Grieving in intimate relationships

Grief is an inevitable part of living - it's pretty much impossible to avoid losing someone close to us at some point.

Some forms of grieving are less obvious, and we may not even realized we are experiencing an emotional response to a loss.

Examples of this might be:-

One partner has had a serious illness

You have a child with a disability

A partner may have responded to stressful life events in a way that might feel like they are no longer the person we first fell in love with, s/he has changed in subtle and/or profound ways.

When conflicts about seemingly trivial things seem to take over your relationship, or there seems to be a wide gulf between you, it may be worth considering whether grief is sitting underneath. 

The common signs that grief is around - anger, shutting down, a lingering sadness (to name just a few) may even be fuelling the conflicts or lack of closeness between you.

It's important to take the time to not only identify but take the time to process the emotions associated with the griefs - small and large - that you may have experienced.

The following are some scenarios that commonly bring couples to counselling, where grief is the underlying issue.

He complains they never have sex anymore. She agrees, and for a while tries to 'get in the mood' but after a while it just feels too hard. When asked if they have experienced any grief as a couple, they talk about having had a miscarriage last year. Both feel they are doing fine, and struggle to make the connection between this event and her difficulty enjoying sex. It is only when she admits she is not 'doing OK', and that she is really worried that if they fall pregnant again she may have another miscarriage, that the tears come and both are able to express their sadness about the loss of the child they longed for. Their sex life begins to improve after they both agree they are not ready to try again so soon for another child.

They fight about every little thing. He can't stand that she leaves a mess in the kitchen, and that she is always running late for things. They both agree that in the first few years of their relationship he was able to laugh about these minor annoyances, or at least deal with them in a good-hearted way. It is not until they talk about her struggle with depression over a number of years that he is able to express his grief at having lost her at that time, and his fear that she might become depressed again and 'not be herself', and not be able to be there for him. He makes the connection between these fears and the need to keep her at arms length by picking fights with her. 


Grief not only needs to be identified, but to be felt! The work of grieving can restore intimacy and positive connection. Left undone and unrecognized, it can wreak havoc on our capacity to be intimate and connected. Counselling can help you to make the connections between seemingly unrelated things, and to connect to and express the feelings that, left unattended to, can linger for a long time.

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