It is challenging to be a caregiver for aging parents and keep the romance going in your marriage or relationship. In the most difficult moments, it may be hard to keep the relationship going, period. Read on for suggestions on how to approach this complex dynamic with your partner/spouse. Questions are offered which you can contemplate before communicating to your partner/spouse about your caregiving role.
Shifting the onus away from the caregiver
I have noticed that when the impact of caregiving on your relationship or marriage is discussed, there is a tendency to put the onus on the caregiver to adjust and make changes. For example, the caregiver is advised to:
- work on prioritizing the relationship
- make sure they find the “perfect balance” between being a caregiver and a partner/spouse
- spend as much time with their partner/spouse as they spend on caregiving
- write loving handwritten notes to their partner/spouse
- get up earlier to enjoy a coffee with them, etc.
Seriously? This takes what can be a difficult situation-being in relationship and caring for aging parents- and makes it even harder for the caregiver. It becomes one more thing the caregiver has to do – protect and preserve the relationship. This focus leaves out the other side of this relationship equation-what partners/spouses can do to support their partners’ caregiving. What the caregiver is responsible for is communicating what they need to support them.
I am also not sold on the idea of balance. Life isn’t a pie chart that can be neatly divided into equal quadrants. At best, we juggle, and at times, some things in our lives require more attention than other things. When caregivers are advised to live the (illusive) balanced life, it often becomes more guilt upon guilt, and unnecessary added pressure and stress. Forget balance, and instead, go for life satisfaction.
Partners/spouses supporting caregiving
What can reasonably be asked of partners/spouses when caring for aging parents? What is reasonable to ask and what is freely offered depends, in part, on the strength of the relationships prior to becoming a caregiver.
If you and your partner have a strong relationship and work well together and tackle challenges as a team, then this will likely be applied to aging parents. And if there is a good relationship with aging parents/in-laws, then you are both likely to want to support them in their aging.
Anything less than this likely means tension, strains and conflict when it comes to caring for aging parents and in-laws. What can you aim for then? Under these circumstances, the best you may be able to ask and hope for is the absence of guilt and judgments about how and how much you are caregiving.
The worst-case scenario is feeling you have to make a choice between your aging parent and your partner/spouse. I think this is one of the most difficult predicaments to be in as an adult daughter or son with aging parents and in-laws.
How can you try and prevent getting to this disastrous emotional place with your partner/spouse?
It always begins with good communication
When there is tension and conflict about caring for aging parents, conversations (using that word loosely) tend to revolve around trying to change each other’s mind. Change how much caregiving is provided. Change how they feel about the parent or in-law. Change their priorities. Even when this is well intentioned (feeling protective, for example), it isn’t generally helpful.
So what is to be done? Communication. Early communication. Open communication. Honest communication. Good communication is always the best advice when it comes to relationships, whether you are dealing with the mundane or profound issues like caregiving.
I’m not much for giving scripts to people. Instead, here are some questions to contemplate and guide your conversations (yes, plural for sure). Contemplate these issues yourself and then have an initial and early conversation with your partner/spouse about where you are at, and what is negotiable and moveable and what is not, and what you ideally want from them to support your caregiving.
Questions to contemplate
- Why are you taking on the caregiver role?
- Why are you caring for your aging parents? What is your motivation?
- Is being a caregiver for your aging parents’ negotiable? Is there any reason why you would stop caring for your aging parents? What is this reason?
- Will you be a caregiver regardless of what your siblings decide? Why?
- Is there a limit to how much time you will commit to caregiving? Do you have a sense of what this limit would be? What will you do if you reach this limit?
- What do you want to be able to look back and say to yourself as a daughter or son with aging parents?
- What would be the ideal way your partner/spouse can support you?
- What types of support would you appreciate?
- Hands on help with caregiving tasks or help running the household? Something else?
- When you are stressed and need to b**ch about something related to the caregiving, are you asking your partner for concrete solutions, to join with you in the b***ching, or are you just looking to have a supportive, listening ear? (This one may not be a static one.)
- Are you willing to ask for help from other family members? Utilize other services (government funded? private pay?)
- What would you like from your partner/spouse to help you with self-care, taking care of yourself while caring for your aging parents? (Even self-care requires a team!)
Have you talked to your partner/spouse about caring for aging parents?