Probably the worst experience a couple can go through is the death of their child. Generally, couples may anticipate that their parents or siblings may die during the couples' lifetime, but certainly they do not have any expectation that a child they loved and wanted and had hopes and dreams for will die. When a parent or sibling of one partner dies, the other partner is able to provide comfort and strength. This will probably not be the case when a child has died. The baby's death is a devastating loss for both partners and, with both trying to cope with what has happened, one partner may not be available to the other for comfort and support. In spite of your overwhelming individual grief, however, you can continue to grow together as a couple and to perhaps deepen your relationship with your partner. The primary emphasis should be on communication and honesty. Let your partner know what you are feeling; you should not expect your partner to be able to tell how you are feeling unless youtell him or her. In return, you should not assume that you know how your partner is feeling; give your partner the opportunity to tell you.
Good communication is not a skill that is inherent in many of us and you may find it difficult at first to fully share your thoughts and feelings with your partner. But it is well worth the effort. You should be aware, too, that your partner may not be thinking or feeling the same things you are. Studies have shown that there are marked differences in how men and women respond to the death of a baby and in how they work toward grief resolution. The differences may be partly explained by societal influences that begin to affect us early in life. For example, little boys are told not to cry and to be a "big boy" while little girls are allowed to be expressive. These influences carry over into adulthood. Women are permitted to express their emotions; men are admonished to "act like a man." Generally, women tend to externalize their thoughts and feelings and may be much more willing than men to verbalize, to cry and to reveal their emotions. Men, on the other hand, tend to internalize their thoughts and feelings and may find it difficult to reveal their emotions even to their partner. A man may not have the same sense of "connection" his partner had with the baby because he did not carry the baby and was not aware of the movements and personality of the baby as his partner was. Women may find it hard to resume their daily routine or to face their daily tasks while men may return to work and to seemingly face life within a relatively short period of time. These differences may cause the couple to feel that they are at odds with each other at a time when they should be there for each other. If the man is one who internalizes grief, the woman may feel that he does not care or that he did not love the baby as much as she did. Also, the man may feel that his partner is too emotional and is unnecessarily prolonging her grief. It is not unusual for a man to feel powerless to help his partner and to want to "fix" everything and make it right again. Many times a man will be so concerned with helping his grieving partner that he will delay his own grieving until he feels that his partner is over the initial intense grief. It is also not unusual for a man to grieve in private and his partner should not be concerned if he does not seem to be grieving as intensely as she is. If you understand that there will probably be very real differences in the way you and your partner react, and to remember that there is no "right" way to grieve, you may be able to avoid some of the difficulties many grieving couples encounter. And you must remember, too, that you are grieving as a couple as well as individuals.
There are many things you can do to help your partner work through his or her grief. Even though you are in the midst of a profound loss, you should give your relationship top priority. Again, communication is essential even if it is as subtle as a hug, a kiss, or simple listening. Understand that your partner may not be in the same "place" as you are in your grief and that's okay and normal. Give both you and your partner private time to work through individual grief. As much as you may not want to, you should plan some enjoyable activities together and give yourself permission to let go of your grief for short periods of time. In time, you will work through your grief and the foundation and commitment that began your relationship as a couple will continue.