When your partner suffers a major loss, it is an opportunity for the two of you to grow closer, whether the relationship is new or well-seasoned. However, if handled insensitively (no matter how well-intentioned), the opposite can easily occur, and a wedge between you will grow instead.
Here are six basic do's and don'ts to keep in mind when helping your significant other heal:
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1. Do: Say, "I want to support you, but I'm not sure how. Let me know what you need or want as you can."
Don't: Assume that you know what’s best for him now. We tend to offer the other person what we would like ourselves if we imagine ourselves in the same position. This may or may not be right for him.
2. Do: Remember that there is no one "right" way to grieve. Allow your partner to mourn in his or her way without judgment.
Don't: Urge your partner to behave the way you think he should, even if you think it would help him.
3. Do: Allow your partner to have lots of alone time and respect his or her way of processing the loss.
Don't: Hover, and keep trying to make him talk about it. Women often choose to emote openly and out loud. Men do too, but usually do it less and more quietly.
4. Do: Let your partner know you are there to listen and validate his feelings.
Don't: Offer your own opinions unless they are requested. If your partner is blaming or guilt-tripping himself unnecessarily, let him know you understand how he feels, but also gently try to relieve him of this burden and help him let it go.
5. Do: Take over chores that your partner usually does, unless it's therapeutic for him to do the chores and he wishes to continue as he’s healing.
Don't: Assume that all tasks and responsibilities will necessarily carry on as usual.
6. Do: Allow your partner to become self-involved for now and not, for instance, ask about your day.
Don't: Take it personally if your grieving partner seems unaware of your needs for a while.
Normal grieving may involve your partner becoming sullen and withdrawn for a few weeks. His appetite might wane and his sleep may be disrupted as well. There is no agreed-upon timetable for grieving. Much depends upon your partner's outlook, beliefs, temperament, and the circumstances surrounding the loss. If the loss is regarding the death of a loved one, the depth and duration of the adjustment period is also affected by the type and closeness of the relationship.
If your partner does not slowly but surely show signs of returning to basic self-care activities such as eating, drinking water, showering and dressing, he might be slipping into a depression that needs clinical intervention. If you are concerned this might be happening, mention it lovingly to your partner and do take steps to find him an excellent therapist through a healthcare practitioner you trust.
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