By America’s #1 Love and Marriage Experts.
Caring for an aging parent can take a very serious toll on your relationship with your spouse. What are the tips on how to help caregivers keep their love alive while caring for an aging parent(s)? What are the warning signs that your relationship is suffering? What can you do to keep the love alive?
A recent study conducted by Caring.com found that “Eighty parent of baby boomers caring for an aging parent say that it has put a strain on their marriage.” The study went on to report “46% of baby boomers stated that care giving damaged their romantic relationships.” And finally, “25% of divorced baby boomers said care giving played a major role in their divorce.” Make no mistake about it – caring for an aging parent(s) can at times be stressful beyond belief. The negative impact on your marriage can be substantial! But the truth is, the damage can be prevented. Here are the Schmitz Dozen for the care and nurturing of your marriage while caring for aging parents:
1. Talk openly with each other about feelings, emotions and stresses as they relate to your care of aging parents. In times of stress the tendency is to keep everything bottled up inside or explode with the slightest disagreement. However, this approach will not work if you want your marriage to survive and thrive. In successful marriages there are No Sacred Cows.
2. Make a concerted effort to keep the flame of your love affair alive with each other everyday. Can you rattle off a list of activities, topics and places you and your spouse include in your personal book of fun and romance? Have you found what clears your mind and gives you an unobstructed view of your world together? What type of priority do you place on making time for fun and romance with each other in your hectic lives? If you cannot answer these questions easily, you need to start today with carving out time to have a romantic date with each other, bring home flowers, get a hotel room, go for a long walk together, drink a bottle of wine watching the sunset, write a love note, and snuggle in bed a little longer in the morning.
3. Approach all financial challenges with teamwork and open communication. Balancing the family budget requires teamwork, especially when the added burden of taking care of aging parents comes your way. It requires common goals. If you don’t work together to address head-on the economic challenges of your relationship with each other when caring for an aging parent, there is little hope of success.
4. Don’t blame each other when things get tough, as casting blame never solved a problem. The blame game doesn’t work in love and marriage and it is destructive. There is a natural tendency in tough times to blame the one you love for your collective misfortune, but people in love don’t blame, castigate, or chastise each other in challenging times. The truth is, there usually is no one to blame for the situation. Someone has to take care of aging parents and the job just fell to you.
5. 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. Successful couples grab “the bull by the horns” and work for solutions – recognizing that 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.
6. Enhance your love relationship by providing each other occasional time for privacy and aloneness. The recognition of the absolute need for privacy and aloneness is, in our judgment after analyzing hundreds of interviews, critical to successful marriages. We live such hectic lives at work, at home and when caring for aging parents that the time to be alone with our own thoughts is paramount to our ability to engage in any meaningful communication with each other. You have to belong to yourself before you can belong to others.
7. Remember that the “Simple Things Matter” in marriage and they need to be practiced each day. Twenty-seven years of research on successful love and marriage has taught us many things, but first and foremost – no love has blossomed or been sustained without doing the “simple things.” Big things don’t matter until your relationship has mastered the art of doing the simple things day in and day out in your relationship with another human being whom you purport to love. Too often when we are engaged in stressful life altering situations such as caring for aging parents we forget to just do the “simple things” for the one we love the most.
8. First and foremost, you and your spouse need to be fully informed about your parents health needs. What medicines do they need and when? Are there special dietary needs? Who is (are) their doctor(s). If necessary, secure a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. As the primary caregivers you and/or your spouse must often make medical decisions because your parents aren’t able to do so. Having this vital medical information written down helps tremendously when you call on others from time to time to relieve you in the care of your parents.
9. Develop a network of support from family, friends, and relatives. You and your spouse do not have to do it all yourself. Ask your kids for help. Solicit support from aunts and uncles. Seek support from your neighbors. Don’t be shy about asking for help. You can’t do it alone. Don’t be deluded into thinking you can or even should. Know this – allowing yourself or our spouse to break down over providing them quality care doesn’t help anyone – you or them!
10. Recognize that the time may very well come when you can no longer care for your parents by yourself and will have to turn to professional caregivers – perhaps an assisted-care or similar facility. Don’t consume yourself with guilt if that time comes. Someone else at this critical juncture in your parent’s life may very well provide the best care. You may from time to time have to take your parents to an adult daycare facility so you can attend to appointments, go shopping, or simply catch a movie and dinner out with your spouse. It is perfectly natural for you to need time away from the duties of caring for mom and dad. Feeling guilty for doing something perfectly natural is another wasted emotion.
11. Understand that your parents for the most part have spent a lifetime of independence, but age and illness alters the playing field of life. Like most of us they assumed they would always be in charge of their own lives. They are accustomed to making their own decisions. Make no mistake about it, your parents will require great empathy from time to time and at times they will certainly try your patience. Don’t get mad. Don’t be upset with them. Simply recognize that much of how they feel and act is understandable given the fact that they were in control of their lives – oftentimes for decades.
12. Staying healthy and happy, both physically and mentally, should be the highest priority of both you and your spouse. Engage in a daily exercise program. Eat healthy – lots of fruits and vegetables. Take your vitamins! Make sure you both take your own medications on the prescribed schedule. And don’t forget your annual physical exams. It is nearly impossible to take care of others when you don’t take of yourself.
Simple Things Matter in love and marriage. Love well!
By Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz
Authors of the best-selling book and multiple-award winning book Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage (Jossey-Bass/Wiley 2010) Available wherever books are sold.
Winner of the INDIE Book Awards GOLD Medal for Best Relationship Book
Winner of the 2009 Mom’s Choice Awards GOLD Medal for Most Outstanding Relationships and Marriage Book
2009 Nautilus Book Awards Winner for Relationships
As America’s #1 Love and Marriage Experts and award-winning authors, Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz help international audiences answer questions about love, marriage and relationships. With 26 years of research on love and successful marriage across six continents of the world and their own 43-year marriage, the Doctors know what makes relationships work. Get started with America's #1 Love and Marriage Experts by taking their Marriage Quiz or sending your questions to Ask the Doctors for Marriage Advice.
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