Men & Women Grieve Differently
When a baby dies, both parents grieve. Unfortunately, men and women grieve differently, so grieving can put a lot of strain on a marriage. If couples can understand these differences, then they can help each other through the process.
Talk openly about their pain.
Want to share their grief.
Are extremely emotional.
Have difficulty focusing.
Want someone to listen.
Cannot talk easily about their pain.
Feel awkward crying. “Real men don’t cry.”
Express grief while alone.
Can appear cold and uncaring.
Lose themselves in work or some task.
Want to “fix” it.
Things you can do:
Know this is a slow process.
Spend time together. You need a shared focus. (“Your marriage is a crucial source of strength.”)
Share your thoughts and feelings. LISTEN to one another. Use the ten-minute rule – Wives, set an egg timer for 10 minutes and promise your husband that you will take only that much of his time. Men are afraid that your emotional conversation will go on and on and that scares them.
Spend time alone. This is also necessary to heal. You need time to process and pray and grieve by yourself.
Be sensitive to one another. Say what comforts you, like “I feel loved and encouraged when…” or “There is nothing that will comfort me right now.” or “I don’t want you to fix my problem; I just need you to listen.”
Try not to be critical.
Men and women can share similar feelings as well as the different ones they have. Usually, if they experience the same feeling, they have it at a different time in the grieving process than their spouse does. Many times this isolates them from one another even more.
Resentment – of pregnant women, stupid people, even God
Loss of Control
Hurt by cruel remarks
Need to be alone
Need to talk
Apathy about everything
Overwhelmed by questions –
What if? Why? If only?
Over protective of loved ones
Seek out others – talk
Overwhelmed by emotions
Inability to concentrate
Guilt – if only or what did I do
Need to protect wife –
should have been able to stop it
Broken instead of strong
Unable to make decisions
Depth of despair
No one can help
Hurt by cruel remarks
A need to mask pain
Women expect men to
grieve the way they do
A need to fix it
They shouldn’t cry
A need to work on a project
Confused – esp. early on
Irritation toward wife
Inability to concentrate
In need of a listener
This poem by Deborah Gemmill from The Chance to Say Good-Bye explains how one grieving couple felt:
We sit – so far apart
I cannot touch your sorrow.
Even though our hearts have broken
Into identical pieces
We grieve – alone.
Unable to look at each other’s sadness
We look away.
How can I reach you – save you
When I must
The following includes a checklist for women and another for men. Each of you read through these lists and check off the responses that explain what you are going through. Use the completed checklists as a springboard for communication. They are reprinted from: When a baby dies: A handbook for healing and helping by R.K. Limbo & S.R. Wheeler (1993).
Responses to the Loss of a Baby:
___ I wonder if my husband feels badly about our baby. His grief doesn’t seem as great as mine.
___ I’m pregnant again, but I’m afraid to tell anyone. I can’t stand the pain of having to tell them something happened again.
___ I feel so empty, emptier than I’ve ever felt before.
___ I don’t like the body changes I’ve experienced since I was pregnant. I feel too fat/thin, or my body is:
___ I have experienced unpleasant physical symptoms such as aching arms, fast heartbeat, tiredness, butterflies in my stomach, always nervous, or ____________.
___ Loneliness and distance – Nobody understands me anymore. I feel all alone sometimes.
___ Nostalgia for “old self” – I sometimes feel like I’ll never feel “normal” again like I used to. Will I ever be the same?
___ Emotional swings – My mood can change so fast – one minute I’m up and the next I’m down. I feel like I can’t keep up with it.
___ Increased dependency needs – I find myself wishing to be protected and taken care of more than before.
___ I find myself feeling obsessed with getting pregnant again. It seems like I’d feel much better if I could look forward to another baby.
___ I’m so afraid of getting pregnant again. I don’t think I could go through losing another baby again.
___ I think about the baby all the time. It’s like I can’t get it out of my mind. I wonder if that’s normal.
___ I don’t feel attractive anymore. I’m worried that my husband will lose interest in me.
___ I hate having sex. How can we be doing that when our baby has died?
___ Since the loss, my husband and I have sex more often. I wonder if this is normal.
___ I find myself having scary thoughts about my husband or surviving children being killed in an accident or something
___ My dreams frighten me. They are so real. I dream about:
___ My breasts ache to nurse my baby. Sometimes I feel a letdown of milk.
___ I keep thinking over and over, “What did I do to cause this? I must have done something.”
___ We didn’t really want to be pregnant. I’m wondering if that’s why our baby died.
___ My husband and I seem to talk and talk but never get anything resolved.
___ I’m so afraid that I’ll forget my baby.
___ I find that I can’t concentrate. I’m forgetful and just can’t seem to keep it all together. Am I going crazy?
___ My husband and I don’t talk about important issues. We don’t seem to have as much in common anymore. We seem distant.
___ I know my husband has lots of feelings. Why can’t he talk to me about them?
___ My husband seems to be moving ahead more rapidly than I am. He’s all involved in work and seems back to normal.
___ I’m jealous of pregnant women and women with babies. I see them everywhere.
___ Our friends or relative had a healthy baby at the same time our baby was due. How can I stand watching that child grow up?
___ We can never seem to agree about what to do socially. One of us wants to go out and the other wants to stay home.
___ I’ve been sick a lot since the baby died. Does that have anything to do with grief?
___ I find I want to talk and talk about the loss. More than anything else, I need someone to listen to me.
___ I think a lot about what it would be like if I were still pregnant. I’d like to have a day when I could pretend I was still pregnant.
___ I still look at maternity clothes and plan the baby’s room. Is that OK?
___ We’re both back at work, but I still seem to be doing most of the work at home. It isn’t fair.
___ Sometimes I get so angry at the baby for doing this to me.
___ I feel like so much weight is on my shoulders. Everyone looks to me to be strong.
___ I’m afraid I’ll make my partner feel worse if I show my emotions, so I’ll keep them to myself.
___All she does is cry. I’m tired of seeing her sad.
___Decrease in sexual desire: “I feel myself being turned off by my partner.”
___Decrease in sexual activity: “My partner and I don’t have sex as often as we did before the baby died. I’d like to have sex more often but she doesn’t want to.”
___I wonder if I did anything to cause the baby to die. Did I drink too much, have negative thoughts, or fill-in-the-blank.
___I find myself wishing we could be normal again – will that ever be?
___Resentment: “It’s not always logical, but sometimes I resent my partner since we lost the baby. She gets all the attention.”
___Withdrawal: “My partner seems to have withdrawn love from me and dwells on the fact that our baby died.”
___Dependency: “My partner seems to need more than I can give right now in terms of both attention and affection.”
___Distance or communication problem: “ My partner and I seem more distant since we lost the baby. We don’t talk about important issues; we don’t seem to have much in common anymore.”
___I’m concerned whether or not we should become pregnant again… What will happen to us if we lose another baby?
___Attention: My attention needs are greater than they used to be. I feel like I have to compete with ______________ for attention.
___I didn’t think we were ready to have a baby. I worry that my thoughts caused the death.
___We can’t agree on when to get pregnant again – it’s starting to cause a conflict.
___I’m experiencing unpleasant physical symptoms such as inability to sleep, increased/decreased appetite, fast heartbeat, butterflies in my stomach, always nervous, etc.
___I’m not able to concentrate on anything. I’m very forgetful. Is that normal?
___My dreams frighten me – they’re so real. I dream about:
___My partner and I seem to talk and talk, but never get anything resolved.
___My partner seems to talk to ________ more than she does to me – why can’t she share her feelings with me?
___I hate coming home from work and finding her depressed again. Can’t we be happy once in a while?
___Our friends (sister, brother, etc.) had a healthy baby at the same time our baby was due. How can I stand watching that child grow up?
___I’ve been sick a lot since the baby died. Does that have anything to do with grief?
___I find that I want to talk and talk about the loss – more than anything else, I need someone to listen to me.
___Finances: I am worried about how we are going to make out financially – there are so many bills to pay.
___I feel like such a failure. Other men have healthy babies – why couldn’t I?