Coping with the Death of a Spouse or Partner

Advice on grieving after the loss of a husband, wife or partner

Last updated: 29 November 2016

Whether you have lost your husband, wife, civil partner or long-term partner, the loss of someone who love and share your life with will change everything. At first you will feel that life will never be good again, but with time the grieving process can help you to heal.

The pain of losing a partner

When you commit to being someone’s spouse or partner, you are choosing to build a life with that person. When they pass away, part of your grief may be for the life you had together. You may be grieving for your future, children you had planned to have together, or things left undone.

Chances are that they were a big part of your daily life and even a big part of how you think about yourself as a person. As you grieve, you are making the change from being ‘we’ to being ‘me’ and you may feel a conflict between the need to continue loving and remembering them and rediscovering who you can be on your own. Know that, with time, you can find a way to do both, and that this in no way means forgetting their importance to you.

Reordering your life after losing a partner is a long process. You do not need to remove all traces of them from your life. Some people may pressure you to throw out all of your loved one’s things in order to ‘move on’. You should not do this unless you feel ready. You might never get rid of all their belongings, and that is okay. What matters is what feels right to you.

Grief is unpredictable and unique to each individual. Feelings you may have include:

  • Numbness and emptiness, or being unable to cry. This doesn’t mean that you didn’t love your partner enough, you are simply in shock and unable to process the overwhelming emotions that lie beneath the surface.
  • Feeling physically weak and sick. Grief can take its toll on your physical health. Try to eat well and sleep if you can. Make sure to see a doctor if physical symptoms continue.
  • Jealousy of others. You may envy those who still have their partner and find it difficult to be around happy couples.
  • Anxiety and fear. The loss of your partner may make you worried for the wellbeing of others around you. You may also become anxious about things that seem to be unconnected, such as leaving the house or being around large groups.

Losing romantic intimacy

What makes losing a partner different from other types of grief is that you have lost the person who gives you romantic attention and affection. It is likely that you shared a level of intimacy with them, both emotionally and physically, that you do not have with anyone else.

You may find that physical affection is the last thing on your mind as you cope with the multitude of emotions that come with grief. It may take a long time to be ready to love someone again, if ever. Don’t rush into anything you don’t feel comfortable with.

However, you may also find yourself longing for the intimacy and comfort of a sexual relationship. This is a natural reaction to feeling so much pain. It is more common than you might think for grieving partners to have a physical relationship with someone new quite soon after the bereavement.

This often brings with it intense feelings of guilt. You might feel as though you have betrayed your loved one, or you might realise afterwards that you entered into the new relationship because you were grieving. If this happens, try to remember that grief affects people in unpredictable ways. Wanting to be loved and comforted does not in any way mean you are forgetting or betraying your partner.

The best thing you can do is acknowledge what you are feeling and why that romantic relationship is happening – are you just seeking comfort, or do you really have feelings for that person?

Supporting your children

If you have children with your partner, they will be grieving the loss of a parent. You will need to try to support them in their grief as well as learning to cope with your own.

If they are young children this can be challenging, especially while caring for all their other needs, such as feeding them, taking them to school and trying to maintain some level of discipline. If possible, seek help and support from your friends and family members. They will be looking for practical ways to help you through this difficult time and you should not be afraid to ask for help.

Bear in mind that children and teenagers can show grief in very different ways. Read more about supporting bereaved children and bereaved teenagers to find out how you can look after their needs during bereavement.

Managing the estate

After the loss of a spouse or civil partner, you may be responsible for managing their estate. This includes notifying banks and organisations that they have passed away, overseeing the giving out of inheritance and settling any debts they had.

Dealing with practical and legal problems while experiencing grief can be difficult. Again, if friends and family offer support and assistance, do not be afraid to take them up on their offer. You may also need to seek legal advice from a solicitor when dealing with probate and inheritance.

Read more about managing the estate according to Australian law, and the various duties you will need to carry out if you are an executor.

Moving towards healing

Right now it might feel impossible to even imagine a time when you will be okay. The truth is that no one really ‘gets over’ the loss of someone close to them, especially someone as close as a partner. Your grief will never fully go away and there will probably always be a part of you that misses your partner. It is true that your life will never be the same again, but you can, in time, find moments of happiness and peace.

The journey towards healing, however, is long. In order to help yourself grieve in a healthy way, try doing the following:

  • Stay physically healthy by eating and sleeping well. Talk to a doctor if you are struggling to eat or sleep properly.
  • Express your emotions. Let yourself cry if you need to. Don’t pretend to be okay all the time. If you need to vent your feelings, try writing them down or talking to a friend.
  • Be involved in arranging the funeral. It may be painful, but many people find arranging the funeral helps them say goodbye and honour their loved one’s memory.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends and family will want to help you, but may not know how. Reach out to them if you need extra support.

For more advice on coping with grief, read our 10 practical tips for dealing with bereavement. You can also contact a specialist bereavement support organisation for professional help and advice, no matter how small or big the problem.