4 Challenging Ways Relationships Can Shift When Facing Grief

Photo of sad couple embracing each otherExperiencing the death of someone you love can be difficult and consuming. In the wake of loss, grieving often starts to seem like it’s full-time job and something which affects every part of you. This may be a time when you need people the most, yet connecting with people seems bound by new context and may not feel quite like it used to. Grief can turn your life upside down, and your support system and social network may undergo changes that feel difficult and messy in the midst of bereavement.

Here are four common and absolutely normal challenges people often experience when simultaneously navigating loss and trying to relate to others:

1. Your Support System Will Surprise You

Often, the people who show up and truly step into the puddle of grief with you will not be who you expect. Some of your closest friends and family who have been through everything with you and are there at a moment’s notice to discuss a relationship issue, babysit your children, or hash out a life dilemma will not be able to support you during bereavement as they do in other aspects of your life. Others, perhaps an old friend you drifted away from or a former neighbor you always loved but were never that close with, will step up and hold your hand, understand the complexities and grooves of living with death, and offer psychological holding that may make all the difference in the world.

2. People Will Disappoint You

It is almost inevitable, and it sucks. While you may attempt to understand why some people you count on are not there and try to give them a break, you cannot deny your feelings of abandonment and hurt. For many, life feels lopsided and even frightening after the death of someone close, and it can really seem like everything is falling off the rails when the people you are closest to are not there.

Feeling additional pain while living with grief is really hard, and this can seem like the worst time for people to bail on you. This is also, unfortunately, normal. Who is and is not there for you will depend greatly on others’ ability to hold and experience grief themselves. Bereavement is not the stuff of everyday life, which means it’s not easy to predict who will be able to show up before it happens.

3. Your Grief Is a Mirror for Everyone

Loss is unavoidable—we will all invariably lose the people we love the most—and this inherent vulnerability is difficult for many people to face and accept. If it can happen to you, it can happen to them, and for some that notion is terrifying. Dealing with things like the logic of life and death affects people’s emotions and puts fears and unconscious beliefs in the driver’s seat. Looking straight into a loved one’s pain, knowing nothing can make it go away, and accepting that it is not within anyone’s control is not something everyone is prepared to do.

Facing loss through someone else requires going very deep inside oneself, and a lot of people may not have the tools to do that. The degree to which a person can tolerate grief may align with how much he or she will be able to show up for you. Conversely, those who have walked this walk—those who inherently know the complexities and layers—may become a great respite. The reason for this phenomenon is …

4. You Are Now Part of a Club

There are certain things people will never really understand until it happens to them: having a child, running a Relationships are hard, and they can be more difficult during periods of duress such as bereavement. This is the time to be especially gentle with yourself and to seek out additional sources of support.marathon, getting divorced, and so on. Having a loved one die is near the top of that list. While there are certainly people who have touched their own sorrow or are conscious and empathetic and really understand what you are going through, most people who truly “get it” will be those who have experienced their own loss. This means the people you feel closest to and understood by will change.

This does not mean people you were close with before your loss are not needed or integral to your “new” life. What it does mean, however, is who you know yourself to be has changed permanently. Losing someone can give you a new way of walking in the world and a new pair of eyes to see the world. This takes months and years to integrate, and it is hard work, but also immensely rewarding and powerful if you stick with it.

Be Kind to Yourself After a Devastating Loss

Relationships are hard, and they can be more difficult during periods of duress, such as bereavement. This is the time to be especially gentle with yourself and to seek out additional sources of support. Find a therapist. Join a grief group, even if you think it is cliché, because for many such groups are a safe place for enormous healing. Take in stories of those who have experienced loss through books, movies, or others means.

Getting through the ripe and devastating pain of grief and learning to walk in the world again is your work right now. Recognize that everything you are experiencing is a process and grief is truly on its own timeline. Healing and reorganizing your relationships will come in time and cannot always be done immediately. Do what feels right and true each day, knowing if you give it time you will understand and work through the changes in who you relate to and what you need from others. Finally, know every messy piece you are dealing with and facing is normal and common, even if it feels hard and uncomfortable.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Farrah

    November 2nd, 2015 at 2:15 PM

    My father in law recently died and I guess that it has sort of surprised me just how hard my husband has taken this loss. We have known for quite a while that the end was near and he was always so stoic, so seemingly prepared for this loss that we knew was facing them, but he has totally broken down. I am thinking that he had to be holding it all together for his mom and sister because now he can barely get through his days. I am not that sure what I can do for him because everything that I say and do seems so small and like they will not help with his grief at all. I have thought to tell him that maybe he should see a counselor but I am not so certain that he would ever agree to doing that. So I don’t know. I know that this is a time that he needs me, but he keeps pushing me away and that makes me want to just throw up my hands and tell him just to handle it.

  • claude

    November 3rd, 2015 at 11:31 AM

    There will always be those people who will let you down, people that you would have not expected that from. The issue is that they probably have never resolved in their own minds how to deal with their own grief over something, so the thought of having to do that for another person is sort of scary and overwhelming to them. Don’t write someone off just because you feel like they are not giving you what you need. We have to remember that they could have their own things that they are dealing with as well.

  • Vickie

    November 3rd, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    Now is not the time to beat yourself up over would haves and should haves. This is the time that you should take to experience your grief, remember the life that you led with this person, and once you have allowed the grief to be experienced and processed then it is time that you can move on. After that you will have the ability to look back on your time with this person with fondness, maybe a little wistful sadness, but you can get through it because you have allowed yourself to feel the things that you need to feel.

  • BethAnn

    November 4th, 2015 at 6:22 AM

    It’s not a club that I am happy to belong to

  • Mike

    November 5th, 2015 at 7:47 AM

    I would say that it is always times like these that give you a pretty clear picture of who your real friends are. They will know exactly what to say and the right things to do that will ultimately comfort you.

  • will

    November 6th, 2015 at 6:34 AM

    I lost my sister last year and the grief has been overpowering. There is a loss in me that I am not sure that I can ever get over. We were twins too so I am thinking that because of that bond the grief could be even deeper. I am just so glad that neither of my parents were still alive to have to handle this loss too, because she was the light of the entire family.

  • Tate

    November 9th, 2015 at 7:30 AM

    More times than not I think that you will be overwhelmed by the care and generosity that is extended to you through other people. It may be from someone whom you would have never expected this from, but they will step up in a minute when you need them to. Those are the encouraging things that you will find in moments of crisis, that people will do amazing things for you just because they love you and care for you.

  • Jade Wood

    November 9th, 2015 at 10:45 AM

    Hi Everyone, thank you for your comments and processing your experiences and thoughts.
    Farrah, I am so sorry to hear of your husband’s and your loss and the turmoil you are both experiencing. Grief can be quite complicated, and as you are witnessing, present itself differently at different times. In the face of your husband’s loss you may feel helpless, but your support is quite important even when it may not seem like it. You cannot take away what he is experiencing, but do not discount the value of your actions and your presence. It sounds like your idea of a referral to a therapist would be beneficial to him.
    Will, thank you for sharing about your loss as well. Your sister’s death sounds quite devastating and is very significant. I hope you have the support you need and are open to reaching out for therapy as well if that feels like something that would help you cope during this difficult time.

  • talbot

    November 10th, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    grieving together can also be a true bonding experience as well.

  • Lisa

    January 19th, 2016 at 3:09 AM

    ii lost my mother a year ago.I don’t know if the way I’m grieving is normal..I don’t feel like having my friends around me..I hate it wen my friends visit me at home n at work.I nolonger enjoy spending time with my bf..n I feel sorry for him because he’s always thr for me no mater how much I push him away..its like I don’t have feelings of happiness anymore..Im always angry my heart is full of anger.I’m just not a happy person..please help

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    January 19th, 2016 at 8:34 AM

    Hello Lisa,

    Grief can be very complex and there isn’t any one particular way or duration in which a person will experience it. We wanted to reach out and let you know how to use our site to find a therapist, because many specialize in helping people understand and process the experience of grief and loss. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • RC

    June 8th, 2017 at 1:46 AM

    I too, have felt this way for quite a while. The anger or something like that, but not quite, is always there. I don’t want to see my friends or family, except my children. My best frind of more than 20 years is irritating the heck out of me with her smiley faces and sending sunshine for the day. I cant bare it. I haven’t really spent any time or conversation with her in a yr and a half. I don’t even want tomsee my siblings. They tell me to get over it.
    I do see a counselor, and she helps with persepective.

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