People Grieve Differently
Many assumptions remain in our society about the ways in which men and women grieve, despite a shift away from traditional roles and expectations. For example, a man expressing emotions in public often draws the disapproval of others, while a woman who prefers to grieve alone, or who is unable to express her grief openly, can be seen as hard, cold or in denial.
The way we grieve is determined by many factors, including gender. During the journey of grief, couples often find that the ways in which they deal with the loss, while having some similarities, can actually be quite different. There are often expectations placed on grieving parents about how they should behave, feel and cope with the loss.
Stereotypically, females are expected to express their emotions openly, to be more accepting of support, and more likely to contact a professional service for assistance.
“I guess the hardest thing I found was that my wife wanted me to grieve the same way that she was grieving and I didn’t feel I needed to go down that path.”1
“My partner wanted counselling and so I went along for her.”1
“We grieved in a similar manner. My wife, however, wanted to come to counselling at SIDS and Kids (now known as Red Nose Grief and Loss), but I did not want to relive the death every single week.”1
Generally, males are expected to cope alone, resist offers of outside support, not show or express their emotions, and support their partner by being strong. Often these differences can be wrongly interpreted as the male partner not being as affected or as upset about the loss.
“My partner wanted to retell the story over and over.” “My wife felt I needed to grieve the way she did. She wanted to help me, but not in the right way. I wanted her to accept the way I was handling it.”1
“All my wife wanted to do was to tell the story. It was so excruciating.”1
“We were the reverse. I was the one who was telling the story as it helped me to get through it.”1
“She didn’t want to talk; it was too upsetting.”1
“I internalise. I don’t talk as much as my wife does. I didn’t want to go to counselling, I didn’t enjoy the first session, I wasn’t comfortable. Looking back now I see that it actually gave me the chance to talk more than I would have at home because I was internalising at home. I was being the guy trying to fix things and holding on to my emotions - and discovering that alcohol is something that releases the inhibitions a bit.”1
“Most guys are different to women. My wife reached out to her friends, I didn’t. I just opted out till I reached my tipping point and then I actually called someone professional.”1
It is important to remember that differences are okay and it doesn’t mean they will fracture your relationship. They may make it stronger.
Last reviewed: 31/3/20
1. Quote from participants of a series of workshops and interviews with bereaved fathers held in 2015 at Red Nose Grief and Loss, Malvern, Victoria, and Red Nose Grief and Loss offices, Australia.