Communicating in the Months Ahead
Excerpt taken from A Guide for Father's
by Tim Nelson
Inevitably the time comes when life seems to go on for everyone but you and your family. People quit asking how your partner is doing (or you, if they ever did!). They are less willing to let you talk about your child, and expect you to be “back to normal.” What they do not understand is that this is your “new normal.” While happiness will one day return to your life, you will likely see many things differently than you did before the death of your baby.
Because I bought into the idea that we should be moving on more quickly than we were, it was during this period of our grief that my wife and I experienced the most tension between us. Because we felt there must be something inherently wrong with our relationship.
Here are some things I learned:
- Be aware that sometimes men try to deal with their grief by staying busy and distracting themselves, but women often find comfort being more outward and expressive of their sadness. I recall coming home after a busy day at work, feeling like I was moving forward, only to find my wife sad and red eyed. Because I just could not face being sad, I was impatient and not very supportive.
- Take a few minutes each day to just listen to your partner’s feelings without trying to cheer her up or tell her she needs to get on with her life. Remind yourself of three things: at this stage, nothing you can say or do will fix her; it’s not your job to fix her; and finally, she most likely does not want to be fixed! At this point she simply needs to be where she is at. I was a slow learner, but in time I discovered that when we spent a few moments after I got home talking about my wife’s day and some of her feelings, it was easier to move on to other topics and spend an evening that did not feel quite so sad and overwhelming.
- Let your partner know how you are feeling- even if you don’t think it is necessary- because doing so will avoid a lot of miscommunication. When you do not express yourself, it is easy to come off as if you do not care. Even if you are uncomfortable showing your emotions, or think your partner should know how sad you are without having to tell her, make time to share your feelings. This is the basis for one of the most common conflicts that couples experience, and it can be avoided.
If you are saying to yourself, “Easier said than done,” I totally understand. During the first weeks after Kathleen died, I would cry all the way home from work- even having to circle the block a few times before pulling into the garage- but then go into the house acting like I was fine. While I knew my wife would have been understanding of my tears, I simply could not let my guard down and told myself that one of us needed to be “up.” In other words, do as I say, not as I did…
- If you find that the best way to process your grief is to spend time working on a project, reading something, or simply staring at a TV, let your partner know that. As surprising as it may seem, she might not realize how helpful those activities are for you. She may view it as a means for you to avoid supporting her and listening to her talk about her own grief. Be willing to compromise on how much time you spend doing these things- even if it means taking periodic breaks to just spend sitting with her and checking in.
- If you find that you really are not experiencing a great deal of sadness at this time, do not beat yourself up for not being a good dad or husband. Depending on the stage of the pregnancy, and many other factors, you maybe did not bond with the baby in the same way your partner did. That does not make one of you right and the other wrong, but it will likely require even greater communication on both your parts.
- During this period of grieving and healing it is likely you will face the issue of resuming sexual relations with your partner. Again, communication is the key to having this time be fulfilling and comforting to you both. Many couples will find that one person is ready to be intimate before the other. While the physical recovery of your partner will obviously affect the timing, it is also important that you both be emotionally ready to take this step. A wide array of emotions is not uncommon at this point and can include fear and guilt. Fear of what might happen with another pregnancy or guilt for once again finding pleasure in life. Don’t assume that intimacy and being close physically means only sexual intercourse. Sometimes simply holding each other and experiencing the pleasure that comes from touch works best until you both are ready to resume intercourse.