“Before we got together, my partner’s father unfortunately passed away. This was around when we knew each other for about 2 months, we wouldn’t really hang out a lot but we did talk here and there.
The day I found out his father died I gave him a hug and talked a little bit about it to comfort him. A week later, he invited me to the funeral and unfortunately I couldn’t make it due to work and told him so and that I was sorry about it.
Part of me also felt like I wouldn’t belong there as I couldn’t properly mourn him (because I didn’t know him or the family at all and was not super close to my now partner) , so I didn’t want to feel like I was being disrespectful in that regard.
A month later, we became very close and decided to date each other. It’s been a year and a half now, but my partner told me he partially resents me because of it.
I’ve supported him emotionally with the aftermath of his father’s passing and have suggested we should visit his grave to clean it up and leave items in honor of him, but he always refuses. I’ve tried to ask multiple times about this before he said this, but he always says no. Part of me understands the resentment, but part of me doesn’t at the same time. How do I fix this?”
Anonymous on /r/relationship_advice.
Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say that you and your partner are building a Lego Hogwarts Castle set together. The catch is that your partner is building this Lego set from scratch while you have the instruction booklet the next town over. So you two call each other to communicate what piece goes where and in what order. I would imagine it’s probably really difficult to complete that set without getting frustrated at each other when you have to shout over the phone for the fifth time to place a thin green four-peg block six pegs right from where he placed Harry two instructions ago.
Helping your partner through grief can often feel like shouting over the frustration your partner feels while they sort through all six thousand and twenty individual pieces in the Lego Hogwarts Castle set in front of him.
I don’t think his grief is your responsibility to manage. You had your own reasons. And as you said, you’ve already reiterated your reasons to your partner. This tells me that his sense of resentment is not one that is rooted in logic, but rather emotion. But even if you were really dating him (let’s say you two have been dating each other for a month when his father passed away), it is still wholly within your own personal right not to attend the funeral for all the reasons you already shared. You’ve only known each other for two months when this happened. And even though he did extend an invitation to you, your decline was fair and reasonable. This decision is not something you should have to defend.
Furthermore, you’ve done your subsequent emotional labor of supporting a partner through the grief process, a deed you did not necessarily need to sign up for. This article from What’s Your Grief talks about the concept of Continuing Bonds where it discusses that grief is ongoing. It isn’t something we get through. Grief becomes a part of our lives. And while you didn’t say that your partner was close to his late father, I am guessing based on his actions and words that they were very close. And even if you are completely fault-free and you’ve done your personal best to help your partner process through that grief, one of the myriad ways grief can manifest is through blaming. And in here, I don’t mean that he is blaming you for his father’s death, but that it is manifesting in something you couldn’t do for him.
It is very important for you to acknowledge that his grief is his to own. And even more important for you to recognize your own needs as distinct from meeting his needs. In stressful times like these, it is very easy to get caught up in codependent habits. Codependency is loosely defined as excessive physical or mental reliance on a person usually experiencing addiction or illness, and I do think supporting a dependent partner through grief also falls under this umbrella.
Sam Dylan Finch defines codependent relationship as “a relationship in which a partner becomes a substitute for healthier coping strategies. By being an individual’s sole source of support and caregiving, they interfere with their partner’s ability to be self-reliant and adaptive in the face of stress.” You mentioned that you two got close and started dating each other only a month removed from his loss. That is a lot of weight burdened upon a beginning of any relationship. I wonder how much you two grew to depend on each other as emotional support and thus inadvertently interfered in each other’s ability to become more self-reliant.
And let’s talk a bit more about your own feelings in this situation as well.
Hearing that your partner partially resents you for turning down the invitation to attend his father’s funeral could be a very painful realization, especially if you feel like you did your best to support him through this very traumatic time. Your pain too is real. You and your partner have been dating each other for a year and a half. And to hear that he harbors negative feelings for what you reasonably decided wasn’t the best course of action could feel like you’ve been misled. So you too need to acknowledge your pain that comes from your partner either
- Withholding his true assessment of your ongoing emotional support for the past year and a half, or;
- Misusing his ongoing grief to blame you for something that you chose not to do.
Like many other pains in life, time will heal this too.
It sounds like you are already doing your best by offering to visit his father’s grave together. And in continuing to engage in a conversation with him, you’ve left the door open for him to come reach out to you in dire need of emotional support. But I’m curious if he himself acknowledges that he is mired in the process of grief and loss, and what he is doing to productively manage his own grief. I sincerely hope that he has been able to receive grief counseling or at least talk about his grief and loss openly with a professional therapist who can help him develop his own tools to manage his feelings.
At the end of the post, you asked “How can I fix this?”
My answer to you is that you can’t. Your partner owns his own feelings, and those feelings are for him to manage. To go back to the Lego example from earlier in the post, it’s just much more efficient to bring him the instruction booklet and offer to help in person. So let him know that you are here to support his journey back to sanity.
Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.
I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you liked my advice for this post, please subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!