You and your partner may have very different experiences following a pregnancy loss. It’s important to communicate and support each other in a way that recognizes each person's depth of experience and unique struggle. While you may have been the one to physically experience the miscarriage, your partner is most likely struggling with their own range of unfamiliar emotions and trying to figure out the best way to help you cope, too. Here are some strategies to support your partner and effectively convey your needs, so you can get through this together.
What your partner may experience
Your partner or supporter may deal with this loss differently from you. Here are some things to keep in mind as you navigate this time together:
- They may not feel the same attachment or depth: They did not experience the physical pregnancy and may not feel the same attachment as you — that is totally normal and ok. It doesn't have any implication on the validity of your feelings, or theirs.
- They may be more affected than you: They may be as affected or even more affected than you, as this loss may also be the loss of a vision for the future they’ve held for years — that is totally normal.
- Their grief may be unacknowledged by others: Your partner’s grief may be overlooked and marginalized. Know that even if their grief is less visible, it’s there.
- They may be struggling with feelings of insufficiency: They may feel helpless and guilty that you have to bear the entire physical burden of pregnancy loss.
- Open communication is critical: Honest communication about where you are and how you’re feeling is the key to getting through this together.
They may not be as affected
They did not physically experience the pregnancy, and therefore, they will not have the hormonal fluctuations and physical side effects that you have. Because of this, it’s reasonable and expected that they might not have the same attachment and degree of sadness. According to a large review of existing research on men’s response to pregnancy loss, the baby is less real to them and their greatest concern is the well-being of their partner. Although most of the existing studies on partners’ grief focus exclusively on men, it’s not too much of a leap to assume that regardless of gender, this research applies to the non-pregnant partner.
They may be quite affected
They could be feeling the same or even more sadness because they formed an attachment to the pregnancy. Research shows that partners often experience grief related to awareness of mortality and the fragility of life, loss of their family’s hopes and dreams, and feeling vulnerable, powerless, and fearful that their partner might be harmed.
Your partner’s grief may also be ignored or underestimated
The results of a British study of 323 men found that although they displayed less “active grief” than their female partners, they were actually more vulnerable to feelings of despair and difficulty coping eight weeks following the loss. They may feel their role is primarily as a “supporter” and that their grief is overlooked in comparison to their female partners, whose pain is typically more visible. For example, many men report that while friends and loved ones will check in to see how they are doing, they will exclusively ask how their female partner is coping rather than asking them about their well-being. This leaves little space or understanding for their reaction and distress.
How to check in on your partner
Approach your partner with curiosity. Intentionally make the assumption that your partner’s reaction will be different from yours. This purposeful curiosity will allow you to be open to whatever is shared. You can also start the conversation with open-ended questions such as: “What did this experience mean to you?”, “What has felt helpful in how I or others have supported you?” or “What have you learned about yourself from this experience?”
How to be your partner’s advocate
In this experience, you can be your partner’s advocate by reminding others that your partner’s emotions are valid and can be expressed. For example, you can say, “I’m feeling this and my partner is feeling this too.” You can be your partner’s ally and extend a hand in this way, which can help rebuild any part of your relationship that may have been shaken by this experience.
How to communicate with your partner about what you’re feeling and the support you need
It’s expected that you will cope differently than your partner — that is totally normal. According to a study on 185 couples post-pregnancy loss, 74% of participants coped with pregnancy loss differently from their partner. The data showed that most women wished to talk about their loss, whereas men preferred to deal with it inwardly. Additionally, 11% of the couples claimed their marriage was weakened and blamed it on an inability to communicate. If you find it difficult to communicate about the pregnancy loss on your own, couples therapy and community support groups can be helpful.
Talk about terminology
Have a conversation with your partner about the terminology you prefer when talking about pregnancy loss. This can help reduce any language that might be painful, feel invalidating, or add to the hurt you’re experiencing. Know that regardless of the terms that your doctor, medical team, or insurance company are using, you can use whatever words feel right to you.
Most couples struggle with sex after a pregnancy loss. You may be feeling overwhelmed and emotional, and you may still be dealing with physical body changes that make intimacy difficult or make you feel like you’re not quite yourself. How to talk about it: Start off with a candid conversation about intimacy and allow it to be open, transparent, and messy. Acknowledge that you’ve never been at this place before. Be honest that you are both trying to figure it out and that you will figure it out together. You can always say, “I don’t really know how I feel about it right now.” Allow it to be a collaborative conversation and give your partner time to express their honest feelings about how intimacy has shifted and changed.
Share what you do need, not what you don’t need
We often default to communicating corrections and criticisms to our partners rather than wishes and needs. This can understandably create a defensive reaction in our partners, making it less likely that they will be able to support us in the way we need. Avoid saying something like, “Stop hanging out with your friends so much,” and instead try, “I wish we could spend more time together. I miss you.”
Seek additional support when needed
Couples therapy can be incredibly helpful in all stages of a relationship, but particularly after a trauma or loss. It can be challenging for us to identify our needs, and a trained couples therapist can help pinpoint and convey our underlying needs and desires in an effective way. This also puts less pressure on both partners to take on the role of “fixing” the relationship.
Cope as a team
The same coping mechanisms that are helpful to you may be helpful for your partner. It may be helpful to share what’s worked for you with your partner and even find ways to cope that you can do together. Our article on How to Cope with Pregnancy Loss is full of actionable steps you can take that are applicable to both you and your partner.
Explore our hub on pregnancy loss here.