Losing a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth leads causes an increase in suffering, including disbelief, grief, shock, denial, anger, sadness and anxiety. These strong and primal emotions can take a toll on your marriage relationship. Recent research published by Dr. Katherine Gold and her colleagues in the journal, Pediatrics, indicates that couples who experience miscarriage or stillbirth have a greater chance of divorce than couples who experience the live birth of a child.
Protecting your marriage through deep tragedy requires commitment, understanding and hard work, even while you are suffering yourself. Use the following five key points to help guide you in staying connected to your partner in this difficult time.
1. Understand that you are both hurting, and give space for differences.
Research shows that while there are some differences in the way women and men experience miscarriage, there are also many similarities. It is normal for women to experience feelings of physical trauma, deep loss, loss of self-worth, grief, guilt and a loss in sexual desire. In addition, woman’s grief may last for several years, even after a subsequent live birth. Men experience grief, a deep sense of loss, frustration, guilt, rage, loss of self-worth, feelings of having a lack of control and sexual dysfunction. However, men often feel they need to put their grief aside and support their spouses, so they may experience a delayed grief reaction.
It is not easy to open your heart and be selfless and understanding while you are in pain, but this is a part of emotional growth and maturity. So, while there are some differences in women and men’s experience of miscarriage, remember that you are both hurting and need each other.
2. Develop communication skills
Good communication is a skill-set that can be learned. It might seem overwhelming, but it can be broken down to a few simple steps.
Set aside some time to talk
Take turns talking
Strive to listen to and understand your spouse
Manage your own emotions – if you are getting overwhelmed while talking with your spouse, take a break until you can gather your thoughts
Take responsibility for yourself – use “I” statements
Realize you are different from each other and you can still be married
Treat each other with respect and kindness
3. Take responsibility for your own feelings; do not play the blame game
This is a basic tenet in most relationship counseling. It is normal to seek comfort from your spouse when you are feeling abandoned and in grief. But, remember you are responsible for your own feelings, and be realistic about how much your spouse can comfort you. Grief is a natural emotion and takes years to process. Take responsibility for your feelings, let yourself experience the loss and look for ways to help yourself, such as online support groups, family and ritual.
4. Grief is a normal process: Be kind to each other
Educate yourself about the normal process of grief. It takes time to heal. It is not unusual to for it to be about a year before acceptance of a death can take place. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and to feel the grief on a body level. You may long for your unborn child for a lifetime. But take responsibility for your own feelings. Refrain from directing your feelings of anger and blame at your spouse. How we grieve is a highly individualized process. But, if your feelings of extreme depression, anxiety and lack of motivation last for several months, don’t feel that seeking professional help is stigmatizing.
5. Reach out for professional grief and relationship counseling
You don’t need to suffer along. If your feelings are interfering with your daily life and you cannot seem to manage your marriage on your own, then don;t be afraid to ask for some help. There are many licensed therapists out there, experienced in grief and couples counseling. The best way to find a couples therapist whom you are compatible with is by asking friends and families. At your job, there may be Employee Assistance Program services that help you find a compatible therapist in your area. Many times, these services are fully or partially covered by the medical insurance for which you already pay.
Remember you are not alone, seek the help you deserve.
Gold, K.J., Sen, A., Hayward, R.A. (2010). Marriage and Cohabitation Outcomes After Pregnancy Loss Pediatrics, June, 2010, 125(5), 1202-1207. Retrieved April 27, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2883880/?tool=pubmed
Kersting, A., Dorsch, M., Kreulich, C., Reuttmann, M., Ohrmann, P. Baez, E., & Arolt, V. (2005). Trauma and grief 2 -7 years after termination of pregnancy because of fetal anomalies. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, March2005, 26(1), 1- 9. Retrieved March 9, 2011 Proquest Databases.
Serrano, F. and Lima, M. (2006). Recurrent miscarriage: Psychological and relational consequences for couples. .Psychology & Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, Dec2006, 79(4), 585-594. Retrieved April 27, 2011 from Proquest Databases.
ScienceDaily (2011). Women who miscarry continue to have mental health problems, even after healthy birth. Retrieved March 12, 2011 from http://bit.ly/hDxseW
Worden, J. W. (2002). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. New York: Springer Publishing Co.