Marriage is full of ups and downs. If I’m having a tough day, hopefully my husband isn’t, and he can encourage me. Conversely, I strive to do the same for him. Tough day at work? What do you need from me today?
Even if we have the same need, we can pray together—over and for each other. We can be each others support system.
But living through a season of crisis or trauma, like grief over a miscarriage or the death of a child, will knock down a husband and wife. It will flatten both of you. If you are experiencing this pain, you’re both hurting, you’re both probably in shock, and there’s absolutely nothing either of you can do to permanently erase the others pain. You are in many ways, helpless.
How You Grieve
You’re probably familiar with the five or seven stage grief process model.
For decades, researchers thought this was a linear process. The individual moved through each step in a systematic order. Obviously those researchers had never experienced grief, right?
Every person who’s suffered a deep loss knows the grief process is a fluid process. One moves back and forth between the stages. A song, a smell, even a particular color can trigger a response which puts us back at the beginning of grief, staring into the dark abyss of loss.
I believe individual grief processes vary not only because of personality and personal history, but they also directly correlate to that individual’s response to trauma.
FLIGHT response: you run from personal interaction.
FIGHT response: you attack to avoid personal interaction.
FAWN response: you serve others but do not interact personally with them.
FREEZE response: you are paralyzed (physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually), and avoid personal interaction through non-participation.
I’m not minimizing your experience by categorizing it. What I’m saying is, we each process grief differently, and part of the reason we do is, we all react differently to trauma. The death of a child, unborn or not, is a trauma and you are now living in the aftermath of that trauma.
Recognizing how you respond to trauma versus how your mate responds to trauma is essential to surviving this season of crisis. If you’re a “fighter” and your mate tends to “fawn” over others (even you), your grief journeys will be vastly different. One who tends to “freeze” might be unable to make the simplest decision or perform everyday tasks (like caring for other children), while the one who exhibits a “flight” response runs away at the slightest reminder of sorrow. You might both feel alone, misunderstood, and wonder if re-connection and intimacy will ever again be possible.
Unfortunately, this is where many couples become stuck. Their marriage and family don’t look like they envisioned. Consequently, distance grows between the husband and wife.
To survive a grief crisis, take these purposeful steps:
- Discover your individual trauma response. Find a therapist, counselor, or educational resource which can help you understand you and your mate’s responses.
I know you’re tired, I know you don’t want to learn anything right now. Do it anyway. Understanding will be a much-needed balm to your wounds now, and equip you to face any future seasons of crisis without negatively judging each other.
- Engage with a support system. Friends, family, your counselor, grief support groups—utilize every resource available.
If you broke both of your legs, you’d have casts from toes to hips, and you’d use crutches or a wheelchair. Most bones heal in about six weeks; this journey will take longer. Give yourself whatever time and resources you need to heal.
- Keep your spirits open to God and your hearts open to each other. God is the only one who can heal your pain, so pursue Him and each other.
Why do you need to pursue each other? Because you don’t need more grief from an additional loss. You can’t afford it right now. Stay as close as you can on every level. That’s tough, I know, especially when trauma responses clash. If all you can do is hold each other and share what God spoke to your heart that day, do it. But don’t shut each other out.
- Don’t resent your wounds. Jesus had visible scars after the Resurrection, but they didn’t control Him. Rather, He used them, so that others would recognize Him and relate to Him.
In God’s economy nothing is wasted—neither our time (second/minutes/hours), nor our wounds. If Jesus had resented His wounds and stayed in a place of “look what happened to me,” He would have been stuck and never reached the future the Father had waiting for Him. He could never have moved past his “Cross” experience (definitely a traumatic experience) to the destination He’d been heading toward all along—the other side of the Cross. God will heal your pain. One day He’ll use your experience to touch someone else and point that person to Him.
- Recognize this experience will change your marriage, but it doesn’t have to tear apart your marriage. Fight for your marriage, fight for your family, even though your marriage and family don’t look like you thought they would.
Both of you will change as a result of what has happened. And that’s okay if the change is that you each grow closer to God, and therefore, closer to each other. Change of this type will not come accidentally or incidentally, but only from careful and strategic steps toward God and each other. The enemy will try to use this experience to tear you apart. Don’t let him.
- Be gracious to yourself and have a righteous response to your mate.
Being gracious to yourself means don’t set your goals yourself. Ask God what His goals are for you, and reach for those. He knows your real limits.
Having a righteous response to your mate is exactly that: don’t react negatively to your mate’s moods or manifestations of trauma response. You behave like Jesus, no matter what. God will honor your obedience.
If you want a bit of extra encouragement or support after losing a baby I invite you to join our support group at Loved Baby Christian Pregnancy Loss Support & Encouragement .
Shellie Arnold writes and speaks on marriage and family issues. Her first novel The Spindle Chair (Book One in The Barn Church series) was just released. She can be found through her web site www.shelliearnold.com, where she offers her YOUR MARRIAGE resources products, FREE eCards, and maintains a marriage blog.
What happens when the miracle God gives you threatens to destroy your marriage?
Laurie Crane is happily married. And she is usually able to overlook her husband’s moments of quiet sadness. If only God would give them a child …
Pierce wants a child as badly as Laurie and has spent years praying alongside her. But he has no idea that a “yes” from God will unearth long-buried memories and bring their marriage to the brink of catastrophe.
In The Barn Church series first novel, The Spindle Chair, Shellie Arnold explores what happens when “happily ever after” becomes more than one couple can handle.