How does grief affect relationships?

Grief is a complex and challenging experience that can profoundly affect our relationships. Understanding how grief can influence our connections with others, particularly our romantic partners, can help us navigate this difficult process.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: May 15, 2023
6 Minute Read

In this article, we will discuss how grief can impact relationships and offer tips on supporting a grieving partner, drawing on insights from psychotherapist Julia Samuel and her extensive work on grief.

Grief and Relationships

What’s it like to grieve?

Grief is an intensely personal and emotional experience that can manifest in various ways, such as feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, or anxiety. It can also result in physical symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, and a loss of appetite. As a natural response to loss, grief helps us process our feelings and adapt to the changes in our lives.

The Impact of Grief On Relationships

Relationships Impacted by Grief Often Change

When one or both partners in a relationship are grieving, it’s not uncommon for the dynamics of the connection to change.

For example, the grieving person may withdraw, become irritable, or struggle to communicate effectively, while the non-grieving partner might feel helpless or unsure of how to provide support.

These changes can lead to increased tension and conflict within the relationship. Even if both partners are grieving, they may express their grief at different times, in different ways and at different intensities.

Seek Out New Sources of Support to Help in the Relationship

Grief is likely to cause strain on any relationship. While there are various ways to strengthen your relationship, which we will discuss in this article, it’s also helpful to widen your social support network wherever possible. This might be by spending more time with friends and family, seeking out bereavement support groups or having a professional counsellor to turn to (individually or as a couple).

Having multiple sources of support can help alleviate the pressure on the relationship and ensure both partners receive the care and understanding they need during this challenging time.

Ways Grief Can Affect Your Relationship

Communication Breakdown

Grieving individuals may struggle to express their emotions, leading to misunderstandings or miscommunications with their partners.

Emotional Distance

Grief can cause a person to feel isolated or emotionally detached, creating distance within the relationship.

Changes in Intimacy

For romantic relationships, the grieving process can lead to a decreased interest in physical intimacy, which may impact the couple’s connection.

Imbalance in Support

The grieving partner may require more emotional support than usual, potentially leading to an imbalance in the relationship dynamic.

Differences in Grieving Styles

Discrepancies in how each partner grieves can cause isolation, tension or conflict. It’s common to experience judgement, confusion or even anger if your partner displays their grief differently.

How to support a grieving partner?

  • Listen: Encourage open communication by actively listening to your partner’s feelings and providing a safe, non-judgmental space for them to share their emotions.
  • Be patient: Recognize that the grieving process takes time and that your partner may need space to process their feelings at their own pace.
  • Offer practical help: Assist with daily tasks, like cooking, cleaning, or running errands, to help alleviate some of the stress associated with grief.
  • Encourage self-care: Remind your partner of the importance of caring for their physical and mental well-being during this challenging time.
  • Seek professional help: Encourage your partner to consider counselling or support groups to help navigate the grieving process with the guidance of experienced professionals.

Additional Tips for Strengthening Your Relationship During Grief

  • Create memorials to honour the loss: Engaging in memorials, such as lighting candles or visiting a special place, can help you and your partner honour the memory of the person or thing you’ve lost while providing a space to share your grief.
  • Practice empathy: Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and understand their perspective during this challenging time. This can help you provide the support they need and foster a greater connection between you.
  • Prioritise self-care for both partners: Both partners need to care for themselves physically and emotionally during the grieving process. Encourage each other to engage in activities that promote well-being, such as exercise, healthy eating, and mindfulness practices.
  • Set boundaries: Establish boundaries around discussing your grief, and respect each other’s need for space or privacy. This can help prevent overwhelming feelings and maintain a healthy balance in your relationship.
  • Reassess your relationship expectations: Recognize that grief may temporarily change the dynamics of your relationship and adjust your expectations accordingly. This can help reduce disappointment or frustration when the relationship doesn’t feel the same as before the loss.

Main Takeaways
Grief can have a significant impact on relationships.
Everyone grieves differently.
Supporting a grieving partner can help strengthen a relationship during difficult times.


Grief can profoundly impact relationships, often leading to changes in communication, emotional distance, and varying grieving styles. By understanding the complexities of grief and its effects on both partners, couples can navigate these challenges and grow stronger together.

Julia Samuel’s extensive work on grief, including her book “Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving” and the Grief Works app, offers valuable insights and resources to help individuals and couples cope with loss and support each other during the grieving process.

Find Grief Support with Grief Works by Illume

Getting support when grieving is essential, but it can be challenging.

The Grief Works app offers 24/7 support in the palm of your hand. The 28-session therapeutic course will help you process your grief at your own pace, and you’ll gain access to 30+ interactive tools to manage your emotions when you need them.

Connect with a community that cares for you, attend live monthly group sessions with Julia herself and have the option to text-chat to a counsellor when needed.

Reach out for support now to take the first step towards soothing your pain, building your strength and healing from grief.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does the grieving process typically last?

The grieving process is about learning to accommodate the grief into your life rather than trying to “move on” from the loss. The initial grieving process varies greatly from person to person and can last anywhere from a few weeks to several years. Respecting each individual’s unique timeline for processing their grief is essential.

Can grief counselling be beneficial for couples?

Yes, grief counselling can be an effective way for couples to navigate the challenges of grief together, providing a safe space to address any issues that may arise within the relationship.

How can I support my partner if we’re both grieving?

When both partners are grieving, it’s important to communicate openly, be patient with one another, and seek additional sources of support, such as friends, family, or professional counsellors.

How can we reconnect after grief has caused a rift in our relationship?

Reconnecting after grief can involve open communication, actively participating in shared activities, and seeking professional guidance to help rebuild trust and intimacy. Patience and understanding are crucial as both partners work towards healing and reestablishing their connection.

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