"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring – all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
~Gary Chapman in The 5 Love Languages
Traveling through grief after child loss is difficult on your own. Sometimes it can be helpful to have someone on the journey with you, like your significant other. However, at times adding someone else's emotions and grief to yours can make grieving even more challenging and strain your relationship.
Remembering to nurture your relationship has always been an important factor in creating a love that lasts. This is even more important now during your time of grieving. Borrowing techniques from relationship guru, Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages, ideas from Gretchen Rubin's, The Happiness Project, and advice from other books about grief after child loss I have developed my own list of 5 things to do to heal together as a couple after the loss of your child. I have used these techniques since Nora has died in my relationship with Nick and focused heavily on these ideas during the month of May with the focus on healing through your relationships.
5 Ways to Heal Together as a Couple After Child Loss
- Say "I Love You." Gary Chapman in the Five Love Languages refers to this love language as "Words of Affirmation" and writes that, "Many couples have never learned the tremendous power of verbally affirming each other." Often times we need to load up on kind, affirming words and statements when we are experiencing intense pain, grief, and insecurity around the fragility of life. Affirming your partner daily and reassuring them that you still love them deeply, despite the loss of your child, can strengthen your relationship by validating that even in times of great struggle you have each other's love to lean on for strength.
- Hold Hands and Cuddle. To Nick and I this one came natural after the loss of Nora. As I have mentioned before, we were physically drawn to each other. Which I believe occurred because we were missing that important piece of touch that comes from holding a newborn. So we held each other close instead. We need touch as human species. It's essential for human life and growth. Studies have shown that touch increases the chemical oxytocin in our brain, which when released in the body makes us feel safe and connected. Wouldn't you want more of this chemical rushing through your neural pathways during your greatest time of grief and sorrow? I know I do, and I believe it has helped me personally with my pain and connected Nick and I in healing our grief.
- Go on a Date. I know you might not find any joy in going out and having fun on a date right after the death of your child, but when you are ready grief and child loss experts recommend it. In Father's Grieve, Too it is recommended that you keep dating. You can reminisce about why you fell in love, how you met, and share what you like about each other. Gary Chapman refers to this love language as "Quality Time," which can help you and your partner re-connect and remember that you are more then just a grieving parent. Also, when you do spend "Quality Time" together, remember to shut off the T.V., put down the cell phone, and just be with each other and revisit why you fell in love. It might bring a little light back into your life and marriage during this time of darkness.
- Give "Proofs of Love" In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin says, "Whatever love I might feel in my heart, others will see only in my actions." So go out and "do" things to show your significant other how much you appreciate them. The act of "doing" for others was labeled as a love language by Gary Chapman as "Acts of Service." In your time of grief help each other out around the house, leave a note telling your husband how much you appreciate him being supportive of your grief, or send your wife a text telling her how you appreciate all the work she put into mothering and taking care of your deceased child. These little "proofs of love" will brighten your day and hopefully lift some of your sorrows, while reminding us how much we appreciate our significant other.
- Make Space...But Keep Lines of Communication Open. Not everyone grieves the same way. This often times is especially true for couples trying to manage the different ways in which the opposite gender communicates and deals with emotions. Sherokee Ilse writes about the need for space and open communication in Couple Communication After A Baby Dies, where she says, "Our different wavelengths got in the way sometimes." In order to remedy this common problem, she advises to, "Understand your coping style, and communicate it to your partner." So, remember that you both need space to grieve differently, but don't isolate yourself from your partner. Remember to keep the lines of communication open so you can come back to each other when you are done being alone with your grief.
For more information about the secret to love that lasts check out
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
For more information about communication with in your relationship after a baby dies check out
Couple Communication After a Baby Dies, by Sherokee Ilse and Tim Nelson