Fathers and Perinatal Loss Pt. 24: Effects on Marriage

Tracy Schaperow, Psy.D.

Tracy Schaperow

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

This article is part of a larger work.

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Relationship Changes With Spouse

All participants described changes in their relationships with their spouses since the loss. The influence of perinatal loss on the marital relationship is not the focus of study in this dissertation, but was evident among all of the participants. It will therefore be briefly discussed in this section. Four out of the five participants reported that, overall, their relationship became stronger or more intense. The other participant reported that the major change in his relationship was that his wife was slightly less available. Dennis’s relationship with Tammy was strained during the first year of their marriage. She was experiencing depression, forcing him to take over a large proportion of the parenting, and to worry about her much of the time. He reported that, later, once her depression subsided, and she was able once again to care for the family, their marriage was strengthened by their loss, and they became closer than they had ever been. Karl also reported some difficulty in his relationship with his spouse soon after the loss. He and his wife attended marriage counseling. He believes that the loss eventually resulted in a closer relationship; they are now more communicative. Raymond likewise believes that the biggest change in his life since his loss is that he and his wife are closer than before. Peter reported that his relationship with Laura has changed slightly since the loss as she is less physically and emotionally available, often tired, and has frequent mood fluctuations. Peter finds himself “going along with the mood she creates.” Ryan described a number of changes in his relationship with Megan since their losses, the most prominent being that their relationship is more “intensified” than before. That is, both their “positive, happy” and “negative, angry” feelings are stronger. He described, “. . . everything is just a little bit more important now, even if it’s stupid little things like taking out the trash.” He reported that Megan’s moods are inconsistent and frequently fluctuating, and that he has more difficulty predicting what her mood will be. Their moods are often incongruent. He might be in a good mood, while she is in a bad mood (or vice versa), and this imbalance puts some strain on the relationship. Because of these incongruent moods, he fears bringing up the losses when she is in a good mood, lest the mood should turn bad.

The various ways that these participants’ relationships changed after their loss parallels that of the literature, in which controversy exists among theorists over whether the loss causes marital strain, deepens the marital bond, or has no effect on the relationship (Leon, 1995; Mekosh-Rosenbaum & Lasker, 1995). Interestingly, the way that the loss influenced the marital relationship among the participants in this study appeared to be related to how much time has passed since the loss. Raymond, Dennis, and Karl all reported that their relationship was stronger with their spouses since the loss, and each of those men had a loss that occurred at least one year before the interview. Peter and Ryan reported some marital strain since the loss, and the time since their loss was less than one year. Although these findings are interesting, it remains for future research to draw any conclusions on how the relationships change over time since the loss.

Using Support as a Way of Coping With the Loss Despite the participants’ need to be stoic and not reveal their true feelings, it is somewhat ironic that four (of the five) attended a support group for perinatal loss. It is unclear why these men attended the support group. Perhaps, they did so to support their wives, or because they needed to receive this sort of support, but justified their presence by saying they were there for their wives. During his telephone screen, Dennis talked at length about how being involved with a perinatal loss support group had been helpful for him in coping with Susan’s death. He had been (and continues to be) involved for three years, eventually becoming a leader of the group. He has found it helpful to have the opportunity to continually talk to others about his daughter and her death, especially with those who can relate. Interestingly, Dennis reported that he did not become very involved with this group until a long time had passed after the loss (exact time unknown). Perhaps he was not able to receive support himself and focus on his own needs until his wife’s distress (and depression) dissipated, and he did not have to worry about taking care of his family any longer. Karl attended a SIDS support group, reporting that it helped his marriage. He stated, “ When we [he and his wife] got in more of a group situation, whether it was with other families or a counselor, I would say things that she [his wife] didn’t realize I was feeling.” He further elucidated on how talking about the loss in these situations was helpful to him by stating, “ It helps me. I think I have the tendency to kinda put it [feelings] in a basket and I really need help. Talking about it helps me.” Peter did not talk much about the support group; however, he did attend one with his wife. This researcher saw him at a meeting, and was not clear if he went mainly to support her or to receive support himself, since he barely spoke, and seemed to be providing comfort to his wife most of the time. Ryan reported that he attended a perinatal loss support group. He said that he found it helpful to talk to others about his experience, especially people that he felt understood. It is not surprising that the majority of the participants had some type of involvement with a support group as this researcher advertised in a perinatal loss support network newsletter. The reported benefit of these participants’ attending a support group is consistent with the literature in that it documents that receiving support is helpful. Several researchers have documented that support networks are beneficial to the grieving process after a perinatal loss (Cordell & Thomas, 1990; Dyregrove & Mattieson, 1987; Mandel, McAnulty, & Reece, 1980).

Leon (1992) believes that the need for parents to have support after a perinatal loss is great because the loss increases their vulnerability, and decreases their coping resources.

In addition to aiding parents with their coping resources, it is likely that these support groups validated these fathers’ experiences of the loss. So often, parents are invalidated after a perinatal loss, enhancing the already narcissistic wound, causing much distress. Perhaps this validation works to mend their narcissistic wound, decreasing the effects of both the loss and the invalidating statements received from others. As noted above, however, it is unclear whether all of the participants who attended were able to do so for themselves, or to support their wives.

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