How to manage a relationship while caring for aging parents. Co-authored with wife Diane.
Many men and women are readjusting their lives and schedules so that they can be more attentive to the needs of their aging parents. A whopping 44 million adults in the United States are providing unpaid care to another adult, according to a recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and others.
Taking care of an aging parent that lives nearby could be as small as making an extra visit each week, helping with chores, or driving to a doctor appointment. A more dramatic change could be your parent moving in with you or relocating. Alternatively, you might find yourself traveling long distances back and forth between your home and your parent's home to assist with their needs.
Effects on the Relationship
So how does this new situation affect a relationship? Each partner may be affected in a different way. The one with the parent will feel a new sense of responsibility and may feel guilty for having someone take up so much more of their time. The other partner may feel resentful of the time his/her partner is spending away from the household and the relationship; he/she may feel guilty about not being more supportive.
Here are some of the changes that may occur.
• Household chores may need to be transferred from the partner attending to the parent to the other partner. If this does not occur, the partner with the parent may begin to spend extra time at night and on weekends fitting in chores.
• There may be new expenses related to local or out-of-state travel to and from the parent's home and doctors' offices.
• Even when there is no long distance travel involved, there is less time for nurturing your relationship. For example, you and your partner may have had a Sunday brunch tradition that now has ended as one of you goes off to spend Sunday with Mom or Dad.
• All of the above can add stress to both partners, resulting in moodiness and/or resentment.
Tips for Coping
Use your best you: is the caregiver feeling overburdened with his/her new responsibilities? Is the other spouse finding it difficult to take over household tasks the caregiver does not have time for anymore? Does anyone feel unsupported or abandoned? Plan ahead: It is about your life.
When you know that a change is imminent regarding an aging parent, create the time to discuss it with your partner. Discuss how this change will affect both of you. Here are some things to be addressed:
• How to avoid burn out trying to do too much alone.
• How can you help your partner with the caring for his/her parent?
• How will this change affect your family finances?
• How can your children contribute to helping with the caring for Grandma or Grandpa?
• What boundaries will you put on the type of and amount of care you will provide to your parent?
• What can you do to keep your relationship intact with your new responsibilities?
The Happy Result
One woman shared the following: "When my husband is supportive of my role as caregiver of my mother, inside my heart opens up and I feel deep love and appreciation for him. I feel the essence of my femininity being honored and that is quite simply "soul food."
The husband said, "I am using some of the time that my wife is spending caring for her mom to catch up on projects and interests I have had for a long time and have not been able to get to. Instead of focusing on the fact that she is not available, I am grateful for the time to work on my projects.
It is powerful to be in solution mode when dealing with life's situations. There are solutions for couples who are faced with caring for an elderly parent. It is possible to keep a relationship strong and loving during this time.
As an important fulfillment of his own life mission, Lewis offers workshops specific to men and men’s issues and is passionate about helping men discover and live their mission, and balance mission and relationship. He is a “full contact” personal development coach who provides men with a firm but caring nudge towards a fuller destiny with an emphasis on pragmatism and compassion.
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