It is not uncommon for couples to experience a loss of intimacy when grieving the death of a loved one.
At the conclusion of my article, I have included links to two articles addressing the loss of intimacy after
the death of a child. These are both enlightening and supportive.
Before the intimacy part can be addressed, I usually look at these factors for each person:
•The relationship each person had with the deceased. Was this their child? A parent? An in-law? A close friend of one of the partners?
•Spiritual/ religious beliefs – it’s normal to search for meaning after a loss and this could include
exploring/re-evaluating our beliefs. As each partner in the relationship moves through the process, if they have strong and shared beliefs, they may be at odds with one another should one of them question or doubt their religious beliefs and the other one doesn’t.
•What was the relationship like with the person who died? Was it close? Fragmented? Were there unresolved issued between the deceased and one or both partners? And of course, if this is the loss of a child, the sorrow is profound for both parents.
•What are the coping skills of each person to work through the process of loss? Remember, we tend to grieve and mourn the way our parents and grandparents did. If the way they handled a loss was not effective, then it likely won’t be effective for you to do it that way either. The blessing is that we get to choose for ourselves now… if you need to do things differently than the way your parents and grandparents did, then do so.
•And, what was the relationship like between the couple prior to their loved one’s death. Was the relationship strained? Were they experiencing some challenges in their sex life? Do both of them feel their marriage and love life were in good shape?
The obvious, but often overlooked issue is that men and women think and feel differently about intimacy and sex. This was a startling reality for me after my brother-in-law was murdered. My husband and I had to leave our infant daughter with my parents and traveled over 400 miles to deal with his death and arrange his funeral. The morning of his funeral, my husband woke up in the hotel with one thing on his mind… sex. For him it was a way of coping and in part, he saw this as a ‘time away’ without a baby that allowed us to share some intimacy. For me… sex was the last thing on my mind and I struggled to understand how he had any desire when we were hours away from burying his younger brother. Did I ever figure it out? No. I struggled to understand for a long time how men and women could be so different at a time like that and as time passed, I learned of other couples who had suffered a loss and shared a similar intimacy experience.
Intimacy between partners is normal and vital to a relationship. A significant loss in one’s life tends to dismantle our ability to function day-to-day, and intimacy is one of the areas that can be affected. At some point however, a couple will need/want to reintegrate intimacy into their relationship. Here are
some suggestions that may be of help:
1. Keep in mind that men and women respond to life situations differently. A woman may completely shut off any need for physical contact and a man may not. This can be the reverse as well.
2. Loss immerses a person in an incredible amount of stress. When this happens, we can be short with others in our life and become negative about all the little things that really bother us. These negative thoughts can become negative statements and result in chipping away at the relationship.
3. When the loss is shared, each person experiences the loss differently and expresses their sorrow differently. Given that in a relationship, a couple is the main source of support for one another, it may be difficult to be supportive or nurturing to the other person when you have nothing to give.
4. It’s important to recognize that each of you (if the loss is shared) or one of you (if the loss is of importance to only one partner) may not be functioning in the same way that you had prior to the loss. Life is chaos right now. The person may not be sleeping or eating well and this affects their well-being too and their ability to respond to the needs of another.
5. Allow some space in the relationship in the early days of grief; however, maintain some tenderness and affection without pressuring the other person to engage in sex.
6. Maintain communication with one another and allow each of you to express your feelings without judging.
7. Focus on positive thoughts for the other person. Choosing one small thing that helps you to remember why you fell in love with them will help to ease the tension and bring you closer together.
8. Strive for connection – not perfection. As you know, life is not perfect and it has not unfolded the way you planned. Do not expect too much out of yourself or your partner. Take baby steps and strive to get out of your head (analyzing the situation) and get into your heart (feel love and kindness towards the other person) and allow the connection to build.
9. Plan a date night – even when you feel like it is too much work. Just start small. Dinner out. A quiet walk on the beach. Coffee. Something small. If the conversation turns to your loved one who has died, don’t get discouraged. Allow the person to say what they need to say. Then try to move the conversation to the two of you. Ask things like, “Have you felt loved today?” Or make statements like “What I remember about falling in love with you is……” It may feel bumpy at first, but make a commitment to date once a week with the intent on rebuilding your connection to one another. Leave loving notes or voice messages for each other. Send sweet text or emails randomly to let the other person know they are on your mind.
10. Understand that you are not alone and the loss intimacy is not uncommon. Seek professional help to open the lines of communication and/or to re-establish intimacy if needed.
Additional articles of interest:
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