By Sonya Stinson
The spouses of married family caregivers are partners in the deal, no matter how much or how little involvement they signed up for intentionally. Ideally, your spouse has a “we're all in this together" attitude about the time-consuming demands of caregiving. But even the most understanding person can feel a little left out from time to time, and both of you may long to have more time together as a couple.
A survey from Caring.com found 80 percent of respondents saying that caregiving put a strain on their marriage or other partner relationship. Eighty-nine percent said they were spending more time apart from their spouses because of caregiving for another relative.
Even couples whose aging family member is in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility can be at risk of devoting so much time to their relative that they neglect their own relationship.
“I sometimes see families making a point to go every single day and stay until mother falls asleep," says Maria Wellisch, founder and vice president of corporate education at mmLearn.org, the web-based caregiver training program of Morningside Ministries in San Antonio. “But I think you have to question yourself if you really have to do that every day. Maybe you could let Wednesday be your date night with your husband."
Here's how to find some time to be with each other amid the chaos of caregiving.
Talk it over. It may not be easy for you and your spouse to talk about how caregiving is affecting your marriage. These are touchy subjects. Maybe the money you're spending on medical needs and personal care, or the wages you've lost from taken time off, is causing economic stress. Perhaps physical intimacy has become a casualty of your hectic schedule and constant fatigue.
One way to help get the conversation started might be to join a caregiver support group together, Wellisch advises. Sometimes it's easier to be in a group hearing others discuss concerns that might sound like accusations in a one-on-one discussion with your spouse. Look for a group that meets in your area, or connect with one online.
Find some relief. Ask if other family members can step in from time to time so you can take a break. Check into the availability of respite care programs in your community, or the possibility of hiring an in-home caregiver for a few hours so you and your spouse can go to a dinner and a movie, Wellisch says.
While you're away, the Lively Urgent Response device can keep your relative connected to help in case of an emergency, so you can have peace of mind that they can get assistance even if you're not there.
Get creative. You may not be able to swing a romantic weekend getaway if you're the sole caregiver for someone who needs constant attention. But Carol O'Dell, family advisor for Caring.com, says in an interview for that site that even small gestures, like “bubble bath and a box of chocolates" can mean a lot. In an article for Agingcare.com, Marlo Sollitto suggests couples “go for a long walk together, drink a bottle of wine watching the sunset and/or just snuggle in bed a little longer in the morning."
Whether you can manage a short break or a long one, making time for a couple's retreat from caregiving is an essential part of your self-care—and keeping the spark in your marriage.
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