of your comfort zone. Pray for comfort, rest, healing, and for the joy of the Lord to supersede the sadness.
Remind your spouse of Romans 8:26, that the Spirit prays for us when we don’t have the words. Pray that the Spirit would minister to your spouse and remind them that we grieve with hope. That this world is not our home and that we have a home waiting for us where there are no more tears and no more sadness. Pray that those words aren’t empty but that they draw your spouse into a mindset of worship.
10. Be an Encourager
Our words can be used to build up or to tear down, and sometimes we tear others down without even realizing it, because we just didn’t put much thought into what we were saying. Now is not the time to be frivolous with your words. Your grieving spouse needs your words to be life-giving, not used as a weapon.
For instance, don’t say to your spouse, “I thought you’d be over this by now,” or ask, “When will you move on?” What your spouse needs to hear is, “I love you,” “I’m here for you,” “I’m praying for you.” If your spouse expresses a desire to talk to someone, a friend, pastor, or counselor, encourage them and help make it happen.
Don’t tell them you think they’re doing okay on their own. When you see them making an effort and having a “good day”, tell them you’re proud of how strong they are in hard times. Build them up, encourage them. Be intentional to not make them feel like a burden, but rather make them feel like a priority and a privilege to serve.
Grief is hard, make no mistake about it. Remind yourself that, just as your spouse is not alone you're not alone either. God is with you both. He is with your spouse as they are grieving and he is with you as you love, support, and serve.
God will give you the strength you need to walk this road with your spouse. He is faithful, loving, and merciful. He never tires of hearing us cry out to him. So, as you guide your spouse through their grief, let the Lord guide you.
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