How to Talk About Death with your Spouse

Most people never discuss their last wishes with their spouse because nobody likes to think about death. We think that if we don’t talk about it, then we don’t have to think about it. Death is a not an “if,” it is a “when.” As much as we like to avoid the topic, do you know what your spouse would want if they became terminally ill? Could you honestly say you know what their last wishes would be? Does your spouse or partner know your last wishes?

I urge everyone to speak to their loved ones, particularly their spouses about their last wishes. Typically, your spouse will be making decisions for you should you become unable to make decisions for yourself. They are also the person charged with planning your funeral and picking out your casket. Talk about these issues now. Here are some tips on how to talk about death with your spouse.

1. Know What you Want

Before you delve into expressing your last wishes, it might help if you knew what they are first. What do you want your funeral to be like? If you got sick, what kind of care would you like to receive and where?

2. Write Down your Top Three Concerns

Life is crazy busy. You’ve got kids, careers, mortgages and a million other things to worry about. Let’s say you have only five minutes to squeeze out this conversation on your last wishes. What are the top three concerns on your list? Would you rather die at home? Do you prefer cremation? Is there a specific place you want your ashes scattered? If you get nothing else out during the conversation, make sure you have your list of three concerns handy. Ask your spouse to do the same. You can even make this your conversation starter.

3. Be open to ANY response

Not everyone is ready to discuss death and illness. You may get reactions that range from non-committal to unreasonably defensive and angry. Expect the full range of responses and be open.

4. Listen

If your spouse is ready to talk, then you better be ready to listen. Do not criticize or judge their last wishes. Some people are very particular about the songs played at their funeral, the types of flowers, or the fact that their doctor is the only person they trust to make medical decisions for them. Just as you want your desires respected, be ready and open to listen. Respect whatever preferences your spouse has or choices your spouse makes.

5. Plan for the Next Conversation

These conversations should be ongoing. They should occur at least once a year and particularly after major milestones. This is not a check-the-box type situation. You cannot have the conversation once and think you’ve covered everything once and for all. People are fickle and change their minds; make sure you have an up-to-date understanding of what your spouse wants.

Have you talked to your spouse about end of life issues? Is it an ongoing conversation? Do you have any advice for people who have avoided discussing death with their partner or spouse?

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Nathana Clay
    January 28, 2016 at 5:30 am

    Interesting topic and great advice! We have talked about it some. Mostly about cremating or casket, what type of ceremony, and making a will. We have a daughter now and need to get on the will making, but we can’t decide who we would want to have custody of her . . .

    • Reply
      January 28, 2016 at 5:58 am

      Nominating a potential guardian is where a lot of people get stuck. I suggest starting with who you don’t want to have custody of her and then see who is left.

  • Reply
    Rachel G
    January 28, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    My husband is a nurse so conversations about what type of extreme life-saving measures we would or wouldn’t want is a conversation topic that definitely comes up. I think it’s fairly common for medical personnel to have strong feelings about extreme measures for preserving their own lives and living hooked up to machines, etc. We’ve also talked about what kind of cemetery stone we’d like to have because we enjoy walking through cemeteries and reading stones. And I know who I would want to be the guardian for my kids if we had any, but we don’t yet, so we haven’t yet made a will.

  • Leave a Reply