When Caregiving & Marriage Collide: Overcoming Loneliness in Crowded Spaces It's difficult to prepare for the unknown, but having early conversations can help if or when the time arises. BY LISA B. CAPP
Becoming a caregiver for a loved one can cause major stress on your relationship... particularly if you don't address the stress that comes with it.
“ Through my motherís decline my husband remained convinced in a rational-male-engineering way that we could fix things.”
Youíve been successful managing most aspects of your complicated life and are proud of the relationships youíve nurtured and maintained through it all. Whether youíre a baby boomer, a millennial or somewhere in between, research tells us that your odds of becoming a caregiver to a loved one through illness or age are quite high.
Much has been written about whether taking on a caregiving role strengthens or shatters the relationship you share with your significant other. I think the unfulfilling answer is, it depends.
My mother came to live with my husband and me after my father passed away. She had a few solid years of independence but the majority of her time with us represented a slow and deep decline into dementia.
Initially she told us about the giraffes and elephants she saw hanging in the trees outside her bedroom window. Those animals represented a naÔve and whimsical period we all passed off as simply her creative imagination.
Late one night, true fear manifest when we landed in the emergency room with my hysterical mother. Sheíd been fighting off winged monkeys clawing at her windows to take her away.
In the wee hours of that morning I sat in the ER with my mother and my husband. We were engulfed by the antiseptic aroma only hospitals possess and marked time through the resonance of scurried footsteps down long tiled corridors.
There were the inís and outís of doctors and nurses, the hushed conversation of other patients with their extended families and the hum of high tech medical equipment.
Although surrounded by so much activity, I felt utterly alone.
Through my motherís decline my husband remained convinced in a rational-male-engineering way that we could fix things. I knew we were powerless over my motherís illness, but not over our personal reaction to the crisis our family faced.
Through an 18-year dementia journey with my mother, I came to appreciate certain truths about caring for a loved one. The importance of partnership in caregiving was the most profound lesson. Together my husband and I focused on strategies to reduce the impact of caregiving on our marriage.
* Recognize the significance of this life change: Caregiving is never an easy job, especially for someone you know and love as they decline through illness or age. Acknowledge how your lives are changing, each in their own way. Donít judge the emotions and fears each of you have about your caregiving responsibility. Instead, work together to find common ground solutions even if they perpetually evolve.
* Grieve the loss of your spontaneity: Thereís no denying your life together has changed. Your ability to meet for dinner, catch a movie without planning or just run out for something will now require more intention. Remember: wrapping yourself fully in the caregiving role and isolating from everything else is never the answer. Find resources and support to give you time away from caregiving. Make time for both of you: separately and together.
* Talk about everything, but ensure the conversation is two-way: Reluctance to talk about difficult, high stress situations can apply to anyone but may be more prevalent among some men. Encourage dialogue by jotting down the raw emotions each of you feel throughout the week, then take turns sharing those feelings in the context of the situation you faced. Understanding each otherís trigger points can allow you to plan caregiving escape routes.
* Draw closer by acknowledging the role your significant other plays in caregiving: Ask yourself: could I do what my partner is doing if our roles were reversed? Then force yourself to answer the question truthfully.
Caregiving pairs come in so many different varieties: you could find yourself caring for grandparents, parents, a spouse or partner, siblings, extended relatives or friends.
Devising strategies for yourself and your significant relationships can help all involved to better cope with difficult caregiving responsibilities.
Lisa B Capp is a blogger, an activist and a dementia caregiving survivor. She serves as a co-chair to Alzheimerís Association Leadership Board (Vermont), member of the Alzheimerís Impact Movement (AIM), and AlzAuthors. As a High Tech Change Consultant, Lisaís worked with leaders of global business, government agencies and non-profits. Her passion for building strength through transition is now focused on helping others find their power through the caregiving journey. For more visit: www.lisabcapp.com