As you’ve discovered, caregiving is a lifestyle. It’s about you, your care recipient and every other person in your life, especially your spouse.
How do you stay in love when life seems to have drained you of love? How do you make time for the most special person in your life when your care recipient needs you for his or her survival–literally?
We offer some simple ways to help you keep your marriage on track. A good marriage is a great foundation to enjoy a wonderful life. Take care of it and it will take care of you.
Putting priorities in place may be the most difficult part of juggling caregiving and your marriage. How do you help your care recipient, who needs so much, and make time for your spouse? An important way to put marriage first is to commit to honest and open communication. Cathy offers these tips for communicating with your spouse:
• Use “I” language. When you use “I” language (“I feel”, “I want”, “I worry”), you take responsibility for what you feel, what you want and what you need. “I” language minimizes the blame game (“You make me feel so bad!”) and when blame is out of the equation, you both communicate effectively.
• Bring your spouse into the solution so that your spouse becomes involved in making the situation better. When you’re both working toward improvements, you’ve created a team.
• Be assertive, state what you want and what you’d like to see happen. Your spouse, no matter how well he or she knows you, can’t read your mind.
• Use active listening skills, such as reflective listening. Reflective listening involves repeating back what you heard to ensure that what you heard is what your spouse meant to say. Clarifying (“I heard this…”) before responding helps to minimize misunderstandings.
• Avoid reacting defensively. Tell yourself: “I will be calm”. If you feel yourself becoming defensive, ask your spouse to rephrase or re-word statements. If you really feel the heat of the moment taking control, then take a time out and agree to revisit the discussion when you’re both calmer.
• Think of communication as a process. Discuss a situation, allow time for brainstorming, consider a potential solution, try the solution, then re-visit how successful the solution is. Participating in the process–and expecting that the right solution will come with trial and error–removes the pressure.
• Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. Understanding how your spouse feels will help you communicate effectively and work toward solutions that work for both of you.
• Look for solutions that work for everyone, including, but not exclusively, yourself (or your care recipient). Everyone can make compromises; no one person should make all the sacrifices.
As with all good things in life, marriage takes work, Cathy says. Some ways you can make sure you’re putting an effort into your marriage include:
• Be sure you’re meeting your mate’s needs. Ask yourself, “What am I doing for my spouse?”
• Respect your mate.
• Look for the strengths and minimize the weaknesses. The more strengths you focus on in your spouse, the stronger and greater the strengths of your marriage.
Some red flags that you might see in your marriage that may indicate the need for professional help:
1. You feel like your communication is just like beating a dead horse. You go round and round without realizing a solution.
2. You fight a lot and feel that the love seems lost.
3. Sometimes, conflict is silent. If you feel the distance in your gut, it may be time to talk with a professional.
We asked Jenny Henson, a family caregiver, to share her insights about how her caregiving role has impacted her marriage. Our questions and her answers follow.
Caregiving: Tell us about your caregiving situation. How long have you been a caregiver? What type of care/assistance do you provide?
Jenny: I have been a caregiver for my uncle Pete for about 2 1/2 years. Before that, I was a nursing assistant for years in a locked ward in geriatrics. I resigned to care for my uncle. As far as the duties…..you name it: POA (Power of Attorney), his banking, bill paying, baths, dressing, feeding, haircuts and washes, manicures, pedicures, appointment maker and taker. I do it ALL.
Caregiving: What (if any) communication did you have with your husband pre-caregiving? For instance, did you have discussions about who does what, how you’ll handle certain situations, etc.? If you didn’t have such conversations, do you wish you did?
Jenny: Oh yes we discussed it. You better believe it…..long and hard. My hubby is the one that suggested he come live with us actually. I told him he didn’t have a clue what he was in for. He’d never even been around anyone with Alzheimer’s before, actually, not around the elderly much at all. I do all of Pete’s care because Uncle Pete isn’t comfortable with a man doing it and I totally understand that and have not a bit of problem with it. Danny is a jewel. I cook and he cleans up so I can get started on Pete’s bath, his meds, breathing treatment etc. If I don’t get to the dusting or whatever, he does it. He does his own laundry on the weekends so that frees me up to do mine and Pete’s. He goes grocery shopping and takes the cell in case he has any questions. We tried a few times taking Pete with us. Didn’t work….he likes to grab things off shelves and he’s too big to put in a grocery cart. If and when I need him to do something, he’s always a real peach and tries his best.
Caregiving: What’s been the biggest change in your marriage because of your caregiving role?
Jenny: Now where do we start on that one. Obviously, sex life. Hard to be romantic when you have the baby monitor on and all you hear are barnyard noises. That one took some getting used to….A LOT OF GETTING USED TO. The biggest change is not being able to go where ever….whenever. We were on our own for years and did just that. Did what we wanted, when we wanted. Not anymore!
Caregiving: What’s been the biggest challenge? And, how did (or do) you resolve it?
Jenny: The biggest challenge is the cabin fever. That goes for both of us. How to resolve it….day by day or we’d go insane and have no hair (or one of us would be on America’s Most Wanted). What helps best with us has been to allow each other their space to pursue their passions and have a life with our own hobbies, independent of one another. Sometimes we have to juggle things around so the other can do something special but we somehow manage to. Now, keep in mind, none of these hobbies takes us out of the house because we have to keep an eye on Pete. Danny loves to make movies on the computer so, if he wants to do that, fine. Sometimes he’ll lay down in the other bedroom and keep an ear out just so I can snuggle under the covers and enjoy a bit of a good book….by myself, before I go to bed. We trade off, I guess you could say.
Caregiving: What have you learned about your husband and your marriage, as well as yourself, because of caregiving?
Jenny: I’ve learned that if I’m upset because he brought home pink toilet paper for my bathroom instead of blue, I’m not really mad about that….my cabin fever is getting to me. He’s learned that when he rolls over on the cat and gets bit….starts cussing and throwing a fit, it’s not the cat….it’s his cabin fever. When we get angry at each other, we WILL NOT discuss it until we calm down. We’ve went three days without talking before because we didn’t want to say something we couldn’t take back. Caregiving: What advice/suggestions would you give to other family caregivers struggle to keep their marriage on track while providing care?
Jenny: You have to have time for you….have to. I don’t care if it’s reading two pages in a book and drinking a cup of hot tea. You have to compromise and share responsibility. If you don’t, nothing will get done and you have two angry and resentful people. Danny and I have learned to give each other their own space to enable each other to grow as a person and not loose your ever lovin’ mind. And above all, a good sense of humor and roll with the punches baby! You think it’s easy having sex with someone yelling, “Sueeeeeeee….eeeeeeee” in the background. You try it sometime! Jenny is 47-years-old and a registered professional caregiver in Kentucky. She enjoys reading, crocheting and is currently learning computer graphics (“slow but sure,” she says). She’s passionate about animal and environmental conservation “without being off the deep end about it.”