I never gave it much thought, but a lot of people don’t make it to the ripe old age of 80. Yet, we expect that everyone in our lives will live at least that long. Saying a premature goodbye to a loved one, whether unexpectedly or not, is one of the hardest things a person can go through. And it seems to happen to almost everyone. My friend’s mother died of a heart attack in her 40’s, my best friend from high school recently lost his sister, and my husband and I lost our own beautiful son exactly one year ago. Not that it diminishes the pain, but it seems that everyone loses someone who they expected and hoped would be around for a lot longer. And when it happens, we need to be willing to work with those closest to us to overcome it together.

I have seen first-hand the strain that grief can place on a relationship and a family. Because of my own experiences, I will focus on the way grief can affect a marriage, though the same principles apply to any relationship.

Everyone grieves differently, and this can lead to potentially disastrous misunderstandings. I’ve always been the kind of girl to wear my heart on my sleeve. There is never any question what I’m feeling. My husband, on the other hand, almost always maintains a calm surface, regardless of what emotions may be bubbling up on the inside. After we lost our son, I cried and moped for months. Long before I was ready, my husband outwardly resumed many of his normal activities. I remember one particularly difficult night where I accused him of not being as sad as he should be. I don’t think anyone could have ever said a more hurtful thing to him. Underneath his collected exterior was a tumult of grief and pain, and I had further wounded his broken heart because I did not understand the way he grieved. I could easily see how our altercation could spiral into a love-destroying cycle of insult and pain. Fortunately, we were able to talk it out, and my wonderful, loving husband forgave my horrid words. We learned early on that if we wanted our marriage to survive this terrible nightmare, we needed to understand each other’s grief and try to meet each other’s needs. It takes a lot of open and direct communication, even if such honesty makes you feel vulnerable. The fact of the matter is that with any change, you need to draw closer together or you will drift further apart.

Losing a loved one prematurely is one of the most life-altering changes that anyone can experience, and the grief can either make or break a marriage. You can no longer be two grieving individuals; rather, you must become one grieving couple, working to overcome grief together. If you do, your love will emerge stronger than ever, a diamond created under the intense pressure of grieving hearts.