Armchair analysis: was your relationship “good” enough to warrant so much pain?

Okay, so I wrote that post title with tongue firmly in cheek, knowing it would get you to click. My sarcasm doesn’t necessarily translate through the screen, however, so let me say right up front: whether your relationship was perfect or imperfect has absolutely no bearing on your grief.  In fact, everyone has an imperfect relationship, and every grief is valid.

I’m on this topic today after reading what my friend Cassie wrote on the Widows’ Voice blog. She writes about how awkward it feels, how much hesitation she feels, to talk about the difficulties in her marriage. As though to speak about the actual lived reality of love – with all its messy, annoying parts – is to either diminish the love, or dismiss the pain. It struck a nerve for me, as I found out when I sat down to write.

How you talk about your relationship – what details you share, which you don’t – leaves you open for assessment from others. One of the challenges here is that relationships get investigated so thoroughly when out-of-order death shows up. That kind of scrutiny just doesn’t typically exist in the non-grief life.  

Widowed folks can get so defensive, and with good reason: so much of what we hear, whether well-intentioned or not, comes through as dismissing our pain. We’ve had so much taken from us. Had so much criticized and dismissed.

Assessment is everywhere.

No matter how you speak of your partner, someone is right there to analyze you.

I know, for me, I felt like I could never speak to the actual reality of my relationship, could never talk about what I missed, without being corrected somehow.

Whenever I spoke of how awesome Matt was, I was reminded how not-perfect we were: “He wasn’t great all the time, you know. You two really struggled on some things.”

If instead, I mentioned how hard we’d worked on our differences, I got questioned as to whether I thought we would “last.”

That kind of scrutiny makes a lot of people go silent.

If we’re corrected when we talk about the good parts of love, it makes sense that we’re wary of ever talking about the harder parts.

The reality is, everyone has imperfect relationships. Every relationship is a mix of awesome and annoying. Everyone is a work in progress. And when one of you dies, that mix does not change. It means nothing more nor less than it meant Before.

You are human, and you love, and you choose to love. You chose to love. Through annoyance and awesomeness and everything in between. That you had things you were working on (or not working on) together does not in any way diminish grief, or love. That you miss and remember the fantastic times does not make you delusional, nor call into question your memory.

I can say right now that my partner was often self-absorbed and moody. So was I. So am I. He annoyed me in ways no one else could. We were perfectly designed to irk each other in very special ways.

We worked on it. Except when we didn’t. When he drowned, we were in what was then the very best phase our life together. We had worked immensely hard in the year previous. We were brave and honest and annoying and kind. We were aloof and angry and sad. That new year, we found our foundations again. We rooted more deeply in us. Those first 7 months of 2009 were fantastic. The next steps, the next adventures, we laid out ahead; we were psyched about what was to come. Psyched to be where we were. Proud of ourselves for the work we had done.

When he died, I lost my love. I lost all of him: not just the good parts. Not just the hard parts. All of him.

I’m not thankful that, because he died, I no longer have to suffer his moods. I’m not thankful that, because he died, I no longer have to be upfront about my irritation, that I can keep it under the rug where it belongs. There is no “up-side” to sudden death. There is nothing I am “free” of now that he is gone.

When I remember his sweetness or the shape of his hands, I am not romanticizing our life. When I miss his awesomeness, I have not put him on a pedestal. I don’t need anyone to remind me that it wasn’t sunny all the time. I miss all of it.

When you talk about your love, your family, your partner, you talk about all of it. Because All Of It is what you live. It’s what everyone lives. That no one’s life or relationship is perfect is no reason to not talk about how great it was, and to pine for that greatness. Nor is it reason to avoid talking about the hard parts. Those hard parts don’t devalue grief.

Your love is your love, and your grief is your grief. It belongs to you. All of it. Every part.

It’s not a metric to determine the validity of grief. It’s love. Every part of it is love.

And all of it is yours. Every beautiful, difficult, annoying, amazing part.




How about you? Have you found yourself censoring parts of your relationship in order to protect your grief? Let us know in the comments. Or you can send me an email: just click right here.