How can I stop caregiving from putting a strain on my marriage?


Q: My mother lives with me and I care for her. This causes tension between my husband and me and has put a strain on our marriage. Can caregiving to lead to divorce?

A: Caregiving can be extremely stressful, so much so that full-time caregivers are actually at increased risk for depression, health problems and substance abuse. It can cause relationship conflict as well (especially when one member of a relationship feels neglected).

Keep in mind that any disruption in a longstanding family pattern—a disruption of the "family system"—can be difficult for everyone, including the care receiver.

It may be a good idea for you and your partner put aside time to talk about your relationship (the positives as well as the negatives), and get your difficulties out in the open. Sharing your concerns with a trusted friend or clergy can help as well. Arranging to see a marital therapist might also be helpful, if both partners are willing.

Dr. Mary Languirand, PhD

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Mary A. Languirand, PhD, is in private practice in Garden City, NY, and counsels individuals, families, and health professionals in skilled nursing facilities. She co-authored (with Robert Bornstein, PhD) "When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In-Home Care."

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When my mother was widowed (in 1983) at 53 and while her mother was still living with Alzheimer's, she told my husband and me that she never expected to live with us or to become a burden to us. She said that if she needed to be in a nursing home someday, that we should feel comfortable with that. It came to pass that she did develop Alzheimer's in 2005, and when she became unable to continue to live alone, she moved in for a while last year. However, after 7 months and a strain on my husband's and my relationship, a bed became available at a memory care facility. Although moving her there was the hardest thing I have ever done, I know that it's what she wanted, Thank God I knew her wishes when she was still lucid. I am 55 and I have told my children that if they need to someday, it's OK for them to put me in a nursing home. Just make sure I'm well cared for and please visit me. It's so important to have the talk early!
Just like when you were raising children, you set aside time for each other. If your dead set on keeping your mother at home, check out some local adult day care centers. There is one in Deland Sender Retreat and one in orange city Stay For A Day. It has allowed me to keep my loved one at home with me and I can still go to work and have time for my husband and children. They are paid for with her insurance.
If you want to preserve your marriage -- now is the time to begin counseling (although I understand it seems like just one more thing to do.) My husband and I "had" a fabulous marriage until we started taking care of both my parents, who now live in a senior facility just 3 miles from us. BOTH of them have Alzheimer's and I am emotionally overwhelmed by all the responsibility and craziness. My husband is a wonderful partner and does nearly as much as I do for my parents -- but that doesn't mean I'm not depressed, anxious, and irritable most of the time. I became emotionally drained and had nothing left to give my husband, and our marriage began to suffer after just one year of caregiving. When I was home, I just wanted to be alone. I lost my sense of humor. There was just no fun left in our lives.

With the help of counseling, a support group, Zanax (Don't laugh.) and chat rooms, I am now able to begin to rebuild our marriage. I've learned that things will not take care of themselves. Nobody can understand Caregiver's Stress until they've been there. Good luck.