Child Loss: Will My Marriage Survive?

When my sister Carmella died at age thirteen my parents were already separated. Her illness had taken a toll on the marriage. And, I’ll be quite honest with you by saying that it felt like our family was shipwrecked. Our faith in God was shattered. Friends seemed scarce. Family seemed even more scarce. And, my mom and dad shut down and stopped communicating with each other.

The end result of this strain and stress was a divorce. They both parted ways following my sister’s death leaving our family even more broken than it already was. Why? Why do so many marriages fall apart following the death of a child?

We’ll take some time to go over three or four reasons in this post, and you can add your own, if you’d like. It seems like 50% is the number that most authorities go with — half of the marriages survive following the death of a child, and half do not. Half is a significant number  worth discussing!  

From a quote in my book “Silent Grief” — “How can a husband and wife put back together broken dreams, push aside the feelings of guilt that often accompany child loss, and comfort the heavy hearts that never totally mend?” This is the question married couples must work on answering if they want to remain married.

1. The husband is a fixer and he can’t fix this.  Men, by nature, fix things.  The one thing they cannot fix is the fact that their child died and this takes a tremendous toll in a marriage.  A wife is often looking for comfort from her husband and she is used to him fixing things for her and the family.  While she is buried in her own grief, she fails to see that her husband is drowning in his grief, also.  And, as a result couples often drift further and further apart rather than drawing closer together and leaning on one another for support.

2.  Men and women grieve differently.  Before our child died, I’m sure that most of us never took the course Grief 101.  We didn’t have a clue how to do this thing called grief, so we stumble our way through each day feeling like we can’t breathe.  Women tend to openly cry and show their emotions, but men (who are used to being the strong ones and the fixers) often withdraw and many times stop talking.  They retreat to the garage or the local bar to sit and stare at the TV.  Or they spend as many overtime hours as possible at work to avoid walking through the door at home where they know they will be greeted by their wife who is in so much pain that it’s hard to describe.  Men are quiet for the most part about their grief.  Women will let you know when they are in pain.  Often a man’s absence is labeled “not caring” when in fact it might be that he is caring so much that he is unable to cope!

3 Mothers love their child in a different way and it’s hard to explain that to a husband.  A woman’s body carried her child, nurtured that child, gave birth to that child.  The two were attached — quite literally.  The father’s attachment was not a physical one and it does make a difference!  A father cannot understand the depth of attachment involved in carrying a child inside of his body for nine months.  It’s impossible to describe this.  It is my belief (not a proven medical fact just yet) that this attachment does not end at birth.  Mother’s are known to have a “sixth sense” and I believe that refers to the special attachment they have with their child — the attachment that begins in the womb.  Because of this, fathers often move forward in their grief a bit faster than mothers.  And, this causes a lot of friction in a marriage.

He wants to go out to dinner, not always talk about their child’s death, and resume a sexual relationship with his wife again rather soon following the death of the child.  Mothers are not always on the same page and may be months behind their husbands in their grieving.  These are more things that can cause extreme conflict following the loss of their child.

There are so many more differences in male/female grief.  The biggest divider seems to be the inability to communicate with each other.  And, as we all know when communication breaks down it creates a difficult barrier to break.

What helps? 

I strongly suggest seeing a grief counselor who deals specifically in child loss.  A counselor will help you learn how to talk to each other again.  You will learn coping skills for your grief.  You will learn how to forgive one another, how to move beyond feelings of guilt and you will learn how to recognize areas in your marriage that need some specific help.  If your marriage was weak before losing a child, then you will really feel additional strains on your marriage and will need the aid of a good counselor.

My parents didn’t seek help.  As a fifteen-year-old I watched them drift further and further apart and it happened fast.  I will always believe that with some help they could have made it!  Their marriage didn’t have to be a statistic and neither does yours.

Losing a child pulls us from every direction — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  I believe with all of my heart that when you work together trying to understand the differences in grief that your marriage can survive this trauma and in many ways be strengthened.

God bless each one who visits here.  If your marriage feels weak and battered from the strain and pain of losing a child, maybe it’s time to seek help.  No parent should have to walk this painful walk alone!

Love,

Clara

PS  Please check out the new link I’ve added to this blog on “Healing Food.”  When we are grieving, we often forget to eat or we try to fill our empty hearts with junk foods.  I think you’re going to find this part of the blog a real blessing!

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24 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing. It really makes so much sense how differently moms and dads grieve for their child. As I am 1 of those grieving parents. My son died july 2 2013 he was 3 and half and my whole world. we both struggle everyday. Sincerely Michelle

    1. Michelle, I’m so sorry for the loss of your little boy. I hope and pray that as you and your husband work through this hard and painful loss, your love for each other will be rekindled with a flame that will never go out. Please be sure to seek out ways to strengthen your marriage, and always, always try to communicate with each other. It’s hard to do, but it’s necessary. My love to you.

  2. This is a good read. I have heard that a lot of marriages end at child loss. We lost our 25 year old son, best friend, college student, still living with us on August 26, 2007.

    i agree 100% that there is something special between mom and child that fathers do not have. I cannot speak from a mothers point. I cannot speak from other fathers side either. I can only speak how my own heart & soul has been turned inside outside twisted bottom up thru side to side. My very close friend and son’s life was taken by auto accident. I cried within my self daily and my heart still feels it.

    I not only lost my son, i lost my wife. She went into a deep deep world of her own. She had withdrawn and i took care of everything learning to do things that she use to do. I made Dr appts and took care of her as i know she would of taken care of me or our son.

    This past May 2013, just after mothers day, she got up and started cleaning and the next day, cleaning. I missed her so much. I had some people tell me i can leave her because she is not doing the wife thingy. I didnt feel like doing a hubby thingy and knew she was dealing with child loss the best way for her.

    She says she did not know she was down that many years. Our son Jeremiah, would be so proud that his mom and dad are still together and learning a new tuff life. We know we were meant for each other and will always be there for each other no matter what happens to our world. It sure is tuff. It is hard to see each other in grief but love and God keeps us together.

    Loving my wife, missing our son.
    gary
    Danville, Indiana

    1. Gary, I cannot thank you enough for your comment. Rarely do we hear from fathers, and it’s always such an insight when we do.

      First of all, I’m so very sorry for the loss of your son — your “best friend.” It’s a beautiful kind of love when our adult children become our best friends. To lose this child is hard to explain to others because the pain is so deep and the relationship was so special.

      Gary, I think you said something that becomes a grief for so many couples. You said you lost your wife when she went into a deep world of her own. That is a profound statement and one that so many people don’t think about. We’re NEVER the same following child loss, and for a long time we do retreat into our own space of loneliness and grief — often allowing nobody to enter — not even the ones we love the most.

      You are among the rare ones who had the patience and deep enough love and enough understanding to wait for your wife. I’m so thankful you have your marriage intact, and you’re so right — your son would be very, very happy to know his mom and dad’s love was resilient enough to make it through this terrible storm.

      Blessings to you and your wife. Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Our lives were consumed by caring for Garrett. What little time was left over was given to our other child. When Garrett passed away, we didn’t know each other or what to do with our time we suddenly had free. Who was this strange adult in my life, bound to me by grief, who shares a living child and a home after 20 years of being a couple?

    1. Dianna, You’ve stated beautifully what happens when a family becomes caregiver to their child and then suddenly they find themselves without their child, not knowing what to do. The entire profile of the family changes and often a couple finds themselves asking the very question you’ve stated, “Who is this strange person that I don’t know?”.

      I hope you’ve found your way in your marriage. I’m so very sorry for the loss of Garrett. And, I hope that you and your husband can grow close to each other and begin getting to know each other again.

      Thank you for your comment. I’m sure many have identified.

  4. Awesome article!!
    Luckily, my husband & I went to grief counseling and learned about the differences in grieving between men & women. We respected each other’s differences and ended up on the positive side of that 50% statistic!!
    We lost our 4-mo old daughter 16.5 yrs ago, and we celebrated our 20th Wedding Anniversary last Oct!!

    1. Kay, I’m so very sorry for the loss of your sweet daughter, but so thankful that you and your husband sought counseling as to how to deal with the loss of your little girl. I can’t express it enough how important it is to seek help early on before a couple drifts too far apart.

      Congratulations on 20 years together, and may you have 20 plus more! I’m so glad that you’ve provided hope to others who are worried about their marriages.

  5. Our marriage became stronger, we were both open and talked about it. I didn’t give him a choice when I told him I wanted to kill myself. It showed me then he was in so much pain too. It forced us to bring it out. I love my husband now more than the day we got married. I know our son Austin is happy that we are both strong in our love for him as well as each other.

    1. Stacey, Your post is an encouragement to all those going through a really hard time in their marriage right now due to the loss of their child.

      You’ve provided hope! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m so thankful that your marriage is strong and thriving!

  6. A married couple who are the biological parents of the child is completely different than a step-parent situation. I lost MY son. He was an adult when I remarried, so he wasn’t raised by the guy I’ve been married to for almost 10 years. (He’s 63. I’m 60.) We had serious communication problems before “it” happened. Bob’s mentality seemed to be that nothing was ever “wrong enough” to sit down and talk about it. Just ignore it…it will go away in time. I always “Made a big deal out of nothing” “Blew everything out of proportion” and “let everything bother me”. When I wanted to talk about our marriage, he asked “why” because there was nothing wrong with it. So…when my son was taken from me, I certainly didn’t expect Bob to be able to “fix it”. He never put any effort into fixing anything before, anyway. But, I didn’t think it was too much to expect that he would be supportive, compassionate & caring. To comfort me. I waited. And waited. I attempted to open the doors of communication only to have him change the subject. Or when I tried to tell him how intense my emotional pain was….He said “What about me….?” One day at a time, the gap widened between us. Who is this person who vowed to love, honor & cherish me and to be there FOR ME in good times AND bad??? We had a good marriage as long as everything was going half-way decent. Then one of life’s worst storms hit. I was left alone to “get over it”. I waited 3 years for him to come to me…to put his arms around me when I cried myself to sleep for months…to ask me how I was doing…to encourage me to talk about “it”. Nothing. Now, he acts as if he didn’t have a clue and, if I wanted him to hold me, I should have told him. (He deflects. Nothing has ever been because of his lack of effort. He’s good at excuses and ignoring his responsibility as a “husband”). I could go on & on. I guess I have, haven’t I? We are now in the process of a divorce. I need to take care of myself. There are worse things than being alone.

    1. Ann, I’m so, so sorry for the loss of your son. That’s enough grief to deal with for the remainder of one’s life.

      On top of that, I’m so sorry for your impending divorce. I think your final statement is one that thousands upon thousands can identify with, “There are worse things than being alone.” What you’ve described is a classic marital breakdown due to lack of communication. You explained far better than I could about how, why, and when this breakdown occurred. Obviously, your husband did not have anything even close to the love you had for your son (his stepson), so there was no connection for him as to why you are grieving so hard.

      And, there is a selfishness you described in his statement, “What about me?” that many couples often experience. Sadly, some men (and sometimes women) have a hard time thinking of anyone beyond themselves. They just cannot see that their partner — the one they committed their love to — is suffering and is in need of support.

      As I mentioned before, when a marriage is already weak, it takes a LOT of hard work and determination to continue on in a marriage when a storm as big as child loss hits. And, this is exactly why so many marriages don’t make it.

      I wish this topic was addressed more often because I think families would be better equipped if they knew the severity of pain child loss brings to a mom and dad.

      Thank you for your honesty. I hope and pray that the coming months will bring you some much-needed peace.

  7. I believe the statistics are 80/20. 20% of marriages survive. This was told to us by a counselor who never lost a child. Now, my husband still, saves I love you that 20%. It means a lot and we are still married.

    1. I’ve read the same statistic. 50% of all marriages end on divorce. The rate for us is much higher.

    2. Karen, The statistics of marriages that survive the loss of a child vary according to which study we are following. This we know: most marriages are shipwrecked following the death of a child and it takes a lot of hard work for the marriage to survive. What’s so difficult is when an already weak marriage is hit by the loss of a child, and when there is little to no support given to the couple who are suffering daily from the loss of their child.

      Child loss is a multi-tiered, deep loss on so many levels. I hope and pray that one day society will understand just how devastating it is to lose a child and will find avenues to give greater support.

      I’m so very glad that you are still married!

      1. Our marriage was never strong and we tried to make it better, but after the birth of out son in 2008 he was tie center of both our lives. My husband was a whole new man. He even was a stay at home daddy for about three years. Our son drown in our neglectful neighbors pool when we trusted them to watch him. Since June 2013 out lives have been hell. We don’t talk about it. I do. But WE don’t. ‘Cause there’s nothing we can do about it. I’ve done the manly thing and pour my self into my job. He does the manly thing by avoiding ‘it’ and keeping busy with projects. I don’t see divorce in our future. But the loving patents our son would want to see are gone. We tried the counseling thing. It didn’t go well. He’s still holding on to so much anger, while I just look forward to heaven.

  8. I believe if you put all your trust, faith and love in The Lord first, he will give you everything you need to survive. 3 years later I still feel like I can’t breath when I think of my child and the loss, but I know my Lord is right there with me. And I thank Him every day for that. Without Him, I would have surely died myself.

    1. Cheryl, I appreciate your comment so much! God was a large part of my acceptance of my losses. I, too, would not have made it without the help of my Lord.

      That being said, many of us go through a period of darkness where we question God with every fiber in us as to why this had to happen. For many people, this period of questioning lasts for quite a while. I wish more people understood that this doesn’t mean parents no longer believe in God or trust Him. It just means they’ve been hurt beyond description and need time (with the help of God) to come to terms with the reality of what has happened. As we know, child loss will test every fiber within us.

      Thanks so much for your comment! I appreciate your input, and I’m so very sorry for your loss.

    2. I agree with you Cheryl, without our Lord, I would not have hope. Meditating on scriptures and prayer are vital. God is our ever-present help as we make our way through this difficult earthly journey to our Heavenly home.

  9. Our son went to Heaven (I don’t use the “D” word, died/death) on August 1, 2010, at the age of 21, when his life was just beginning. He was at another young mans house out of town when he went away I hope peacefully in his sleep.

    When we found out, no one could tell us exactly what happened, we had to wait for six long weeks until the autopsy came in the mail and my husband and I had to read it, then follow up with a phone call to the corner. It was ruled as “accidental”, but found out he had consumed some type of terrible drug while out drinking with this young man and his parents.

    Talor and this young man were buddies in the LA Army National Guard and had spent plenty of times together. This young man who had called me to tell me what had happened on Talor’s last hours on the earth, never mentioned that drug, only they were out with his parents.

    We are assuming the reason being, was because he was afraid we’d press charges and he’d be released from the Guard. My husband was ok because Talor was with God and the fact that he took it, and he said that young man did not put it down his throat. I knew that as well, but if that young man had not had it, then my son would of never done it, so I do blame half of it on him. My husband said that we needed to just let it go since it would not bring our son back.

    My oldest son & nephew can’t forgive that young man, our daughter (who is the baby), has never said anything to us about how she feels about it.

    We saw that young man on the day we were bringing Talor to his resting place and he has never tried to stay in contact with us since then. I again think it’s guilt.

    Later I realized that I was the stronger one, as I think most mom’s are at the beginning and now, my husband is. I still can’t get over the fact that my son is gone….I won’t see him graduate from college, become a husband, a father and the other things that is supposed to happen in your child’s life. Yes, we both grieved differently and I think it’s made our marriage stronger as we know how much it normally puts a strain on it.

    We always talk about Talor, visit him, celebrate his birthday and Angelversary. As a family.

    I recently just found your website and find it comforting. I never was a reader, but every time I find a book about the loss of your child, I read it as well as articles/blogs. So many things has happen to me that makes me think I’m going crazy and when I read these things happens to others in my situation, it puts my mind to ease.

    Sorry this is so long, but I read different topics and felt I need to out all of them in one post.

    Thanks,
    Darlene in Louisiana

    1. Darlene, Thank you so much for your comments. This is how we learn and get strengthened — by sharing with each other.

      I’m so very sorry for the loss of your son Talor, but so happy to hear that you visit him, celebrate his birthday and his Angelversary as a family. That’s so important. And, so things we do have to let go. There is never any satisfaction in allowing our hearts to harden, and it sounds like you have taken this tragedy and given it over to God. That is how it should be.

      I hope that some day the friend that was with your son will visit you and share the truth with you as to what happened. That is when you will find your peace.