Caregiving Can Take a Toll on Your Marriage

Dear Candid Caregiver:

My husband and I have been married 25 years and have raised two children. Just as we were thinking that we’d be able to travel because the kids are old enough to be on their own, my in-laws started having one health problem after another. I know that this isn’t my husband’s fault, and I also understand that if it were my parents I’d be scrambling with trying to help them out. However, I do think that my husband should pressure his siblings to do more. Yes, his siblings live out of town and we live in the same community, but his siblings aren’t that far away. His parents are still in their home so we must get groceries, my husband does the yard work, and, of course, we are on call in case someone falls or gets sick. I think that his siblings would help more if they were cornered, but my husband doesn’t like to make waves. Well, he’s making waves with me now because he won’t compromise enough to confront them. I don’t want our marriage to deteriorate after all of these years, but this is causing serious stress on both of (us), and resentment in me. I feel better just unloading to you but I’d like to know how others deal with this. — Resentful Wife

Dear Resentful Wife:

My condolences about the tough patch you and your husband are going through. From reading your last sentence, I’ve gathered that you know that parental caregiving can present considerable challenges to many marriages. Still, that offers little comfort to you.

When our lives get thrown off-track, most of us need to regroup. That’s OK. Part of that regrouping may mean reconstructing, with our partner, the way our lives will be looking for a while. Part of that reconstruction is being honest about your resentment but you might want to try a more gentle approach. Sympathize, as you’re doing, with the rough spot that he’s in. Tell him, as well, that you want to help his parents, too, but that you just don’t want helping them out to dominate your lives long-term.

Additionally, rather than asking him to “confront” his siblings, which is obviously not his style, ask him why he won’t even gently ask them for a little assistance. He may tell you that he doesn’t know how to begin or even what they can do from a distance. Many out-of-town siblings might help but they, too, don’t know what they can do from a distance.

To start the ball rolling, your husband could ask for a family meeting. This is best done in person, if possible, but a “face-to-face” video chat could work. You could help him make a list ahead of time of some ways that you feel his siblings could contribute.

Perhaps one sibling could work from their end by researching various services that could help their parents be more independent. More and more companies are jumping in with home delivery because they are aware of the masses of older adults who want and need delivery in order to stay independent. Grocery delivery through a local store, or Instacart, is a growing service, more drug stores are offering mail delivery, and Amazon Prime, where you can get almost anything in a couple of days, is available in most areas. These are all options for your in-laws.

Many seniors are very good online, but if your in-laws aren’t comfortable ordering online, an out-of-town sibling could take on the computer part of that job.

Another sibling may live close enough to drive to your in-laws’ home on weekends do the yard work or at least trade off weekends with another sibling. If that isn’t possible, ask if they could take on the cost of a yard company for grass and, if you live where there is snow, snow removal.

Your in-laws sound as if they are good candidates for personal alarms that allow them to call for help if someone falls or if emergency help is needed. There are also non-intrusive sensors that can be placed around the house. One of the out-of-town siblings could monitor this site. Then, if you and your husband are out of town during an alert, they could contact one of your in-laws’ neighbors to check to see if something is wrong (something to be agreed upon in advance, of course).

It’s possible that your in-laws are getting close to needing an in-home service to come in for a few hours a day. It’s also possible that assisted living should be discussed. Your husband should bring up these issues with his siblings, as well.

While I do think you’ll have to put your dreams of carefree travels on hold for now — at least long trips — there’s no reason why your in-laws can’t be set up to stay safe while you take some shorter jaunts.

With a combination of help from siblings and some delivery services, there is hope. The trick is to go about this gently.

Help your husband learn how to approach his siblings with an attitude that you know that they’d like to help if they knew how. Then, during the meeting, give everyone a chance to brainstorm and, if possible, add one thing that they can do to help. Impress upon your husband that his whole family will likely be happier and closer in the long run.

The Candid Caregiver
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The Candid Caregiver

The Candid Caregiver (TCC) is a safe place for all caregivers, of any condition area or caregiving level, to go for candid yet professional guidance. Questions will be answered, tough topics will be discussed, and the caregivers will ultimately have a place where they, themselves, feel cared for. No topics are off the table. Ask your questions and share your stories on social media using the hashtag #TheCandidCaregiver. TCC's lead caregiver and author is Carol Bradley Bursack, a veteran family caregiver with more than two decades of experience.