They say that when you grieve, you deny the reality of the situation. This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening. You also feel extremely angry. You direct this anger at your loved ones, maybe even the person you’ve lost. How could you do this to me? How could you leave me? And then there are the “if only’s,” If only I’d been there to help. If only I’d been nicer to you. We certainly can’t forget the sadness and regret: You can’t find the energy to get out of bed. Instead, you stay under the covers, under the weight of your worry. I can’t bear to think about the funeral. And finally—if you’re lucky—acceptance. You’ve found peace. I miss you, and I hate that you’re gone, but I have to carry on.

These are the five universal stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They were first proposed by Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969 and have since been widely used to describe how we react to the loss of a loved one. But here’s the thing: coping with a difficult loss is an incredibly personal experience. No two people will grieve in the exact same way… which can make grieving with your significant other a difficult—but not impossible—process. Camila Williams, a clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and grief, explains that while this time is undoubtedly tough, you and your partner can get through it together.

Coming to Terms with Your Grief—Together and Separately

Losing a loved one is never easy. And we all must embark on our own personal journey to work through the loss as well as the changes that result from that loss. “When you lose a loved one, you have to first learn to grieve on your own terms,” Williams explains. “Everyone will have an opinion, including yourself, of how you should grieve, what you should do, and when you should move on. There are no shoulds in grieving. Grief is not logical and it is not linear. Couples need to understand that.”

It’s important to remember that your partner might be moving through their grief differently, just as you are. “One day your partner may be doing better than you. It does not mean they don’t care anymore or didn’t love your loved one as much as you did. It just means their grief path is different. At the same time, your partner, who you saw as the strong one, may have a total meltdown—it doesn’t mean they’re weak or regressing, just that their grief journey took a turn and that is normal.”

Couples also need to understand that triggers of grief can happen at any time, even years after the loss. Losing someone is also a rupture to your sense of identity. As a couple, your identity simply will not be the same as it was before your loss. You will spin your wheels trying to make things go back to the way they were or trying to hold onto things to keep them from changing. But the loss has already changed you and your relationship. The key here is deciding together how to rebuild your relationship in the future. You need to learn to integrate that loss into your new relationship.

Moving Forward Together After This Life-Altering Event

When grieving, you both need to help each other find coping resources and encourage each other to use these coping resources as needed. This means having support and taking time for self-care. With time, you both need to be able to talk about the loss and not avoid it. This requires feeling the pain. Unfortunately, efforts to avoid the pain only magnify it. Be supportive here, and do not try to avoid bringing things up so as to not upset your partner. Rather, be there and hold their hand when they do get upset. With time, you will both learn to manage the pain and live with it better.

In sum, you and your partner will likely grieve in different ways and at different speeds. But you can still make it through this extremely difficult time together. Here’s the gist of Williams’ advice for doing so:

  1. Understand that you and your partner will grieve differently.
  2. Know that grief can be triggered at any moment, even years later.
  3. Accept that losing a loved one will change your sense of identity and your relationship.
  4. Decide together to build your relationship back up and continue forward together.

And, if you need a little extra support or guidance in working through this grief together, consider working with a couples therapist at Thriveworks. We also have grief counselors who can help you both work through your individual grief in one-on-one sessions. Our providers are skilled and experienced and they truly care about your health, your relationships, and the overall trajectory of your life.