Coping with the death of your spouse

Coping with the death of your husband, wife or partner is one of the most devastating and challenging experiences we can have in life. While all bereavement is difficult, losing your spouse can be particularly difficult to cope with. 


In this article, I’ll talk about some of the reasons for this and make some suggestions that may help you to navigate the grieving process. Obviously, they can’t bring back the person you have lost but they can help you to move forward with your life after this distressing loss.

Losing someone you love

The experience of losing your spouse can feel overwhelming and life-changing. You will likely feel intense sadness, longing, and a deep sense of loss. Grief can feel like a heavy weight on your chest that makes it difficult to breathe. In the early days and weeks, you may find it hard to accept that your loved one has died. You might feel numb or in shock, and find it difficult to accept the reality of the situation.

Besides sadness, there are many other emotions that people have when a loved one dies. You may feel angry at the world, at the circumstances surrounding the death, or even at the person who died for leaving you alone. You may experience a sense of hopelessness and have a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.

Grief can make you feel incredibly alone, even when surrounded by others. It may feel hard to relate to people who haven't experienced a similar loss, which can lead to feelings of isolation. Grief can also manifest in physical symptoms such as exhaustion, difficulty sleeping, headaches, digestive problems, and changes to appetite – not eating or over-eating.

There are other emotions that people feel and sometimes struggle to talk about: for example, you might feel guilty for things you said or didn't say, actions you took or didn't take, or for surviving when your loved one did not. The death of a loved one can bring increased anxiety and fears for the future. You may worry about how you will cope without them or what the future holds. In some cases, when a loved one has been suffering from a long illness or been in pain, their death may bring a sense of relief that they are no longer suffering but this may also be accompanied by a sense of guilt for feeling this. 

It's important to understand that grief is a complex and individual process, and there is no right or wrong way to feel. The grieving process is natural and changes over time, it is a journey that cannot be rushed.

Losing a spouse

Losing anyone can be difficult but when you lose your partner, husband, or wife you have often lost the very person you turn to for comfort and reassurance in challenging times, leaving you feeling isolated. You may also have to cope with other losses that ripple out from the pain of the death itself. We call these secondary losses and they can make coping after losing your spouse even more challenging. Typical secondary losses that you might experience are:

Loss of support and companionship

You have not only lost your loved one but also the person who provides emotional support, companionship, and intimacy. This can leave you feeling isolated and stuck, yearning for your loved one to return.

Routine and lifestyle changes

Your daily routines and lifestyle may be disrupted. For example, many couples divide chores between them, managing shared finances, taking the bins out, making lunch, etc. and you will find that you need to adjust to this. Hobbies and things you did together like day trips or sports may seem more difficult or impossible now.

Loss of future plans

If your loved one’s death was unexpected or they died relatively quickly, then your future plans and dreams that you had with them may no longer seem attainable.

Social losses

Grief can place a strain on relationships. Some friends, family and colleagues may withdraw, uncertain how to offer support or simply feeling uncomfortable. They may also not mention your loved one, worrying they will upset you further.  

Financial changes

The death of a spouse can lead to financial challenges if they contributed income and you may face financial instability or have to make significant adjustments to your financial situation.

Loss of trust and security

Some people experience a loss of trust in the world, in their beliefs and in their sense of their own mortality as a result of the death. It can lead to a sense of unfairness and a questioning of the purpose of life.

Loss of identity

The loss of a sense of identity after bereavement is a common and significant aspect of the grieving process. When someone close to you dies, especially if that person played a central role in your life, it can lead to a profound sense of identity disruption. For example, you may struggle to identify as a widow/widower or a single person and feel that you no longer have a clear purpose in life.

It's important to recognise that secondary losses are part of the grieving process, and they can make the loss feel harder to deal with. However, understanding and acknowledging these secondary losses can be an important part of the healing process.

Suggestions for coping

While your loss feels devastating, the feelings and thoughts you have are part of a natural process of grieving. Taking care of yourself and coping with your grief may not seem like a priority but healthy grieving has two parts, the first part is allowing yourself to feel sad and to miss your loved one. The second part is coping with your life as it is now. Both parts are important.

In the short term

  • Seek support: Reach out to friends and family members who can offer emotional or practical support. If you are religious or have spiritual beliefs, connecting with your faith community or engaging in spiritual practices can be a source of comfort.
  • Create a routine: Establishing a daily routine can provide structure and stability during a time when everything may feel chaotic. This can help you regain a sense of control.
  • Take care of yourself: Grief can take a physical toll on your body, so it's important to prioritise self-care. Make sure to eat well, exercise and try to get enough sleep.
  • Allow yourself to grieve: Grieving is a natural and necessary process. It's normal to feel a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and confusion. Give yourself permission to experience these feelings without judgment.
  • Be patient with yourself: Grieving is not something that can be rushed. It's a process that takes time, and healing happens at its own pace. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you navigate this journey.

Over time

  • Stay connected: Isolation can worsen feelings of grief and sadness. Try to maintain social connections even if you feel that being alone is more comfortable. Consider joining a support group for widows or widowers, as talking to people who have experienced similar losses can be very comforting.
  • Start a journal: Writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal can be a therapeutic way to process your grief and pain. Over time it may help you to gain insight into your emotions and to reflect on your goals and what is important to you.
  • Memorialise and remember: Celebrate the life of your spouse by creating a memorial or tribute in their honour, something meaningful for you, for example holding a memorial service, creating a scrapbook, or planting a tree in their memory.
  • Rebuilding and rediscovery: Over time, you may find new roles, interests, and activities that contribute to your sense of identity and purpose. This will be challenging at first but be open to exploring new experiences and making new connections.

Everyone's grieving process is unique and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It's important to do what feels right for you and seek help if you're struggling to cope or feel stuck. Importantly, practice self-compassion, and be kind and patient with yourself during this challenging time. Grief is a complex and individual process, and it's okay to not have all the answers right away.

How counselling can help

If you find it difficult to cope on your own, consider seeking the help of a therapist/counsellor who specialises in bereavement. They will listen to you and work with you to create a personalised approach and strategies to navigate your grief.

Counselling will offer a safe and compassionate space for you to explore your feelings and move forward with your life in a way that honours the person you have lost. Please do get in touch if you are feeling overwhelmed and want support.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Abergele, Conwy, LL22
Written by Michaela Borg, MBACP, Bereavement and Loss Counsellor - Online/Phone
Abergele, Conwy, LL22

My name is Michaela (she/her) and I specialise in supporting people through bereavement, grief and loss.  Having experienced the traumatic death of someone close to me, I understand that grief can feel life-changing. You may be feeling stuck, like you can’t move forward with your life or...

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