When Casey and her husband lost their two-year-old daughter unexpectedly, the crushing
sorrow could have destroyed their marriage. “Grief tends to exaggerate personalities and
magnify what already is,” says Casey. Instead, the couple discovered that, if they stewarded the
experience well, grief could actually strengthen their relationship.
Research tells us that 12 percent of marriages end after the death of a child. While many
couples weather the storm of grief, few have the tools in advance to approach such depth of
suffering. Most have to learn as they go, picking out a trail through the rubble of loss. Grief takes
its toll on their relationship, and both husband and wife carry deep scars from that season.
Whether you and your spouse suffer the unimaginable grief of child loss, or you navigate grief in
another way, you can learn the skills you need to cultivate your relationship in the most trying of
times. You can practice intimacy now that will bear fruit in a crisis later. Grief need not break
your marriage. Instead, grief can manifest God’s goodness in your unity, mutual care, and love.
Consider these three ways you can love your spouse through grief and build a marriage that
withstands the sufferings life will inevitably bring.
You Be You
Whether you’ve been married so long you’re starting to look alike or you’re newlyweds still
figuring things out, no doubt you’ve struggled to differentiate your feelings, values, or
preferences from your spouse’s at some point. It’s a hashtag-worthy phrase, but when it comes
to loving your spouse through grief there’s little better advice: #youbeyou.
Grief is both a universal and a unique experience. Even when we share a loss, like Casey and
her husband, we each come to that loss with our own experiences, hurts, and struggles. We
each lose our particular relationship with that person. As isolating as it might sound, there’s no
one—not even your spouse—who can live inside the intimacy of your loss but you.
While this might sound scary, it can actually free us when we honor this individuality in our
marriage. We can resist polarization, pushing apart because of differences, and instead, respect
our partner’s grief experience as his or her own. When your spouse invites you to “be you” in
your grief, you can cry as you need without apology. You can talk or not talk without judgment.
You can acknowledge that each of us grieves in different ways, that there’s no single “right way”
to mourn the loss of someone you love. Casey says, “Typically, I want to go to the cemetery
more often than my husband, but he has wanted to hold on to items that belonged to our
daughter more frequently. We don’t chastise or expect the other to feel the same, but give
space for each other to grieve in unique ways.”
What Do You Expect?
Chances are that, by the time you’ve reached adulthood, you’ve watched someone else grieve.
Perhaps you lost a grandparent and watched your family grieve at home. Maybe your school
suffered the tragic death of a student, or your community watched as a beloved leader
succumbed to disease. However you’ve been informally educated about death and grief, you
bring these lessons into your marriage.
Unfortunately, most of us haven’t been schooled in how to grieve well. We believe cultural
myths that tell us “boys don’t cry” or “you should be over this by now,” and we carry these ideas
into our marriages. When grief doesn’t play out as we’d anticipated, we wonder, “What did I
As you honor your spouse’s individuality, you’ll also want to take time to consider what
expectations you’ve brought into your marriage about grief and how it operates. Much like we
must discuss financial or sexual expectations with our spouse, take time to discuss grief
expectations too. This increased communication will reinforce your uniqueness and also help
you build a beautiful shared foundation as you navigate loss together.
Does grief mean increased engagement with family members and friends? Talk about that
expectation before you invite folks over for dinner after the funeral. Do you think that grieving
should only be done in private? Share your concerns with your spouse and together determine
where and when you can most authentically do this important work. In practicing healthy
communication, you’ll develop skills that will benefit your marriage when words feel most fragile.
Take a Load Off
Grief is a wound that doesn’t necessarily show on the outside. You can’t bandage a broken
heart, so it might be easy to forget that sorrow affects us in myriad physical ways. As you
process loss as a couple, you’ll need to make space for these other ways grief shows up.
Exhaustion. Changes in appetite. Diminished sex drive. Sleep disruptions. All of these and more
are natural, normal manifestations of grief in a person’s life. Beyond the stereotypical sadness,
your spouse may struggle with anxiety, depression, or mood swings as a result of his or her
bereavement. Chemical changes in the brain and gut may show up as irritability or
sluggishness, making you wonder, “Who is this person I’m married to?”
When you know that your spouse is grieving differently than you are and you’ve talked about
your expectations, you can, husbands, generously invite your wife to “take a load off”—to make
the space to care for the brokenness she carries in her body. Wives, you can serve your
husband in love by encouraging him to rest and repair without guilt or shame. Together, you can
care for each other as walking wounded, leaning on each other, encouraging each other, and
practically supporting each other in ways that will lead to physical, emotional, and relational
“The Lord has been so gracious to us in our grief, specifically through our marriage,” says
Casey of her season of loss. “God prepared us in ways we couldn’t have predicted, and we are
grateful.” As you attend with care to your spouse, you can prepare too. When you do, you’ll be ready to meet life’s sorrows hand in hand.
Have you heard of the The 31-Day Pursuit Challenge?
Every marriage begins with passion, purpose, and pursuit, but few stay that way. That’s why we wrote Husband in Pursuit and Wife in Pursuit Together, they make what we’re calling the 31-Day Pursuit Challenge. Couples are encouraged take the challenge together. We’re already starting to hear stories of transformed marriages! Are you up for the challenge?