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Lesson 17: Men & Women Grieve Differently



When a baby dies, both parents grieve.  Unfortunately, men and women grieve differently, so grieving can put a lot of strain on a marriage.  If couples can understand these differences, then they can help each other through the process.


Generally speaking,


Women…                                                        Men…

-Talk openly about their pain.               -Cannot talk easily about their pain.

-Cry frequently.                                           -Feel awkward crying. “Real men don’t cry.”

-Grieve slower.                                            -Grieve quicker.

-Want to share their grief.                       -Express grief while alone.

-Are extremely emotional.                      -Can appear cold and uncaring.

-Have difficulty focusing.                         -Lose themselves in work or some task.

-Want someone to listen.                         -Want to “fix” it.


Things you can do:

  1. Know this is a slow process.
  2. Spend time together. You need a shared focus. (“Your marriage is a crucial source of strength.”)
  3. Share your thoughts and feelings. LISTEN to one another.  Use the ten-minute rule – Wives, set an egg timer for 10 minutes and promise your husband that you will take only that much of his time. Men are afraid that your emotional conversation will go on and on and that scares them.
  4. Spend time alone.  This is also necessary to heal.  You need time to process and pray and grieve by yourself.
  5. Be sensitive to one another. Say what comforts you, like “I feel loved and encouraged when…” or “There is nothing that will comfort me right now.” or  “I don’t want you to fix my problem; I just need you to listen.”
  6. Try not to be critical.





Men and women can share similar feelings as well as the different ones they have.  Usually, if they experience the same feeling, they have it at a different time in the grieving process than their spouse does.  Many times this isolates them from one another even more.


Women feel:                                                         Men feel:


Guilt                                                                         Guilt – if only or what did I do

Anger                                                                      Anger

Resentment – of pregnant women,             Need to protect wife – should

stupid people, even God                                  have been able to stop it

Failure                                                                    Failure

Anxiety-Panic                                                      Questioning

Loss of Control                                                     Broken instead of strong

Difficulty sleeping                                              Unable to make decisions

Difficulty eating                                                   Depth of despair

Sick                                                                           Heart wounded

Deep sadness                                                       No one can help

Hurt by cruel remarks                                      Hurt by cruel remarks

Lonely                                                                     Lonely

Forgetful                                                                Forgetful

Need to be alone                                                 Isolated/Invisible

Need to talk                                                          Nobody understands

Apathy about everything                                A need to mask pain

Overwhelmed by questions –                        Women expect men to grieve

What if, why, if only                                           the way they do

Over protective of loved ones                        A need to fix it

Seek out others – talk                                        They shouldn’t cry

Withdrawn                                                           A need to work on a project

Overwhelmed by emotions                            Confused – esp. early on

Numb                                                                      Denial

Shocked                                                                  Irritation toward wife

Despondent                                                          Separated

Inability to concentrate                                   Inability to concentrate

Fear                                                                         In need of a listener





This poem by Deborah Gemmill from The Chance to Say Good-Bye explains how one grieving couple felt:


We sit – so far apart

I cannot touch your sorrow.

Even though our hearts have broken

Into identical pieces

We grieve – alone.

Unable to look at each other’s sadness

We look away.

How can I reach you – save you

When I must

Save myself.



The next pages include a checklist for women and another for men.  Each of you read through these lists and check off the responses that explain what you are going through.  Use the completed checklists as a springboard for communication.  They are reprinted from: When a baby dies: A handbook for healing and helping by R.K. Limbo & S.R. Wheeler (1993).

















Responses to the Loss of a Baby:



___ I wonder if my husband feels badly about our baby.  His grief doesn’t seem as great as mine.


___ I’m pregnant again, but I’m afraid to tell anyone.  I can’t stand the pain of having to tell them something happened again.


___ I feel so empty, emptier than I’ve ever felt before.


___ I don’t like the body changes I’ve experienced since I was pregnant.  I feel too fat/thin, or my body is __________________________.


___ I have experienced unpleasant physical symptoms such as aching arms, fast heartbeat, tiredness, butterflies in my stomach, always nervous, ___________________________________________.


___ Loneliness and distance – Nobody understands me anymore.  I feel all alone sometimes.


___ Nostalgia for “old self” – I sometimes feel like I’ll never feel “normal” again like I used to.  Will I ever be the same?


___ Emotional swings – My mood can change so fast – one minute I’m up and the next I’m down.  I feel like I can’t keep up with it.


___ Increased dependency needs – I find myself wishing to be protected and taken care of more than before.


___ I find myself feeling obsessed with getting pregnant again.  It seems like I’d feel much better if I could look forward to another baby.


___ I’m so afraid of getting pregnant again.  I don’t think I could go through losing another baby again.


___ I think about the baby all the time.  It’s like I can’t get it out of my mind.  I wonder if that’s normal.


___ I don’t feel attractive anymore.  I’m worried that my husband will lose interest in me.


___ I hate having sex.  How can we be doing that when our baby has died?


___ Since the loss, my husband and I have sex more often.  I wonder if this is normal.


___ I find myself having scary thoughts about my husband or surviving children being killed in an accident or something.

___ My dreams frighten me.  They are so real.  I dream about  _____________________________.


___ My breasts ache to nurse my baby.  Sometimes I feel a letdown of milk.


___ I keep thinking over and over, “What did I do to cause this? I must have done something.”


___ We didn’t really want to be pregnant.  I’m wondering if that’s why our baby died.


___ My husband and I seem to talk and talk but never get anything resolved.


___ I’m so afraid that I’ll forget my baby.


___ I find that I can’t concentrate.  I’m forgetful and just can’t seem to keep it all together.  Am I going crazy?


___ My husband and I don’t talk about important issues.  We don’t seem to have as much in common anymore.  We seem distant.


___ I know my husband has lots of feelings.  Why can’t he talk to me about them?


___ My husband seems to be moving ahead more rapidly than I am.  He’s all involved in work and seems back to normal.


___ I’m jealous of pregnant women and women with babies.  I see them everywhere.


___ Our friends or relative had a healthy baby at the same time our baby was due.  How can I stand watching that child grow up?


___ We can never seem to agree about what to do socially. One of us wants to go out and the other wants to stay home.


___ I’ve been sick a lot since the baby died.  Does that have anything to do with grief?


___ I find I want to talk and talk about the loss.  More than anything else, I need someone to listen to me.


___ I think a lot about what it would be like if I were still pregnant.  I’d like to have a day when I could pretend I was still pregnant.


___ I still look at maternity clothes and plan the baby’s room.  Is that OK?


___ We’re both back at work, but I still seem to be doing most of the work at home.  It isn’t fair.


___ Sometimes I get so angry at the baby for doing this to me.

Responses to the Loss of a Baby:



___ I feel like so much weight is on my shoulders.  Everyone looks to me to be strong.


___ I’m afraid I’ll make my partner feel worse if I show my emotions, so I’ll keep them to myself.


___All she does is cry.  I’m tired of seeing her sad.


___Decrease in sexual desire: “I feel myself being turned off by my partner.”


___Decrease in sexual activity: “My partner and I don’t have sex as often as we did before the baby died.  I’d like to have sex more often but she doesn’t want to.”


___I wonder if I did anything to cause the baby to die. Did I drink too much, have negative thoughts, or _______________________________________________?


___I find myself wishing we could be normal again – will that ever be?


___Resentment: “It’s not always logical, but sometimes I resent my partner since we lost the baby.  She gets all the attention.”


___Withdrawal: “My partner seems to have withdrawn love from me and dwells on the fact that our baby died.”


___Dependency: “My partner seems to need more than I can give right now in terms of both attention and affection.”


___Distance or communication problem: “ My partner and I seem more distant since we lost the baby.  We don’t talk about important issues; we don’t seem to have much in common anymore.”


___I’m concerned whether or not we should become pregnant again… What will happen to us if we lose another baby?


___Attention: My attention needs are greater than they used to be.  I feel like I have to compete with ________________________________ for attention.


___I didn’t think we were ready to have a baby.  I worry that my thoughts caused the death.


___We can’t agree on when to get pregnant again – it’s starting to cause a conflict.


___I’m experiencing unpleasant physical symptoms such as inability to sleep, increased/decreased appetite, fast heartbeat, butterflies in my stomach, always nervous, …

___I’m not able to concentrate on anything.  I’m very forgetful.  Is that normal?


___My dreams frighten me – they’re so real.  I dream about __________________________________.


___My partner and I seem to talk and talk, but never get anything resolved.


___My partner seems to talk to ___________________________more than she does to me – why can’t she share her feelings with me?


___I hate coming home from work and finding her depressed again.  Can’t we be happy once in a while?


___Our friends (sister, brother, etc.) had a healthy baby at the same time our baby was due.  How can I stand watching that child grow up?


___I’ve been sick a lot since the baby died.  Does that have anything to do with grief?


___I find that I want to talk and talk about the loss – more than anything else, I need someone to listen to me.


___Finances: I am worried about how we are going to make out financially – there are so many bills to pay.


___I feel like such a failure.  Other men have healthy babies – why couldn’t I?