How To Support Your Partner When A Friend Dies, According To A Therapist
Although your hippie aunt may tell you that "Loss is a natural part of life," losing a loved one can be extremely difficult. And just as handling your own grief can be challenging in itself, knowing how to support your partner when a friend dies can feel incredibly daunting. When you're in a relationship, you want your partner to feel cared for and validated. But when they're experiencing loss or confronting grief, knowing how best to be there for them isn't always easy.
"Each person goes through [grief] in different ways and on different timelines," Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent relationship therapist in Los Angeles tells Elite Daily. "Given this, drop any expectations you have about how they are supposed to grieve. This helps to give them some room to navigate in and out of the various stages of grief. Ultimately, and over a long period of time, your partner will likely find a way to sufficiently accept the loss of their friend, although they may never completely get over it. Accept the fact that your partner needs to grieve in ways that work for them."
If you are a crier or like to talk things out, you may be confused by your partner's reaction to their loss. Understanding that everyone grieves differently and has different needs when in the grieving process can make space for your partner to heal in a way that feels comfortable for them. If you're partner has just lost a friend, it's natural to feel overwhelmed in knowing where to even start with supporting them. Dr. Brown shares how to ensure your partner's comfort. "I recommend that we ask someone who has experienced a loss two simple questions: What can I do to support you right now — what would be helpful? And What would not be helpful? That second question is important and sends our partner the message that as well-intended as we may be, we want to respond in ways that they need — and not respond in ways they do not need right now."
If something like physical touch is unhelpful to your partner as they process loss, knowing that can be important before trying to hug them or rub their back. You want to help your partner in every way that you can, but you also want to ensure their comfort, especially in times of profound sadness. Although you may think you know exactly what they need, asking them how you can best support them can ensure you're not unintentionally doing something unhelpful in the moment.
Although it may break you heart to see your partner in pain, it's important to remember you can't literally fix everything. "Be available but resist the tendency to 'make it all better' by hovering around them all the time — give them the respect they need to go through their own process of grieving," Dr. Brown says. According to Dr. Brown, it's OK to start with smaller gestures, then build to larger actions. "Let them know that you are there, truly say to them that you are so sorry that they lost their friend. If a memorial service/funeral is being planned, ask how you might be able to support your partner. Certainly ask if they would like you to attend the funeral and/or memorial service."
Although you may feel it would be impolite not to attend a memorial service or funeral if your partner has lost their friend, it may be helpful to check in with them about what they need. If they want to attend the service with their friend's family, or with their groups of friends, they may prefer to see you after the service. If your support would be helpful to them, they may prefer to attend the service with you. Again, asking what would be helpful and unhelpful to your partner's healing process can prioritize their comfort during their grieving.
If your partner experiences the death of a friend, it's natural for the loss to impact your relationship. According to Dr. Brown, it's common for your partner to pull away for a time or to need some space for themselves. Alternatively, they may come to you for support. "Your partner may come to the realization that you mean so much to them now that they realize that they could in fact lose you," Dr. Brown says. "If your relationship was on solid ground prior to the death of your partner's friend, just give your partner the time and space — if they need it — to go through the grieving process."
You may already be used to your partner taking time and space for themselves when they are in pain. If they seem to be acting differently after the loss, it's important to check in with your partner about what actions would be helpful from you. This loss may have impacted them like nothing else has before, and they may be reacting in ways they haven't before. When it comes to helping someone you love through loss, the best thing to do sometimes is just listen. Making space for your partner to feel their feelings can provide them with the support they need to process their grief. "Accept whatever thoughts and feelings they have," Dr. Brown says. "Encourage them to express their feelings but do not demand that they express their feelings. This is going to be a whole series of conversations. If they cry, let them cry. If they are angry, let them be angry. If they're silent, let them be silent." Allowing your partner to feel their feelings in whatever way feels natural to them can help them heal from their loss.
Although friends and family may be the only support your partner asks for, according to Dr. Brown, reaching out for professional help may be useful as well. "If, after a week or two, their ability to function is so compromised that they can't go to work, school, and become totally withdrawn then it might be time to recommend that they seek out a therapist who can help them navigate their grief," Dr. Brown says. While a partnership can mean giving support and love, you aren't responsible for healing your partner or carrying their emotions all on your own. If you're starting to feel overwhelmed in the process, it's OK to take a step back or to ask for help yourself. Although the loss may have directly impacted your partner, your partner's pain impacts you as well. Remembering to remember your needs and take care of yourself in the time of loss isn't selfish or needy. If you need a night with friends or to practice self-care, making sure you're feeling good and strong will help you give the best support you can to your partner.
If your partner is dealing with the loss of a friend, you don't need to feel intimidated by not knowing exactly how to support them. Grief looks different for everyone, and your partner may not even know what they need to start healing. Asking what actions would be helpful and which would be unhelpful can ensure that your partner is as comfortable as possible during their time of grief. Remembering that you can't fix everything and that loss can change how people behave can take some major pressure off of you and your relationship. Healing from loss will often demand a lot of time and attention, but you are an amazing partner, and the two of you will get through this — together.
If you or someone you know has recently experienced a loss and is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.