Caregiving can strengthen the bonds of relationships within the family. It can bridge gaps and heal decades-long conflicts through the connections that form during the care. However, it can also cause strains within the family. In marriages and relationships, no one really thinks of their partner caring for an aging parent until it starts happening. And in this day and age, providing senior care can put all kinds of stress that will shake the foundations of for better or for worse.
Marriages and partnerships already go through so many challenges that either strengthen or break the bond. For adult children stepping up to provide care for their aging parents, will the hiccups of senior care toughen up your marriage or cause it to crumble?
Impact of Senior Care in Relationships (Statistics)
Caregiving in relationships can have positive and negative effects. In a survey conducted by Caring.com in honor of Valentine’s Day, 300-plus spouses provided a valuable glimpse of what it is like to make a relationship work amidst the demands of senior care.
According to the study, 80% claimed that providing care to a family member has put a strain in their relationships. One caregiver expressed that strong marriage, including his or her own, can struggle and be tested by the demands of caregiving. He or she further explains by stating that the responsibility of caring for a family member can create an imbalance in a relationship.
Many find themselves “drifting apart.” This may be because of the change in dynamics that providing senior care brings. Couples shared through the survey that the lack of privacy and time to connect with each other often leads to diminished feelings of attachment.
Bear in mind that the effects are not all negative. Yes, the love and commitment that couples have for each other may be tested thoroughly. However, some caregivers and their spouses found that the presence of senior care in their lives has strengthened their bonds. Because of the high demands, some couples have found that this experience has brought them closer together. One caregiver shared that her spouse has become her source of solace and inspiration. Another confided that her spouse tells her that her mother will not be around forever and that she should do what she needs to do.
Key Factors that Cause Strain
Caregivers may be put in a tough spot when the stress of their tasks takes its toll on their relationships and marriages. It may even reach a point where it feels like you have to make a choice between your partner and your aging parent.
Understandably, no one wants to be put in a position such as that. But how can you avoid it? You can start by identifying the roots.
Various articles, such as these posts by Investopedia and Shaw Family Law PC, cite financial strains and extended families among the top causes of divorce in the United States.
When a parent ends up needing care, adult children often feel obligated to step up and provide the help that they need. It almost feels like second nature to many. After all, why wouldn’t you care for the person who raised you, right?
However, providing senior care, especially when the care recipient does not have long term care coverage, can put a significant dent on any couple’s finances. Care services in the country have become too expensive for many to afford. And if you and your partner are still in the process of saving for your retirement, then adding senior care costs can surely make the situation more challenging.
Frustration and Fatigue
Providing care to an aging loved one can be time-consuming and energy-draining. There will be days when you will feel as if everything is piling up and you will feel overwhelmed. It will feel like nothing is going right or as planned and you feel frustrated and exhausted by it all. When this happens, it can be too easy to turn to you partner and just release all those negative emotions on him or her.
Frustration and fatigue, if not vented out the right way, can be the foundations of a very unhappy environment. It can cause friction in marriages and can damage relationships.
Lack of Intimacy
Caring for a parent, managing your household, and co-parenting your children can be difficult to manage. Add the senior care to that, and it surely leaves little room for any sort of intimacy. The presence of a new person in a couple’s home, along with his or her care needs, can cause a change in the chemistry. The fatigue that may come with providing senior care can affect the relationship between spouses.
Intimacy is one of the key elements that strengthen relationships and marriages, and the lack of it can cause a severe blow. Individuals have shared that caregiving has had a negative impact on their sexual relationship.
However, bear in mind that intimacy does not always mean sexuality. Sex, though an important factor, does not fully encompass intimacy.
Shifting between Caregiver and Spouse
The perfect balance between being a caregiver and a spouse may be difficult to achieve, but it is doable. And like everything in relationships and marriages, this will require an immense amount of teamwork, understanding, and limitless patience.
Readjusting your lives to add another person into the equation may be difficult. And most times, it may feel like three is definitely a crowd. However, changing your perspective can save your relationship. Working together for better or for worse will be tested, and being reminded of your goals to work together can often save your relationship.
Addressing the Issues which Cause Marital Strain
Like any roadblock, these issues ought to be addressed together. These situations are exactly the right moments when communication between partners will be truly tested. It is important to be honest about concerns, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. It is also necessary to have an open mind when dealing with these instances as they can easily put a damper on your relationship.
Prioritize Your Spouse
This goes both ways. The caregiver and the spouse ought to find ways to show that they prioritize their partners, even if it means leaving them alone for a time. Often, some people need their space to recollect their thoughts and their bearings. Being there for your partner, especially when they are dealing with all that comes with caring for a loved one, could mean providing them with the space that they need to adjust to stresses on their own.
However, time together is also vital. Remember that having time for each other does not necessarily have to be extravagant or expensive. Find enjoyment in the little things. Love does not always have to be shown in big gestures. Sometimes, it is the seemingly insignificant acts of love –the ones that we often take advantage of—are the ones that mean the most. What matters is that you show your appreciation for each other, and that you do activities that help strengthen your bond.
Say Yes to Help
Handing over the reins to your parents’ care, albeit temporarily, may be a difficult decision to make. What if something happens while you are away? What if your parents think you are neglecting them?
So many possibilities can happen while you are taking a break that you end up not taking any for yourself. As tempting as it sounds to say no to anyone who offers help, you have to learn to do the opposite of what your gut tells you.
Validate and Address Emotional and Mental Stress
Emotional and mental stress can come to both the caregiver and the spouse. And often, whoever experiences it feels as if these reactions are selfish.
Bear in mind that having these feelings and going through these struggles do not make you less of a partner or a person. Whatever your role is in the equation, these emotions are real issues that need to be addressed. Talk about it with your partner, and if necessary, seek professional help.
Find Support Online
So many individuals are in the same boat. They face the similar challenges and struggle with the identical issues. Sometimes, these people might even understand you on a level that your significant other might struggle with.
So many caregivers have found support and guidance through online communities, and it would be all right for you to do the same. The communities provide a no-judgment platform where caregivers can share their frustrations and stresses and get the support that they need.
Finding Your Own Long Term Care Coverage
Now that senior care plays a significant role in financial spending, couples where one provides caregiving ought to find coverage for their own care. These costs can easily eat away at anyone’s savings, and would you really be able to say no to a parent in need?
Finding and securing a long term care insurance policy for you and your partner could ensure that your future care needs are covered without feeling like you are withholding help for your parents. Our advice is this: look into shared care policies. These specific ones are specifically catered to couples—married or not—looking for long term care coverage.
Originally posted by Association for LTC Planningon http://www.altcp.org/senior-care-marriage-caring-parent/ February 15, 2017