The death of your husband, wife or civil partner can be a truly life-changing experience. Whether they were your long-term partner, an ex-partner or even someone you only knew for a short time, experiencing this type of loss can be incredibly painful and hard to accept.
How to cope after the death of your partner
The death of your partner can mean the loss of your companion and someone you spent so much time with. Even if you aren't with that person romantically when they die, your bereavement can leave you feeling lost.
You may find that one of the hardest aspects of grieving for your partner is grieving the future you had planned together, particularly if you were a couple when they died. Thinking about your new reality can deepen the feelings of loneliness and isolation you might be feeling, and this can be scary to cope with.
Coming to terms with these emotions, and trying to understand who you are and what your future looks like without your partner by your side can therefore be both unsettling and challenging. This new way of thinking about you without them means getting to know yourself all over again, and that can take time to fully process.
Lots of other factors, such as how someone died, or your relationship with them at the time of their death, can also affect how you cope with your grief.
How they died
If your partner died suddenly and unexpectedly, this can be shocking and hard to come to terms with. You may not have had a chance to say goodbye or let them know how much you love them, and that can really hurt.
If they were ill over time, perhaps due to cancer or another terminal illness, you might have experienced feelings of anticipatory grief while they were still alive. You may find that their death brings about feelings of relief as well as sadness, but this is normal. Seeing the person you love in pain can be incredibly hard to cope with, especially if you took on some of the caring responsibilities during their illness.
Whatever your personal situation, there is never a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. Everyone's experience of bereavement is different, and you need to grieve in a way that feels right for you.
The death of an ex-partner
The death of an ex-partner can be a difficult and complex situation. You may find that you start to experience regret, particularly if you left things in a bad way, or didn't let them know you still have feelings for them.
Others can find that they experience disenfranchised grief. This is when support and comfort are directed towards the person’s immediate family, friends, or current partner. It can leave you feeling left out of the grieving process, and this can be difficult to deal with.
Sometimes the death of an ex-partner can also bring up old feelings, even if you haven't been together for a while. Working through this and understanding what your grief means can take time, so try not to pressure yourself into feeling a certain way.
Sometimes, new information can come to light after someone dies, and this can change how you feel about them. Despite there being a common misconception people should be remembered in a positive light, this isn't always possible. Remember that all your emotions in grief are valid.
If you and your partner decided to keep your relationship private, you may also find that you experience disenfranchised grief. This is because those who are close to them, such as their family or friends, may not know about you or factor you into things, such as the funeral arrangements.
This can add to the complexity of your grieving process but try to do what feels right for you when thinking about saying goodbye to them. Your relationship is no less legitimate for being ‘hidden’, and it is important that you are able to find ways to cope with these difficult emotions.
How long does grief last after the death of a spouse?
As with other types of grief, there is no timeline for the grieving process after the death of a partner or spouse.
You may find yourself going through a whole series of emotions, from shock and numbness to anger, sadness, and feelings of helplessness. If you had broken up or were on bad terms when the person died, you might have feelings of regret and wish that things had been better.
It’s OK to have any or all of these feelings as you process your grief. You may experience a combination of these feelings all at once, or find that over time they come and go as you navigate your way through grief after your bereavement.
Practical considerations when a partner dies
Although it can be incredibly hard to even think about practical issues when your partner or spouse dies, there are things that need doing after their death. We know this can be daunting, but we’ve got lots of information to help you through this time, including helpful guides about:
It’s also important to find out who you need to inform after their death, such as family, friends, or work colleagues. And it’s useful to look into organisations you need to speak to, such as HM Revenue and Customs, banks, or insurance companies to organise things like probate or life insurance.
Financial support for bereaved partners and widowers
If your husband, wife, or civil partner dies, there may be bereavement benefits or financial support available to you. This can include Bereavement Support Payment, Widowed Parent’s Allowance, and Universal Credit.
We know that coping with your finances after the death of your partner can be overwhelming, especially during the current cost of living crisis. That’s why we’ve created this helpful guide on bereavement benefits and financial support, so you can find out what you could be eligible for and how to claim it.
It can be hard to talk about the loss of intimacy when you’re grieving for your partner, but it’s important not to avoid these feelings or to think or talk about them.
Some people may find that they long for closeness and physical intimacy over time. This could mean starting to date new people, reconnecting with previous partners, or finding a new sexual partner. Others might find that their sex drive wanes, or that they don’t feel comfortable having sex or any kind of physical relationship with anyone else after their partner’s death.
There may be a time in the future when you feel confident about opening up to a new partner, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to. Everyone copes with grief in different ways and there is no timeline for how to feel.
We’re here to help with a range of online bereavement support services. Our Online Bereavement Community is a safe space to talk to others who understand what you’re going through. You don’t need an account to read what people are saying, but you will need an account if you want to share your own experience.
As well as our Online Community, we also have lots of information about the grieving process on Grief Guide and our website. Plus, our Online Bereavement Counselling Service offers free and professional video counselling to help you process the death of your partner and what it means for your life now.