Love, Family

How To Maintain A Happy Marriage And Take Care Of Elderly Parents

I was sitting at dinner with my friends the other night and the topic of coping with aging parents came up. They were talking about how they argue so much more now that they are responsible for taking care of their parents. The frustrating part is that the more they try to be supportive and take care of their aging parents, the less time they have for their marriage. As a marriage counselor, you can imagine that I get questions like this from my clients all the time, but what should I say when it's my friends? 

No one wants unsolicited advice, but I can't help it. I decided to take the risk and share my pearls of wisdom.

As all great empathetic stories go, I let them know that they are not alone. My wife and I have have had similar struggles. My parents are in their 80's as is my wife's parents. I've found that one of the hardest things for me is balancing my responsibility to my wife and our folks. There's a lot to do with our parents; and really these needs are only going to grow. I often ask myself, "where is this extra time going to come from?"  Something has to get cut out and all too often, we help our parents only to realize that we may have neglected our marriage by accident. 

There's only so much time in a day and really, the worry is that my folks have limited time left. So how do we balance these two very important, yet competing needs?

Here's how I make it work: 

1. Every day I make a point to remember that my wife is my best friend. She matters most of all.  

Sharing my fears, anxieties, joys, and sorrows with my wife reminds me why I fell in love with her. Having my wife as a confidante and the person who knows me better than anyone else, warts and all, reminds me why I consider her most importantly my best friend. We both  feel fortunate to have each other knowing that we can talk about anything. Even if we disagree we know we always will be there for one another. 

At this time in our life a lot of what we share have to do with the children and extended family particularly our aging parents. Sharing my thoughts and feelings without feeling judged allows these conversations to bring us closer together.

2. I let my wife know I want to share in everything.

My time away from my wife is a real struggle for me. I really value our time together as a couple, but with some of the other family responsibilities, it take a toll on me emotionally. Sometimes the only thing I have to look forward to in my day is getting home and spending time with her. We recharge each other by being together whether it's watching TV — Downton Abbey is our current passion — playing gin rummy or just trying new restaurants. Having this time together on a regular basis allows us the time to talk about the things we may want to discuss. Date night is not just for new relationships. Gently encourage each other to open up to what you are feeling including the anxieties and fears. Running parents to appointments, taking time off work for this and that can lead to stress. 

I intentionally put these times on my calendar so I have a visual reminder that we are going to spend time that evening. My wife seeing this also tells her how important she is to me. Truthfully I also know that If I don't write it down some other commitment may get in the way.

As much as possible we both agree to try to share in the responsibilities with our parents and in this way feel like we are doing this together. The more we do as a couple the less conflict there is between my wife and I regarding time we spend with our parents. Lessening that conflict really helps us feel at ease. Helping each other by sharing the burden with  the tasks allows me to feel good about myself. I then can  feeling like I am an asset and this allows us to feel appreciated. At times I know my wife feels she is imposing on me, but I make sure she knows that its not an imposition at all but helps me feel secure in our partnership. Her wanting me to be included is an incredible gift she offers me.

3. I don't forget that laughter is great medicine.

Nothing helps my wife and I more then when we can laugh. The more stressful the situation the more we try to laugh. Finding humor in life's situations can really help us get through this. Telling each other stories of situation that arise can help and  the more we can laugh at this the easier it is to cope.

My mother, for example, had a bout with some GI problems. She went into very specific details with my wife and I about all of her problems with finding a bathroom. The fact she was sharing this with my wife as well as me was something later we were able to chuckle about. Small situations like this can get you through the more difficult times knowing soon enough we'll have to talk about end of life issues, funerals and other stressful situations. I always enjoy telling some jokes I have found on the internet.

An elderly lady was telling her friend that she had recently joined an aerobics class for seniors at the local fitness [center]. "How did it go?" asked the friend.

"Well, I bent, I twisted, I turned, I jumped up and down, and I perspired for half an hour, but by the time I'd finally got my leotard on, the class had ended. I've sure got old! I've had two bypass surgeries, a hip replacement, new knees, fought prostate cancer and diabetes. I'm half blind, can't hear anything quieter than a jet engine, take 40 different medications that make me dizzy, winded, and subject to blackouts. Have bouts with dementia. Have poor circulation; hardly feel my hands and feet anymore. Can't remember if I'm 85 or 92. Have lost all my friends. But, thank God, I still have my driver's license."

THE SENILITY PRAYER : Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

4. I always try to be available and responsive.

I try to be very clear about how important my wife is to me. These feelings need to be explicitly stated. Don't  assume they are known. The words coming from my heart will resonate truth and help her hold onto the feeling of being loved.

Freud said — "We are never so vulnerable as when we love." This is so true and I try not to forget this.

Each of us can be so impacted by a look, a word, a reaction and this can take us to feeling negative about our partners. It is so difficult for me at times to not allowing my triggers do that to me. Being aware of this and making sure my wife doesn't feel blamed for my feeling negative is very important.

Some days I am good at knowing this, other times I blow it and we just agree to start over. Let your partner know you will be there for them always and forever. Together you will be able to get through these painful times.

I also need to ask for support from her as well. I talk about the things that are important to me and inform her of the kind of support I may need. Keeping each other notified how things are for the two of you is also a critical component of our staying  strong as a couple. I try to to tell her as much as possible that I am always going to be available to listen to her concerns. I work hard at not forgetting that she need to hear it. I think guys forget that and assume that our wives should know this. All of us need to know how important we are to each other, particularly in times of stress.

Yogi Berra said ,"If you don't know where you are going — you will wind up somewhere else." At this time in your life it is critical to know your place in each others heart!

Stuart is a Marriage and Family counselor with a private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. Stuarts practice is exclusive to individuals, couples and families who are having relationship difficulties. He assists families in finding ways to deepen their relationship by understanding what each persons needs in the relationship. Download his free eBook Five Steps To Creating A Loving Connection With Your Partner. Sign up for his newsletter here.