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How does grief impact your marriage? What happens in your marriage when life falls apart?

In the last three years, Chris and Sarah Dedmon have faced a mountain of grief including the loss of two parents at the same time. In this episode, they talk with me about how their marriage has survived these difficult times.

Grief gripped Sarah’s heart as you got on a plane to say a final goodbye to her mother just as Chris’s plane landed after saying the final goodbye to his father. They share how they failed their way into a deeper intimacy, and Sarah will give a unique definition of what it means to be superhuman.

“I missed my cue” is a gentle way to soften the impact of grief on your marriage

We all miss cues in our relationship. Chris offers a great reframe for how to handle that. He says, “Instead of getting defensive, I say to myself, I missed my cue.” That’s how he understands Sarah’s frustration.

When are you likely to miss the cues your partner sends? How does it feel in your body when your partner explodes or gets upset with you? How can you get curious instead of defensive in those moments?

Try this: 

Re-do an old memory.

Imagine a time when your partner exploded or accused you in the heat of the moment. Now that time has gone by, list a couple of reasons why your partner had reason to be upset. Notice the compassion you feel for your partner who you love.

Now imagine behaving differently. How would the moment be different if you thought first about how hurt your partner felt rather than how attacked you felt? How would you behave differently?

Make a clean ask to help your spouse understand your grief

Sarah realizes in the interview that she must not have made a super clean ask if Chris so thoroughly missed her cues.

  • A clean ask is precise.
  • A clean ask cultivates compassion in your partner because you acknowledge your (hurt) feelings.
  • A clean ask gives a specific request that can be answered with “Yes” or “No.”

Grief is confusing and disorienting. It’s often difficult to know precisely what you want when you’re in the grip of grief.

Try this: 

Return to the clean ask formula because it helps you to sort out what you want.

Feeling + Desire = Clean Ask
First, the feeling: Ask yourself what you’re feeling. If it’s a mix of things, embrace the grief gumbo. “I feel disoriented, and there’s a pit in my stomach I can’t identify.”

Second, the desire: What do you want? Remember to be specific. “I want you to hold me,” or “I want you to fix that door that’s been broken for 6 months.”

Finally the ask: Orient your clean ask such that your sweetheart can answer yes or no. “Will you wrap me up in your arms for a minute?” or “Will you get out the necessary tools today and fix that door?”

Use your “Loving Lenses” to reduce the negative impact of grief on your marriage

Because Sarah is grieving, she may not know what she wants until she explodes.

This is where those loving lenses come in. Look at your partner through a lens of love. “You’re not behaving like you typically would. I wonder what’s wrong?” you ask.

The assumption of those loving Lenses is that, if your partner is operating with a full tank of resources, they will behave with kindness and compassion. Since your partner is not behaving kindly, the assumption is there must be something wrong in their world.

Loving Lenses apply curiosity rather than blame when bad behavior rears its ugly head.

Try this: 

Put on your Loving Lenses when your partner attacks you.

This is hard to do! We are tempted to defend ourselves when our partner attacks us. We want to run away and hide.

In this moment, when your partner is behaving badly, it’s not about you. Their bad behavior is about them.

When you can remember this, it softens the blow. The ranting doesn’t feel like an attack, it feels like a cry for help.

Take a breath. Then take another. And put on those Loving Lenses to ask yourself, what’s wrong? What’s wrong with my partner? What does my partner need? How can I ask my partner to return to their resourceful, kind, compassionate self?

Your grief affects your marriage

The past three years of Chris and Sarah’s lives have been defined by change and grief. How can you be understanding of your spouse during hard times and make it through with your marriage intact?

Chris describes times when he and Sarah didn’t know how to give each other what they each needed. Instead, they give each other room to do what they need to on their own.

It’s not easy to make room when you feel attacked. Chris and Sarah broke glass. Feelings were hurt. But they gradually learned learned how to give each other space. That space was crucial to making it through these tough years.


Choose to make time for your marriage even when you’re grieving

When Sarah and Chris both lost their jobs, it piled even more onto the grief they were already feeling.

When Chris was finally hired for a new job, neither of them were in the headspace to celebrate the accomplishment. Grief is exhausting and it sucks away your energy.

Sometimes the solution is to act “as if.” Sarah proposed they act as if they felt celebratory and they planned a night away. “Let’s be boyfriend and girlfriend,” she said to her husband. They took a brief and intentional break from their grief and felt reconnected as a result.

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