6 ways to keep it strong through this trying time
It takes work to maintain a happy marriage even under the best of circumstances. When one or both partners care for elderly relatives, the marital bond gets stretched to the max.
According to a Caring.com survey, 80 percent of respondents said caregiving put a strain on their relationship or marriage. Caregiving impacts your daily activities, your time, your finances and possibly your living arrangement.
There are ways to keep your marriage strong throughout caregiving's ups and downs. Bonus: they may bring you and your partner closer than ever before.
1. Establish boundaries.
Make sure you and your partner understand each other's role in the caregiving process. Will both parties participate or will one spouse take the lead? Will you hire an outside caregiver for some duties? Will siblings pitch in?
"Understand what's expected of each individual," says Moreen Jordan MA, LPC, a marital and family therapist based in Tucson, Arizona. "The marriage gets into trouble when both parties aren't on the same page."
2. Communicate early and often.
Not only should the couple openly and regularly discuss the loved one's care, they must also share the conflicting feelings that arise during the caregiving process.
"Couples need to feel able to express when they're feeling lost or resentful," says Jordan. "Be willing to talk through what's truly going on without casting blame."
3. Practice self-care.
When balancing marriage, work, family and caregiving, many people put themselves last, which often leads to burnout. "Me time" recharges your mental and emotional batteries so you have energy for your partner and the older relative. Schedule time for hobbies, exercise, lunch with friends and other activities that feed your soul.
4. Schedule couple time.
Quality couple time helps keep romance alive. Schedule date nights as often as possible. Enlist a relative or use an adult day program or respite care so you and your partner can get away for a weekend.
In between, make the most of every minute. Go for a morning walk. Watch a movie or enjoy a glass of wine (or both!) after the older adult goes to bed. "Enjoy those opportunities away from home, but also take advantage of those smaller, daily opportunities," says Jordan.
5. Remember daily rituals.
Celebrate holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. As much as possible, stay involved in joint activities. Jordan stresses that couples maintain intimate rituals: have coffee in bed, shower together and/or go to bed at the same time. When you're winding down for the night, light candles to create a more romantic atmosphere.
6. Enlist support.
At times, the caregiving burden may become too much for the caregiver and the partner. As much as budget allows, call upon outside resources to ease your caregiving responsibilities. Options include:
• Hire an outside caregiver for certain days of the week or for certain duties.
• Take advantage of your local senior living facility's respite care.
• Ask family members to help provide care.
• If family lives out of state, ask if they can help pay for support services.
• Join a caregiver support group for emotional support and advice. Family Caregiver Alliance's navigator tool connects you to groups nationwide.
Caring for a parent or relative is one of the most challenging situations we face. Prioritize your marriage so you can stay strong together throughout the caregiving experience.
If it's time to consider a change of lifestyle for your parent, stop by for a visit.