by Carol Ruth Blackman
Losing a child affects parents in many ways. Survival skills are needed to keep your marriage strong after losing your baby. We'll look first at the differences between husbands and wives, then discuss some of the dangers to be aware of and include suggestions for successfully surviving the natural differences between a husband's and wife's grief and the dangers which arise after loss.
In marriage, two become one by turning to each other. In grief, two often turn away from each other becoming isolated and lonely. The deep pain of grief seems to wrap its victim in a cocoon as you focus on your agony. Bereavement makes us very self-centered at the exact time our spouse needs us for support. Pregnancy loss and infant loss sadly are not recognized as major losses to those who were not intimately associated with the child or pregnancy so you'll find yourself looking to each other for help in coping more than if it were a loss more readily recognized by society.
Your loss may represent a different meaning for each of you. Men and women both may be plagued with feelings of failure -- men especially because they are protectors and women because they are nurturers. Marriage can be strengthened deeply by shared sorrow, but it requires work to bring about the strengthening.
First we need to recognize some differences between men and women: Men and women tend to often fall into general differences simply due to our hormonal makeup. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule, and you may find in your marriage the roles seem reversed on some of these. Since we generally marry someone with a personality quite different from our own, we find that during grief the differences often make it hard for us to understand why our spouse grieves so differently than we do.
• Men usually talk for practical reasons whereas women tend to talk for recreation. Men talk about something, come to a solution and then go on. Women just want to talk about what has happened. Finding a solution is not always as important as just knowing someone is listening (preferably her husband).
• Men tend to approach situations with their heads -- thinking on facts and taking responsibility, and may feel a need to DO something after a loss; whereas women approach situations with their hearts and are more concerned with relationships, feelings, other people and rather than feel a need to be doing something, a woman likes to ponder the situation.
• Men often think more about the overall picture while women are concerned with the event's details.
• Men usually are more caught up in work outside the home but women are intricately intertwined with their homes and families to the extent that they perceive them as part of their personality or worth. This probably is one reason grief generally lasts longer for women.
• Men need to know they've succeeded which is vital for their self-esteem. Women also have a real need for success but their need for security, especially after loss, often outweighs other needs. A bereaved mom needs to be reminded she was a good mother and did all she could have done for the child's sake. To satisfy her deep need for security she looks to her husband and family. She measures her security by her perception of her value to others.
• Men tend to be more reserved in expressing emotions, whereas women are more encapsulated by their emotions, feeling a real need to express what they're feeling by talking. Friction arises when a wife feels her husband is insensitive or uncaring about their loss because he doesn't cry, talk about the child or seems to re-adjust to work soon after loss. Husbands are often frustrated by their wife's emotional outpouring, inability to handle social situations, depression, and lack of desire to resume normalcy of life. Remember too that some people are unable to cry in front of others, even their own spouse.
To survive requires you become as a third person to each other. Listen to your spouse -- accept their form of grief as you accept how their normal personality differs from yours. When you interject your grief timetable on your partner you are creating a prisoner that will hinder you from sharing your grief with each other.