Why can’t grieving boyfriend be close to me?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I’ve been dating the same guy for two years since we were 16. We decided to break up for a bit because we were both going through a lot and we wanted to have more focus on school etc. We still act like we’re a couple and tell each other we love each other, but we don’t date other people. We have become so incredibly close, I can say anything to him – and I’d do anything for him, I have so much love for him.

The problem is, he told me about his grandma dying – and she’s raised him when he was small. He’s having such a tough time, and barely talks to me anymore. He said he’s never in the mood and he’s going to be miserable for the rest of his life.

Things between us were so good before it was like a fairytale, now that this death has come along I feel like our relationship is ruined. I don’t want him to be upset every day because it hurts me, and he wont talk about it. It really hurts me every day because I’m so used to talking to him.

I’ve tried to occupy myself but it doesn’t work. I wanna be there for him but he won’t allow me to be..he won’t allow anyone. I really hope he accepts the fact that everyone has to go someday – so me and him can be happy. I don’t mean to sound selfish but I’ve had deaths in my life too and I don’t think it’s right for me to be pushed away. Maybe I should just give him his space for a while..although it would be hard and I don’t want to lose him. I don’t know what to say to him..Please help

A: All losses aren’t the same. You didn’t say how long ago your bf’s grandmother died but I’m guessing it was fairly recent. It sounds like he lost someone who was like a mother to him and he is deeply grieving.

The first time we go through a meaningful death like this can be incredibly painful. It’s absolutely normal for it to take 3 to 5 years before it is totally accepted. That doesn’t mean that he’ll be miserable like this for years. It does mean that there will be moments when he will be surprised by feelings of loss and sadness even though most of the time he’s doing fine. Loving him means accepting that.

My guess is that he can’t talk to you because you want him to move on too fast. You want his heart and mind to be with you when, for a while at least, they are with grandma. If you can be a supportive and kind presence while he grieves, he may let you in. But if you try to push too hard, he will need to distance from you to do his grief work.

I hope there is someone who can help him sort out his feelings and come to terms with the loss. If you know of any adult he is even a little close to, it would be a kindness to let that person know that your bf needs some comfort and support.

Meanwhile, do a little reading up on how to help someone who has lost a much loved parent or parent-figure. If you can be helpful instead of demanding and if you can put his needs first for awhile, he may be able to come back to you.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Mar 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Why can’t grieving boyfriend be close to me?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/03/31/why-cant-grieving-boyfriend-be-close-to-me/