Supporting each other as a couple after a neonatal loss
Not all couples have difficulties in their relationship after a traumatic experience. Some people even say that their grief brought them closer together. But it’s not unusual to have relationship problems after losing a baby.
Grief is complicated and this may be the first time you and your partner are grieving together. This can put even the strongest relationships under pressure.
Different ways of grieving
We all grieve differently, and this can be difficult for couples after losing their baby. It’s not uncommon for one partner to show their grief more obviously than their partner. This can cause difficulties.
For example, it may appear to you that your partner is able to carry on as normal, while you’re finding it difficult to get through the day.
Your partner, for example, might be doing their normal daily activities, while you find yourself unable to get out of bed. You might cry all the time, while your partner barely cries at all.
Or it may be the other way round. Some people may be disturbed to see their partner cry or sob uncontrollably, especially if this is something they have never done before.
Keep talking to each other. You are both going through the same thing but may have different ways of coping with it. Talking to each other will help you understand things from each other’s perspective.
“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.”
It may help both of you to find your own ways of coping with your grief, as well as finding ways to grieve together.
When your partner goes back to work
Usually, one partner goes back to work before the other because their parental leave is shorter.
This can be a difficult time for both of you. One of you may feel abandoned and that your partner has moved on and forgotten about the baby. But actually, the other person may be struggling to cope with the extra stress of work and feel they have no other option. They may even resent their partner’s time off.
Being at home or going to work will both be challenging in different own ways. Talk to each other about how you feel. Be open and honest, and try to understand things from your partner’s point of view.
“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.”
Read more about going back to work after the loss of a baby.
Sex and intimacy
Many couples have different views about sex after a traumatic experience. Some people have a strong desire to have sex because it’s comforting, or because they want to show their love for their partner. Others may have no desire for sex at all.
It can be difficult if you both feel differently. It can also be hard to read each other’s moods. For example, you may be craving comfort, but get angry if your partner thinks this may lead to sex.
A low libido can be linked to relationship problems, stress, anxiety, exhaustion and depression. If you're worried that you or your partner are not coping, you may need some support. Depending on your symptoms this may include counselling or medication, such as anti-depressants. Speak to your GP about how you feel.
Sex is very closely linked to pregnancy for some people. It’s completely understandable if this is on your mind. You may be worried about getting pregnant again if you are not ready. Or sex may become mechanical if you are focused on trying to get pregnant again. Be aware of these feelings, and be open and honest with your partner.
Sex after any pregnancy, whatever the outcome, is different. Your body will have changed and you’ll need to recover from the physical effects of pregnancy and birth.
Find out more about sex after pregnancy.
Be kind to each other
The most important thing is to be kind, gentle and patient with each other. Try to understand that you and your partner are not the same. Although you’re sharing this grief, you will feel it in different ways.
You may be the only people in your lives who have gone through this experience. But it may sometimes help for both of you to talk to people outside your relationship.
If you want to talk to people with similar experiences, Tommy's runs a private, Facebook support group for anyone who has experienced baby loss.
More support and information
Sometimes problems in a relationship can become overwhelming. Some people may feel like they are dealing with everything on their own and start to feel isolated or resentful. Other couples may try to talk through their problems but still can’t find a way to sort things out.
If you are feeling unhappy, you may want to try relationship advice or counselling. This gives you a chance to talk about your worries together in a safe and confidential place with a trained counsellor. You can also talk to a counsellor about your relationship on your own if you want.
You can also try:
- getting relationship advice and support from the Couple Connection
- getting information about couple’s counselling at Relate – they also offers a live web chat service where you can talk to a relationship or family counsellor for up to 30 minutes for free
- finding a private counsellor in your area though the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
NHS Choices. Loss of libido (reduced sex drive) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/loss-of-libido/ (Page last reviewed: 6 January 2020. Next review due: 6 January 2023)