There is nothing like the death of child. Life can’t ever be the same after it. People are not the same after it. Parents become inevitably transformed. Their whole beings, shifted. Their marriages, rocked and jilted by one of life's most unimaginable tragedies. Many believe divorce rates following the loss of a child, are markedly higher when compared to other couples. But, remember, it's not a definite. There are signs your marriage will survive the loss of a child.
Although the actual rates of divorce following the death of a child haven’t been explored in more than 10 years, one can assume that married couples dealing with such a tragedy have an incredibly tough road ahead of them. It’s a grieving journey. One that has no predictable outcomes, and one that has no set timeline. Everyone grieves differently.
Unfortunately through this grieving process, the reality is that some couples will inevitably split. Dr. Jessica Zucker, a clinical psychologist that specializes in pregnancy loss and miscarriage, says that sometimes a stressor as enormous as the loss of a child, can exacerbate existing issues that may have existed before. And it can also reveal a new dysfunction. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be worked through.
Zucker says even the most struggling couples can survive. There is no definitive way of knowing if a marriage is going to make it. Which is kind of the beauty of it. The most unsuspecting couples, the ones that look the most broken, can ultimately be repaired. "Some of us thrive and can decide to make a marriage stronger after something so tragic happens," says Zucker. And although no one can predict whether a couple’s marriage can survive the loss of a child, there are signs that the couple will ultimately make it.
Here are seven signs your marriage will survive the loss of a child.
1. You And Your Partner Are Being Honest With Each Other
When both partners are honest about their grief, it goes a long way towards working through the emotional pain. “I’ve seen some couples where they feel like their spouse is so sick of hearing them grieve that they just try to put on a happy face for them because they’re feeling kind of self-conscious,” Zucker says. Pretending you’ve adequately dealt with your grief, or lying about it, won’t bring true understanding to the relationship.
2. You Both Make A Mutual Commitment To Heal
Some people may never fully heal from such harrowing experience. But, both spouses need to be committed to making the relationship survive. That commitment can be agreeing to read books together, joining support groups or going to therapy.
3. You Honor Each Other’s Way Of Grieving
It’s unique for everyone. Some people are very vocal. Others become almost paralyzed and mute while grieving.
“Someone can seem like they’re doing OK one day, then a month later, it pops up," says Zucker, "so really trying to honor each person’s journey and know that grief can look different - it doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is in any less pain.” If spouses stay open-minded about what grief looks like, they’ll discover that everyone has their own way of showing (or not showing) their emotions. Everyone has their own way of dealing. And coping. And all on different timelines.
4. You And Your Spouse Connect Through Grief
The baseline is talking and communication for a connection between grieving spouses. That doesn’t necessarily mean emotional or deep conversations. It can be as simple as consistent check-ins throughout the day via text saying, "How are you feeling today?" People can get busy with work, travel and social commitments, but making a point to check in through the busyness, with your spouse, is key to surviving such a significant loss. It's also important to spend time together, whether it’s cuddling, taking walks, eating – just being together, even if there are no spoken words.
5. Both Of You Help Memorialize/Ritualize the Death
When a couple chooses to celebrate the life of their child in meaningful ways, it forces the spouses to work together, and be together. “It’d be beautiful for a couple to carve our time or do something to honor this child, even when they don’t want to,” says Zucker.
6. You Don't Turn Elsewhere For Support
Spouses sometimes turn to unhealthy substances like drugs or alcohol during times of tragedy. Doing so, is dangerous. And it risks excluding their spouses from the grieving process. But it's not just about substance or alcohol abuse either. Turning to another human being, a person who's not your spouse (a parent, a sibling, best friend) is counter-productive and possibly damaging to the relationship. Venting to someone else can have the unintended effect of pushing your spouse away. The best way spouses can support each other, is to turn to each other for help.
7. You Never Really Know If You're Going to Stay Together
Both comforting and unnerving is the ambiguity. As mentioned earlier, sometimes the most unsuspecting couples, who don’t show any of the above signs can end up turning things around. The positive part of this uncertainty is that it gives hope, to even the most seemingly hopeless couples. Although the immediate, knee-jerk reaction may be to try to be happy again, Zucker really believes that we need to take our time with grief, personally and communally.
“In our culture too many people are trying to get rid of their grief, and heal as quickly as possible – in the case of losing a child, there’s no way to rush that,” she says. And because she believes grief has no timeline, that means it’s never too late for a person or a couple to start their grieving and healing journey together.