Supporting each other as a couple after a neonatal loss

Ways to help, support and understand your partner after your baby dies neonatally.

The overwhelming grief after the death of a baby can put even the strongest relationships under pressure. We all grieve differently and this can be difficult for couples when their baby dies. It’s not uncommon for one partner to show their grief more visibly while their partner on the surface appears to be less affected. This can drive couples apart as much as it can bring them together.

Different ways of grieving

Your grief can blind you to your partner’s pain, especially if they are less likely to show their pain. Your partner, for example, might be able to go back to work and behave normally, while you find yourself unable to get out of bed. You might cry all the time, while your partner barely cries at all.

Read more about coping with grief after a neonatal death

It is easy to misinterpret your partner’s lack of tears and visible distress as them caring less or feeling less. Try to respect these differences and not read too much into them. Reading this page about the many ways that grief can manifest itself might be helpful in understanding your partner’s reaction.

On the other hand some women may be disturbed to see their partner cry or sob uncontrollably if this is something they have never done before.

All the feelings above are normal, but if you can remember to be kind to each other and never expect too much it will help your relationship survive. Keep talking to each other, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

“My husband felt the need to be strong for me and thought it was important to encourage me to match this by trying to focus on the future and carry on. I found it hard to see this as grief at all. Ultimately, after pushing our marriage to the very brink, we were able to find a way to be more understanding of each way of grieving and support each other to become stronger as a married couple.” 
Sarah, who lost her son Tristan

When your partner goes back to work

It’s usually the father who goes back to work first because their leave is much shorter.  This can be a difficult time for both the mother and father. You may feel abandoned and that your partner has ‘moved on’ and forgotten about the baby.

Your partner may feel he cannot cope with the extra stress of work but has no other option. He may resent the time off you’ve been allowed in which to grieve.

There will be better days and it can be hard to see your partner returning to work and carrying on as normal.

Just because life goes on and you have to get back to your normal routine, doesn’t mean the grief stops. Allow yourself time at the weekends and in the evenings to grieve.

“At Rhianna’s funeral, I completely leaned on Mr L. I didn’t think about who he leaned on. His daughter died too. He wiped his tears, to let mine flow. He stood up tall, to stop me falling. He smiled his smile, while mine died away... He lost his baby too. Not just me. His heart was and is broken too. So if there is any advice I can give anyone who has a friend or a family member who has lost their baby, it is one thing, and one thing only…Don’t forget the daddies, they lost their baby too.”
Kerry, who lost her baby Rhianna Lily

Read more about going back to work after the loss of a baby

Sex and intimacy

After the loss of a child it’s not unusual for sex to become a distant memory. Reading each others’ moods can become so much harder as you can crave comfort but not sex.

For some couples sex can become an issue that drives you apart in the first few months. One of you might have a strong desire to have sex, as a way to comfort and show your love for your partner, while the other may have no desire at all.

Try to talk about how you feel. Bereavement is usually associated with a depressed feeling that diminishes the libido for a while. It might return at different times for you. 

Sex is very closely linked to pregnancy. You may feel terrified at the thought of getting pregnant again. Or you might feel the opposite and sex may become very mechanical as all you want to do is to fall pregnant as quickly as possible. Be aware of these feelings, and be open and honest with your partner. 

Sex after any pregnancy, whatever the outcome, is different. A woman’s body changes and you’ll need to recover from the physical effects of the pregnancy and the delivery.

If, after a few months, you find problems between you aren’t resolving, get help with your relationship. Some couples find a few sessions with a professional counsellor very helpful.

Read more about trying for another baby

Be kind to each other

The most important thing is to be kind, gentle and patient. Try to understand that your partner is not you and although you’re sharing this grief, you will feel it in different ways.

Think about talking to people outside your relationship so that they can offer you support, perhaps in different ways.

One of our supporters used her blog as a way to express some of her feelings. It meant she could show posts to her partner, without voicing some of the more difficult emotions and give him the time and space to understand how she was feeling, before reacting. It helped them a lot. Sometimes talking and sharing is all you need – someone to simply listen to you and not try to fix the problem.

When the initial period of the funeral and activity is over, don’t forget to continue to be kind and forgiving. The grief will not go away, and being patient and understanding with each other through it will bring you closer instead of letting it push you further apart.

‘The best advice we had from our bereavement midwife very early on was to be kind to each other. And I think that really helped us to cope. We did grieve in different ways and often found that when one person was feeling very sad the other was feeling a little stronger on that day.’
Kathryn, who lost her son Arthur

Further support

If after a while, you are struggling to understand each other and resolve tensions, consider talking to a professional about it.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy can help you find the right professional, or call 01455 883300. Or contact RELATE on 0300 100 1234 for face-to-face, telephone or online couples counselling.

Review dates
Last reviewed: 04 October 2018
Next review: 04 October 2021