How Grief and Loss Impacts Your Relationships
Grief and loss is a complex and challenging process that many of us face at one time or another in our lives. Within one year, I lost two close family members. And as such, my empathy has only deepened for others due to these experiences.
In my practice, I work with many cases of grief and loss. I am especially helped by my previous experience in pastoral care when I worked in ministry several years ago.
Indeed, grief and loss can result from a variety of events in our lives. The death of a loved one tends to be the most impactful for many. However, loss of career, a significant change in finances, loss of good health, a divorce, a change of living or academic environment, loss of a friendship, loss of a pregnancy, and even the loss of innocence and trust due to a past traumatic experience, can all contribute to a sense of deep sorrow.
Here, I will focus on the loss of a loved one as I work with this quite often in my practice. The loss of someone close to us is, without a doubt, one of the most agonizing events each person faces at some point in their life. And finding oneself without the presence of that individual can cause a shockwave of disbelief and distress.
Here are some things to know around the impact of grief and loss on our lives and our relationships:
Differences in mourning can cause added stress:
The process of mourning is unique to everyone. Each person's coping style, beliefs about the end of life, the circumstances that brought about the passing, and the presence or absence of a support system all affect how we grieve.
You might find yourself not wanting to be alone and instead feel the need to connect more intentionally with others. On the other hand, you may want to withdraw, or you may find that you try to distract yourself with over involvement in work, or other activities or even use substances as an escape.
Because we all handle grief differently, you may have an expectation of how loved ones or close friends should react, either expecting them to be there for you or possibly share the same feelings as you about the loss.
However, since this is a distinctive process for each person and the fact that your friends or loves ones may not have had the same relationship as you did with the individual who passed, you may find your expectations unmet. Some clients I've worked with have often found that close family members do not provide the solace or compassion that they want and need.
Ultimately this compounds the devastation that you may feel. I have helped clients whose spouse's or family members have asked such questions as "when will you get past this?" or "don't you think it's time you got on with your life?", or remark "you're not doing enough to help yourself move past this."
Both men and women are equally saddened and stunned as they contend with these types of reactions from close friends and family who are critical about or have difficulty with how they are mourning. Sometimes those closest to you may briefly pull away emotionally or physically as they try to comprehend what you are going through.
Grief changes the nature of relationships:
It is essential to realize that your relationship with your friends, family, partner, or spouse will be affected and thus change. Some changes may lead to a positive experience as these individuals may rally around you. Many times, it is not as positive. These changes, whether positive or negative, have a lot to do with the personal stressors that each individual experiences as they navigate the feelings that are common to the grief and loss process.
You might expect that sadness may be the most prevalent feeling that one would have, but there is a roller coaster of emotions such as guilt, anger, disbelief, denial, and more that are part of the grief and loss experience. The impact of these feelings can challenge the previous dynamics of your relationship, sometimes exacerbating already present issues.
Even though it is upsetting and distressing to experience this shift in your relationships, recognize those closest to you are going through their process of mourning. This may include their perception of losing what they have come to expect in your relationship with them.
Realize that as you try to cope with the loss, and find new ways to move on, your clarity and prior ways of thinking and being will be affected. You may also find that the role you may have previously played in your relationships, such as being the "fixer," the problem-solver, or the one others relied on is now changed. As a result, close friends and family may feel equally challenged by adjusting to your new role and needs. This adjustment can place yet more strain on the dynamics of your relationships.
Remember, any change, significant or minor, can create a sense of loss. And when your relationship changes or you change in the relationship, this places unintended stressors on your interpersonal dynamics and can result in the other party feeling disoriented and oft times uncertain how to respond.
Honor your healing:
Do not allow yourself to be discouraged by what may appear as the unsupportive actions of others. First and foremost, try not to take their reactions personally. You will only increase your own pain if you do. This isn't very easy, I know, however, like you, they are doing the best they can with what they know. Instead, continue to focus on your own healing while being as clear as you can about what you are feeling and going through, expressing what your needs are without attachment to how they should respond.
Additionally, although it may seem counterintuitive, it may be beneficial to seek out additional sources of support versus relying exclusively on close family members or friends. In the long run, it will be healthier for you and those closest to you and lessen the stress on your relationships.
Resources such as bereavement groups like Grief Share or online support groups may be helpful. Similarly, you might find help and comfort in a faith-based group to which you belong. Working with these resources may not only promote your own healing but also help with forgiving those were not able to be there for you as you grieved. Seeking help from a mental health professional can also provide guidance and understanding.
As you adjust to your new normal - know that healing is possible. Remember, no set time can be ascribed to your grieving and subsequent healing process. Your process is yours alone. Honoring that can be a guide to others and set the foundation as you move forward.
If you have or are experiencing a grief and loss event, or having challenges with relationships as a result, and would like help and support, please feel free to reach out to me today.
Simone Finnis, LMFT is the founder and clinical director of Simple Therapy Now. Simone works with individuals, couples and families promoting growth, transformation and renewal through positive therapeutic solutions.
You can reach Simone directly at 954-356-2903 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.