Dr. Eileen Callahan, Ph.D.: Spouse Loss

Spouse / Partner Loss

Marriages are partnerships, and when one spouse dies, that leaves half of the membership alone. For the marriage that had no children, the remaining spouse might be left without a connection if the in-laws blame the spouse for the loss (or the spouse might blame the in-laws). When children are involved, the surviving spouse is left trying to raise a family and provide enough love and financial support to hold the family together while grieving the loss of one’s life partner.

Sometimes the spouse dies and leaves behind a pregnant wife who must bear and raise a child alone, a child that she created with the deceased and had anticipated they would raise together. Spouses left behind with children also must play the roles of both parents and might not be comfortable with both roles. That spouse must be the decision maker, the disciplinarian, and do everything that was previously shared with the other spouse.

Or the parent will have to give up some of what he or she did in the family (like spending leisure time with the children) because food has to be put on the table. If a husband died and the mom is suddenly forced back to work, she will not have as much time for her children as she did before her husband died. The family’s financial situation also might change and the family might have to move to a smaller house, rent an apartment, or possibly move in with grandparents. While it is not recommended that people make drastic changes until about a year after the death, sometimes these changes are inevitable because of finances. The surviving spouse will be struggling to keep the family together, the bills paid, and work through his or her grief.

Partner loss can be complicated if the couple was never married and, therefore, the family never recognized the partner. Without any legal say, the partner might not be able to retrieve the body, plan the funeral, or even have any access to benefits. Most important, the partner might be excluded from the support of the deceased’s family and will have no one to recognize his or her grief. Suicide is complicated but this situation makes it more stigmatizing for the surviving person.

Typically part of spouse loss is the change in the social role for the surviving spouse after the death. Survivors often feel that society no longer considers them a parent, sibling, or other relationship to the person who died. For the spouse this feeling, even if not based in reality, can have broad implications. People are treated differently when they are single rather than part of a couple. Each person puts some aspect of themselves into the role, and when that role is lost, they must grieve for that loss as well.

This site cannot be used to initiate emergency contact. We cannot respond on-line to crisis situations. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

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