Spousal and Partner Loss

"There must be something wrong with me."

"What makes you think thereís something wrong with you?"

"Because everyone keeps telling me that I should be feeling better by now, but I donít feel better. I miss him."

"What do you miss most about him?"

"His shoes."

"His shoes?"

"Well, the way he used to tie his shoes. Double knots with really big loops. Heíd do that every day in exactly the same way."

"Oh, I see. Something you could count on."

"Yes, something I could count on."

"What can you count on now?


~ Conversation with "Marian", widow.

The wide range of intense emotions that follow the loss of a spouse or partner is well-known and well-documented both in literature and in the media. Lesser known are the innumerable secondary losses that slowly trickle in, sometimes weeks, sometimes years after the initial loss.

Secondary losses, so named because they stem from the primary loss, typically crop up as the reality of our loss sets in. With spousal and partner loss, secondary losses can include the loss of oneís role or identity, loss of income, loss of social status as a couple, and loss of oneís social network and/or support system.

Loss of Oneís Role or Identity

Even in relationships where both partners are quite independent, interdependence still occurs. The longer we live with someone, the more we learn to adapt to each otherís ways, often without even realizing we are doing so. It isnít until our partner dies that we begin to see just how much we depended on them for certain things and how much we now need to learn and do for ourselves.

Loss of Income

Having to organize personal finances while in the midst of grief can be a harrowing experience. Many people feel overwhelmed with all the financial decisions they now have to make. Informing creditors about the death and seeking expert advice when needed can help make this process a little easier.

Loss of Social Status as a Couple

When our partner dies, our social status shifts from "couple" to "single". Not only is this difficult for us, but also for friends and family who are uncertain how to relate to us now that we are no longer part of a couple.

Loss of One's Social Network and/or Support System

Although we may receive a great deal of support immediately after the loss, the majority of this support usually drops off within 2 to 3 months. Relationships change, and we may feel that we no longer have much in common with former friends.

Secondary loss is a normal part of the grieving process and adapting to these changes takes time. Be patient with yourself and know that you are not alone. For additional suggestions, please see Tips for Coping.

© Jill Lehman, MFT

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