Caring for an aging parent can be stressful beyond belief. It is not uncommon for the stress and burden to take a serious toll on you and your spouse's relationship.
Here are some tips for nurturing your marriage while at the same time caring for your aging parents:
- Don't procrastinate
Sometimes when you are stressed it seems like there is never time to talk about your feelings, so you keep them bottled up inside. But when bottled up for too long, things tend to explode, so don't wait until next week when your schedule will be less hectic. If this week you have too many doctors appointments to accompany your parent to, next week the kids might get sick. Soon, "next week" never comes.
- No topic is off limits
Married couples must be able to talk about everything. Trust each other. Talk about whatever is on your mind and let your spouse do the same. All subjects are fair game —the good, the bad and the ugly.
Don't do all the talking. Don't interrupt. And listen, really listen to what your spouse is saying. Sometimes, it's helpful to repeat back what they say, in your own words, to make sure there is no confusion or misinterpretation.
- Don't wallow in self-pity
It is a wasted emotion. No problem has ever been solved by feeling sorry for yourself or your situation. The old saying rings true: Happiness comes from looking at the glass half full, rather than half empty. It is easy to say, but much harder to do. It takes practice and consciously thinking about what's running through your head – and talking back to that negative voice. Instead, think positive thoughts. Grab the bull by the horns and work for solutions.
- Don't cast blame
The blame game doesn't work and it is destructive. During tough times, there is a natural tendency to blame the one you love. The truth is, there is usually no one to blame for the situation. Someone has to take care of aging parents and the job fell on you. Rather than blaming, find ways to work as a team.
When you first fell in love, you felt it was the two of you against the world. You had each other's back. Support each other through thick and thin, through tough times and uncertainty. Remember the wedding vows: in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse. The same teamwork concept holds true for the rest of the family. If the kids are old enough to do chores, make sure they get done. Running a household is not easy. Making a family work is clearly difficult even in the best of times, and even more challenging when you are the caregiver for an aging parent.
- Give each other space
Everyone needs some alone time. Make time to be alone with your thoughts and refresh your spirit. If you can't take the time to leave the house for your alone time, find your own space within the home. "Man rooms" have become popular for a reason. Use the office, the den, the back porch…even the basement and turn it into your own personal retreat. You have to belong to yourself before you can belong to others.
- Keep the flame alive
Make time for fun and romance together. And make it a priority. In caregiving you share the toughest times together. It is equally important to spend at least a small portion of your time enjoying each other's company. Carve out time to have a romantic date, go for a long walk together, drink a bottle of wine watching the sunset and/or just snuggle in bed a little longer in the morning. If your parent needs 24-hour-a-day care, bring in back-up. If friends or family can't or won't help, call an elderly respite company, even if it's just for two hours. The money spent is worth it to save your marriage.
- Do the simple things
The simple things matter in a marriage. Try to do an act of kindness or love every day. Cook your spouse's favorite dinner, acknowledge your spouse for something he or she has done, or compliment to the other person. Yes, it takes some effort to establish the habit, but the payoff is worth the effort.
- Build a network
You and your spouse do not have to do it all yourself. Get your children involved. Solicit support from siblings, aunts and uncles. Seek support from your neighbors. Don't be shy about asking for help. You can't do it alone.
- Stay healthy
Health and well-being are crucial when caring for an elderly parent. Exercise as often as you can, eat healthy and take your vitamins! And don't forget your annual physical exams. You can't effectively take care of others if you don't take of yourself.