Your dynamic with your spouse changes throughout your life together. As you take on caregiving responsibilities for your elderly parent or grandparent expect a shift to happen. Even if your marriage has adjusted to other changes and challenges with great success you may find the adjustment to caring for an elderly loved one a serious stumbling block. With strong communication and teamwork, you can overcome these hurdles:

  1. Focus on the little things

Often, setting a regular date night is just not within reach while you are caregiving. However, there are less time consuming, inexpensive gestures you can offer your spouse. For example, if you used to pick up their dry cleaning, fetch them a cup of tea after dinner, or support their hobbies, keep doing these things. Focus your time on the small, but essential things you do that show them you care and are still within reach. When things are especially stressful, increase how often you do these simple things, instead of abandoning them, because that’s when your spouse needs them the most.

  1. Lean on your friends

Maintaining your social life is a great outlet for you and for your spouse. Ensuring that you each prioritize time with your friends gives you both an opportunity to vent to someone outside of your marriage. Following your usual social routine strengthens your support network and reminds you both that there is life outside of caregiving. We often underestimate how healing time with friends can be, for ourselves and for our marriage.

  1. Prioritize privacy

For some spouses, the loss of privacy within the home is a huge caregiving challenge. Ask a family member or friend to invite your parent to their home for a few hours. While you may be reluctant to move your parent from your home, giving you and your spouse a day or even a few hours to be alone in your home can relieve much stress for you both.

There are adult day care centres that are available in some communities – look into these options and keep the notion of privacy top of mind when you’re scheduling a weekly time for your parent to drop in. Whether the day care gives you time to run errands, work out, or gives your spouse time to enjoy solitude at home, plan this time carefully and make the most of it!

When medical conditions keep your parent homebound, it may be easier to ask your parent to keep a certain area of your home “off-limits” except for emergencies. This gives your spouse a place to relax undisturbed. To make this place a true sanctuary, avoid venting to your spouse or talking about your parent in this space. Instead, make this a relaxing, private environment.

  1. Have a game plan for when it becomes too much

As the stress from caregiving accumulates, your spouse may wonder how much pressure you’ll each have to shoulder before it’s too much. To keep you both from feeling that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, have frank conversations about when or under what circumstances you will decide you parent’s needs just can’t be met by you at home.

Perhaps there is a financial limit on how much support you can provide your parent, or on how much time you can miss from work. Other limits might focus on how you or your parent feels. You may need to change your care plan when your parent can no longer do specific tasks for themselves, or when their health condition takes a specific turn.

These strategies seek to maintain a sense of normalcy and teamwork in your relationship. Don’t try to fit your marriage into a life dictated by your role as a caregiver. Instead, wherever possible, fit your caregiving responsibilities into the routine you and your spouse already enjoy.  

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