"What's going on with you today?" I asked my husband, Scott, when I noticed he seemed subdued.
He was thinking about his daughter. We'd recently celebrated her birthday, and we knew she carried the stress of scheduling separate parties with her mother and father. "If her mom and I were still married," Scott said, "she wouldn't be stuck in the middle like this."
I could have been angry that he wished he were still with his former wife. I could have let insecurity take over and allowed myself to withdraw from him. But I recognized something simple and innocent: Scott was grieving.
When a marriage ends, it's normal to mourn the loss of what can no longer be — traditions, the future together as a biological family. Those times of grieving are an essential part of the healing process, and they offer opportunities for us to show love to our husband or wife. Here's how:
Don't take it personally.
Recently I learned that my high school is closing. I've been surprised by how sad I've felt at that news. It's not that my time in high school was amazing. But those four years took me through a formative era — it's my history. As much as I grieve that loss, I certainly don't want to go back to high school!
That's similar to what happens with our spouse when he or she mourns. My husband doesn't want to go back to his former marriage. Nor does his grief have any connection to his feelings about me. He mourns losing the family ideal he spent his life imagining — one that allows his daughter to enjoy special occasions with her whole family together.
We help our spouse heal when we don't take that grief personally and when we recognize it for what it is — the sad reality of a broken world.
Give your spouse space.
Almost 20 years after her first marriage ended, a woman I know still grieves every December, the month her first husband left her. Her second husband prepares for that. She allows the sadness to come and prays through it, while her husband sympathizes and encourages her to respond the way she needs to.
"Knowing that my husband gives me that time and space to be sad and that he doesn't feel threatened by it makes me love him even more," she says.
Our marriages are strengthened as we recognize those times when grief often resurfaces and offer the space our husband or wife needs.
Be available to comfort and listen.
Grief has no time limit. We may be tempted to think, Would you get over that already? But the best way to help is to be available to listen and offer kindness. Our compassion shouldn't change just because our spouse is mourning something from a previous marriage.
Ask how you can best respond during those times. Your spouse will probably appreciate your concern and view your marriage as a safe place.
Allow yourself to grieve, too.
There may be times when you find yourself mourning. That, too, is normal. Acknowledge your grief, pray and give yourself time to process what you're feeling. Grief will ebb and flow, but if it starts to affect your relationship, seek help to find out what may be causing the inability to heal.
Allowing each other to grieve is important. When you and your spouse mourn honestly and openly, you pave the way to draw nearer to each other.Ginger Kolbaba is the author of Your Best Happily Ever After.