We all experience grief and loss at one point or another. Sometimes periods of grief can affect our ability to connect with our loved ones. We recently received a wonderful question from one of our listeners.
“My wife and I are grieving due to loss and it is something we are trusting God with and through, but this is an odd space to be in to think about or even bring up sex. I know things need to look different but help to navigate this would be appreciated. Can you do a podcast episode or a blog or something on how to think about intimacy while walking through grief?”
We’re glad you asked! This blog post is to answer, in part, about grief, loss, and intimacy. We so appreciate the vulnerability it took to ask this question, and hope that this blog post will help shed some light on how to continue to have a healthy sex life through grief, pain, and loss.
How Are You Showing Up For Each Other?
One of the most important aspects to working through this time of grief is to show up for each other. A lot of the time, when grieving or going through loss, it is easy to turn away from your spouse and other loved ones and turn inwards towards your own feelings. We have two different tendencies. The first is to cling to each other and the second is to become avoidant and pull back. Learning to use the bond we have and to find a healthy balance of leaning on and clinging to your spouse while at the same time being able to stand on your own two feet will be immensely helpful in working through grief and loss in your marriage relationship.
We as a human race were designed to bond. Bonding with our caretakers keeps us safe as young children. As we grow older, the hope is that we will then form an attachment with another who often becomes our spouse or our partner and we bond deeply with them. We lean on them for support during times of trial and look to them for an uplifting hand or a shoulder to cry on. Work together. Grow together. Let your spouse support and love you even during times when it is extremely difficult to do so. Work through the stages of grief which we will discuss next and let your spouse help you through them.
Stages of Grief
There are five main stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
When we lose someone or something important to us, it is natural to reject the idea that it could be true. In turn, we may isolate ourselves to avoid reminders of the truth. Others who wish to comfort us may only make us hurt more while we are still coming to terms with the loss. We don’t typically choose to be in denial, it is just the way that our brain processes this loss in a way to protect us against the pain we are feeling.
When it is no longer possible to live in denial, it is common to become frustrated and angry. We might feel like something extremely unfair has happened to us and wonder what we did to deserve it. You may feel angry at yourself for trusting a doctor with care for your loved one, or angry for not saying or doing something differently. Many people stay in this stage for a very long time as it is scary to move past it and be vulnerable enough to start healing.
In this stage, we might somehow seek to change the circumstances of the situation causing their grief. For example, a religious person whose loved one is dying might seek to negotiate with God to keep the person alive. Bargaining may help the grieving person cope by allowing them a sense of control in the face of helplessness.
In this stage, we feel the full weight of our sadness over the loss. Feeling extremely down in the wake of a loss is normal; however, it is important to be aware that clinical depression is different from grief, and they are treated differently by mental health professionals.
Eventually, the grieving person may come to terms with their loss. Accepting a loss does not necessarily mean the person is no longer grieving. In fact, many grief experts say that grief can continue for a lifetime after a major loss, and coping with the loss only becomes easier over time. Waves of grief can be triggered by reminders of the loss long after it has happened and long after the person has “accepted” it. These waves may also trigger a crossover into any of the other four stages of grief.
The first coping mechanism we typically use in grief is also the first stage of grief- denial. By avoiding the truth and pushing against the pain we are trying to protect ourselves. There are many other coping mechanisms that tend not to be overly helpful, such as alcoholism, heavy drug use, and shutting out all other people that care about us. These coping mechanisms tend to help us numb the pain we are feeling. They are a bandage that don’t actually help us heal long term. These are considered unhealthy or avoidant coping strategies.
There are also healthy, or active, coping mechanisms. Some of these include turning to a trusted individual for help and support through your grief, using your spirituality to feel more able to overcome your loss, or focusing on self care. Self care is a big one that encompasses many different items. Examples of self care can include:
- Starting a new hobby
- Reconnecting with family and friends
- Practicing relaxation techniques
- And much more!
Strive to find the coping mechanisms that work for you. If you are struggling with an unhealthy or avoidant coping strategy, talk to your spouse about how they can help you turn from this and to a healthier mechanism. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You have people in your life that care about you and want the best for you always.
Our Culture and Grief
In our culture, especially in the United States where we are based, we look at grief as something extremely scary. We don’t give ourselves enough permission to feel what we are feeling and be vulnerable with ourselves and those around us. We tend not to wear our emotions on our sleeves, wanting others to think that we are okay and we are moving on quickly. But that is simply not how the heart works.
The truth is, we are never going to quit grieving a loss completely. We simply learn how to handle the emotions surrounding that loss better over time. So we won’t forget, that’s not how we’re designed. But the pain of it and the ability to move forward and to function in a healed manner will come if we allow ourselves to move through that metaphorical tunnel and to work through the stages of grief.
Working Through Grief in Marriage
In every marriage, there is sex and there is intimacy. They are two different things that should tie together. Sex is the physical act of intercourse. Intimacy is trust. It is connection and safety, it is a way to feel closer together that can often lead to sex. When we are falling in love with someone, we begin to have an intimate relationship with them where we learn to trust them, share things with them, and feel safe in their care. Intimacy must come first in a healthy relationship, then lead to the physical sex, the act of two bodies becoming one. Realizing this and understanding where your relationship is at will help you know how to proceed in working through grief together.
Assuming that a couple has a fairly healthy sex life to begin with before a loss occurs, there are tips to help them work through this grief. If your sex life isn’t healthy to begin with, this grief will just pile on making the problems worst, so you will need to start at the beginning to make anything better. But for those who have a relatively healthy sex life to begin with, try some of the following to help your relationship grow through grief:
- Analyze how you are using your marriage relationship to work through this grief. Are you leaning into and on each other? Or are you turning away?
- Give yourself permission to occasionally put those feelings of grief and sorrow in a box for a short while and just have fun with your spouse again. This in no way makes you a bad person. You need to be able to have these moments with your spouse to continue to grow together and be able to get through this.
- Ask your partner what they need from you right now. They may need more support than you realize, or they may need a little bit of space. Listen to and respect their answer, and ask them to do the same for you.
- Realize you most likely are experiencing these emotions in a different way than your spouse and that is ok. Your feelings are valid, as are they. Don’t expect them to grieve the way you do, and don’t judge them for grieving differently.
- Take care of yourself, and encourage your spouse to do the same. When we are grieving, it is often easy to let slide the little things that help us feel better. So be sure to focus on self care and relaxation through this time of stress and grief.
- If nothing else is working, consider seeing a marriage therapist. They will be able to help you work through this time of grief in your marriage in a healthy way, and can be a place to open up those feelings you may be hiding deep down.
Working through grief is hard. We never want to think about the possibility of losing a loved one or someone or something else that means a lot to us, and this can make it hard to be prepared in any way when this loss occurs. You have someone there for you that loves you. Let them help you through this grief process and help them through as well as you both experience these feelings of grief. Allow yourself to feel the things you are feeling. Be open to sharing with those that are there for you, and be willing to turn to others. Try to find some healthy coping mechanisms on your own and with your spouse to grow closer through this difficult process. We hope this article helps you realize you are not alone and that you CAN do this. Keep going- we believe in you!
Like what you read? Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode here and download the Intimately Us app, the fun and sexy app for your marriage! It’s full of games, connecting activities, and ideas to increase connection and pleasure in the bedroom.