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What You Need to Do When a Partner or Spouse Dies

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The death of a partner is one of the most stressful losses you may face in life. When two people live together, they become emotionally dependent on each other to some degree. There are some couples who are so dependent upon each other that each partner feels like ‘a half’ and together they make ‘a whole.’ Other couples remain distinct, independent individuals inside the relationship and they are not very dependent on the other.

The degree of your independence in the relationship will generally determine the grief work that you will have to undertake to come to terms with the death of a spouse or partner.

People who were in an emotionally dependent relationship and who identified themselves by their partner not only will have the task of grieving their partner’s death – but they will also have the task of learning how to be an independent person. People who maintained their independence and individual identities during their relationship/marriage will find it a bit easier to move toward autonomy after the death of their partner. However, even the most independent individual will feel the void when a partner dies.

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Issues you will have to face when a partner dies

New responsibilities

Each partner in a relationship has a role. With that role came responsibilities. When a partner or spouse dies, they are no longer there to hold up their portion of the relationship. All of the responsibilities—whether they are financial, emotional, family or household—now fall on the surviving partner. When your partner dies, you will have to assume their role and it can be very frightening and awkward. Dealing with these new responsibilities while you are grieving is a monumental task.

You may find that things in life that your partner took care of are looming before you like insurmountable mountains. You may be forced to deal with finances, yard and automobile maintenance, household chores, caring for small children, shopping, etc. If you have minor children, you now take on the sole responsibility of parenting.

Social awkwardness

When a partner or spouse dies, you may feel that you no longer fit into your old life. When you are around your old friends you may feel terribly awkward and lonely. If your social life centered on your partner’s friends, work and family – you may wonder if you even belong with those groups of people, now.

Dealing with lack of intimacy

The absence of emotional and physical intimacy is something that a grieving partner will be faced with. The need to talk and share and to touch and be touched does not go away when a partner dies. These feelings will generally go unsatisfied. It is important that grieving spouses/partners do not rush into another marriage simply because they are missing intimacy. A new, sudden marriage after the death of a spouse may bring more stress than learning how to cope with your unfulfilled yearnings.

Tips for coping with the death of a spouse or partner

1. Write down the responsibilities of your deceased mate. And ask yourself the following:

  • Which ones are necessary?
  • Which ones can you assume the role in?
  • Which responsibilities are optional and can be let go?
  • Which ones will you need outside assistance with?

Seek out help, training or assistance that will help you learn how to fulfill the responsibilities you do not feel adept at performing.

2. If you were in a relationship that was full of conflict, do not place all of the blame on your shoulders. Identify the strengths and weaknesses in both you and your partner and try to view your relationship realistically.

3. Do not be too hasty in making financial decisions.

4. Look for ways to deal with your emotional and physical intimacy needs. Acquiring a new pet, getting regular massages, spending time with young children and even hobbies can be constructive ways to deal with these needs.

5. Understand that grieving takes time, hard work, courage, and determination.

6. Do not be afraid of the pain you feel. Try to feel the pain and work through it. Try to avoid escaping your pain in drugs, medications, alcohol, sexual relationships, excessive work or physical activities.

When you are grieving the loss of a spouse/partner, do not try to go through the grieving process all by yourself. Talk to friends and family about what you are feeling and experiencing, if you are comfortable doing so. However, you may find that it is easier to talk to strangers about how you are feeling than the people that know you and who knew your partner. For this reason, be open to seeking out support groups either in your community or online. Talking to people who are going through the same type of loss can go far in helping you feel understood.

Recommended reading about loss

For more information and advice on coping with the loss of a partner, take a look at the following books:

How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies
Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief
Widow To Widow: Thoughtful, Practical Ideas For Rebuilding Your Life
Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One

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