How Relationships Cope with the Death of a Premature Baby

According to a new research study, couples who lose a premature baby and communicate their personal grief with each other fare better than couples who don’t. The researchers indicate that couples who don’t communicate with each other about their bereavement frequently believe that the other person cares less or not all. They point out that women are generally more communicative about their sadness than men. This may mean that the female partner believes her male partner doesn’t care or cares less than she does.

Surprising to the researchers, though, was that the male partners in the study were more often in a deeper state of grief than their female partners. The researchers also said that the couples who communicated their grief with each other, called concordant grief, experienced what is referred to as significant post-traumatic growth in their relationships; more intimacy and even better communication.

The study was small, with just 22 couples involved, cross-sectional and all variables were evaluated at a single point in time – two to six years after the loss. Camille Wortman, Ph.D., a professor of social and health psychology at Stony Brook University, is quoted in an article in The Medical News, as saying, “It is not possible to infer causality from such a design” (April 22, 2009). She makes a good point, but the researchers may be on to what appears to be at least one conclusion that seems reasonable: Couples who don’t share their grief might well have misunderstandings about what the other is feeling and this, in turn, could cause problems within the marriage.

The primary researcher, Stefan Büchi, M.D of University Hospital in Zurich was also quoted in The Medical News, encouraging couples who’ve lost a baby and haven’t shared their grief with each other to seek professional help.


Büchi, S., Mörgeli, H., Schnyder, U., Jenewein, J., Glaser, A., Faucheré, J-C., Bucher, H. U., Sensky, T. Shared or discordant grief in couples 2-6 years after the death of their premature baby: effects on suffering and posttraumatic growth. Psychosomatics 50(2), 2008.

The Medical News. Couples cope in different ways following death of premature baby, April 22, 2009,

© Copyright 2009 by Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD, MSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

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  • jason lot

    June 10th, 2009 at 6:02 AM

    i’m wondering if the same applies to the loss of an older child…somehow i imagine this would be even harder since parents would be far more attahced to, say, a 3 year old, than a new born. Any parents able to chime in with thoughts on this?

  • Joanna

    June 10th, 2009 at 8:51 AM

    Seems to me that any time there is good communication within a relationship that it would be a whole lot easier to withstand the death of a child. I am not saying that there is ever anything that could make this loss easier but no matter the age of the child if the parents can find a way to not hold in the grief and to turn to one another instead there could be a better chance that they could then hold their marriage together. I have never lost a child and could never even imagine the heartache that this must bring but I have seen couples who literally implode when this happens, all because they have not nurtured their relationship before all of this happened so that when hit with this sad experience they now do not have a partner to turn to.

  • Kelly

    June 11th, 2009 at 3:35 AM

    Let me begin by saying that I never have experienced the death of a child either. But I see what you mean by experiencing concordant grief and how this can really help a relationship grow. A few years ago my spouse and I went through some very difficult hardships in our marriage causing a lot of pain and I felt that I would not be able to move on past it. However with the help of a fantastic marriage therapist and the education that we got there that helped each of us open up and communicate better we came through this situation a much stronger couple.

  • Marla

    June 12th, 2009 at 2:54 AM

    I can’t even imagine losing a baby but of course it makes sense to talk your feelings out with your loved one/spouse/partner to help mend.

  • Jane

    June 12th, 2009 at 3:48 AM

    Last year my daughter and her husband went through the pain of having a stillborn child and it has rocked not only their marriage but the dynamic of our entire family to the core. I was excited about my first grandchild as they were excited about their first child together. But that was not meant to be. We have all tried finding answers through our faith and God but it has still been a challenge. We are all making headway but there is so much grief involved when it is the death of a child that you are always wondering about the what ifs. I sympathize strongly with other families who have experienced the same things because I know just how hard it is to get things together after something such as this happens. We all just pray a lot and even still cry but hopefully things will get better soon.

  • Dina

    June 14th, 2009 at 8:40 AM

    I am surprised to hear that sometimes men experience more grief than the women. Perhaps it is just a different grieving process for the two?

  • Carolyn

    June 16th, 2009 at 3:07 PM

    When a marriage has a good strong foundation then I am convinced that it can weather any storm. But I really do sadly think that too many marriages today are built on superficial foundations, and that once they are tested by a tragic event like the death of a child then they have nothing to fall back on. I am not trying to be judgemental at all but that is the way that I see it. I also think that in situations like these it takes a village to help the family keep everything together- that is to say extended family has to step in as well as an experienced medical staff to help the parents pick up the pieces and get through the grieving and healing process intact.

  • Brianne

    June 17th, 2009 at 2:32 PM

    I had an ectoposy pregnant about 5 years ago and although I was in my 30’s, I was shocked to find out I was pregnant. I was only 5 weeks according to doctor and at the time I didn’t want another child. I felt so guilty when I went to hospital and they said it was in my tubes and they were going to have to do surgery. couple months before I kept dreaming about a baby girl… I still wonder to this day if it was a agirl. I have a son now and dreamed of one day having a girl before I hit my mid 30’s. I guess I didn’t go through the initial pain and grief because at the time I didn’t even know I was pregnant, even tho it was ectopic, but I did go through some guilt thinking this was why i couldn’t have it.

  • Sheila

    June 17th, 2009 at 2:36 PM

    I personally have never lost a child, but I have had a miscarriage and lost my mother and brother who were not only very young, 43 and 22, but they passed away within two years of each other. As well, our family has had to cope with the deaths other family members and friends. It is absolutely heart wrenching to see the pain that my grandparents suffer from the loss of my mom and to know the anguish that my father suffers from not only the loss of my mom but also my brother. All of the losses that myself and my entire family has suffered has been devastating. There is no doubt that it has a major impact on relationships as well as a family dynamics. Communication is without a doubt key, but as you pointed out that comes more difficult for men.

  • Olivia

    June 18th, 2009 at 12:10 PM

    Marriage has to be on solid ground or else it will always be torn apart by the smallest things.

  • Sierra

    June 21st, 2009 at 2:01 PM

    This is so true, Olivia. You have to have that love, understanding and support there, especially with something like this.

  • Anita

    June 22nd, 2009 at 2:36 AM

    I was inspired to start a blog after the passing away of a friend’s child. I think the premature death of a child changes relationships forever. It changes people and opens our eyes to so many things we take for granted. My friends who lost their little girl are such an inspiration for so many of us. They not only got through their grief together but today are role models for an ideal marriage.

  • Carolina

    June 22nd, 2009 at 2:33 PM

    Families, Friends and support from everyone really does make a difference. No one should face anything like this alone. I can’t even imagine anyone going through this tough time.

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