Kenneth Doka, who wrote the book Grieving Beyond Gender, developed the idea of two patterns of grieving: the intuitive pattern and the instrumental pattern. Intuitive grievers express grief in an effective way, which means they adapt to it by showing emotions. Instrumental grievers experience grief physically, such as in restlessness or by thinking about it on a cognitive level. They adapt to it by thinking it through or wanting to do something actively.
More about understanding different ways of grieving can be found in Nathalie’s book Grieving Parents: Surviving Loss as a Couple.
Let’s look at the two patterns:
- Experience waves of emotions
- Express grief mirroring the inner experience: cry, scream and shout
- Say: “I just feel sad all the time” or “I have this overwhelming sense of sadness.”
- Are often disenfranchised later in the process: “What is wrong with this person? He or she is STILL crying?”
- Helpful for them: therapy, support groups, talking to a trusted friend, journaling or internal process to explore those emotions
- Experience in a physical or cognitive way: by continuously thinking about the deceased, running over the things that happened, feeling like they have been punched or kicked in the stomach
- Express grief not consciously but may talk about the deceased a lot or actively set up a charity
- Say: “I just can’t concentrate, I can’t focus since he died” or “I cannot stop thinking about her.”
- Are often disenfranchised early in the process: “What is wrong with this person? Why isn’t he crying? Why are they not just getting over it?”
- Emotional expression is muted
- Helpful for them: the “doing”
These two patterns should not be seen as either/or options but rather as the two ends of a continuum with various blended options in between.
Generally speaking, women often process grief in an intuitive style where men more often are instrumental grievers. This can and often does lead to misunderstanding in the relationship. It is however important to note that neither of those patterns is better than the other, it is just one of the ways to experience and express grief.
Blended patterns are a mixture of both intuitive and instrumental reactions and responses to mourning. According to Doka and Martin’s book “Grieving Beyond Gender: Understanding the Ways Men and Women Mourn” there are also those individuals who show inconsistencies between the ways that grief is experienced and expressed, which is called dissonant.
When dealing with grief as a couple it is important to accept and understand each other’s different strategies and allow room for the individual’s personal experience.