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The way you think about your relationships, the skills and attitudes you bring to them and the time and effort you put in can make all the difference. People are social creatures and relationships matter to us. We enjoy them, we cry over them and we're curious about how to get our relationships to be the way we want them. How well your relationships work can have a big impact on how satisfied you feel with life. Stimulating, resilient, satisfying relationships with partners, friends and family rank high on many people's wish list for a happy life.
Even the strongest relationships can be rocked by bereavement. A relationship psychotherapist explores how it may affect you as a couple and how to support each other through this difficult time..

As an individual going through bereavement, you may feel the bottom has fallen out of your world; as part of a couple, you have to work out how to support your partner while struggling with your own despair.

Patterns of grief
There's a recognised pattern of grief. It starts with shock and disbelief, moves into a period of yearning and anxiety. Then follows a time of anger and protest before sadness and moving on.

Of course, this pattern is only a generalisation - the intensity and length of each phase can vary hugely from person to person. There's no right or wrong way to grieve: how we mourn is as unique as we are.

For couples, these differences can cause additional distress. At a time when you desperately need to share your grief and feel close to someone, it can be difficult to understand why your partner isn't reacting in the same way as you.

Some of these differences are down to personality: some people naturally become more introverted and introspective, while others are more expressive and reach out. Further differences can result from childhood experiences of loss, and family messages about how grief should be managed.

Types of bereavement
Different bereavements bring their own challenges.

Lost parent - our relationship with our parents is unique, and partners can struggle to comprehend all that has been lost. Since the person who has lost the parent is likely to be struggling more, their partner is in a stronger position to provide support. Being there to listen and being aware of any anniversaries that might reawaken feelings of loss can help.

Lost pregnancy - wanted pregnancies are met with joy and expectations but, unfortunately, things don't always go to plan. Genetic difficulties may mean couples have to make difficult decisions about termination, while others experience inexplicable miscarriages. The nature of pregnancy means the mother may feel this loss more intensely than her partner; in turn, the partner may struggle to understand the depth of emotion. However, often fathers feel adrift in the mourning process, with little support or understanding of the loss they've also experienced.

Lost baby - if a baby is stillborn or lost in the first few months, the mother may be particularly absorbed by self-blame and reproach, wondering what she might have done wrong. Partners often try to offer rational support, but they too have to struggle with unanswered question "Why?"

Lost child - most people agree this is the greatest and most shocking bereavement any of us can face. With both parents sharing the grief so equally, it can be particularly difficult to accept differences in the mourning process. It's not uncommon for one partner to be in the anger stage, for example, while the other's stuck in sadness. Understanding that both are a natural part of the grieving process is essential. It's also common for one partner to take the coping role and be responsible for holding life together. It's important that you encourage each other to share such roles.

Helping each other
Although every grief situation and individual reaction is unique, you may find the following guidelines helpful for your relationship.

* Remember, you're both different and there's no right or wrong way to cope with loss.

* Make time to be together, both to share your feelings and talk about the future.

* Help and encourage each other to keep as many routines going as possible.

* Create opportunities to do pleasurable things together, such as going for a walk or watching a film.

* Encourage each other to take time for yourselves.

* Don't make any major changes in your life for at least 12 months.

* Allow yourselves to be upset or angry together, without feeling that one of you must lift the other.

* Remember to give each other plenty of physical affection.