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Is Caregiving Hard on a Marriage? How to Stay Together and Grow Closer

Posted Apr 09 2009 7:13pm

Is caregiving hard on a marriage? It can be. But it can also be a wake-up call.

Caregiving can be stressful on relationships. I wrote in my book, Mothering Mother that I felt like I was a giant ice cream milkshake and each of my family member had a straw–and they were all sucking on that straw trying to get more of me. At times, one would pick up the glass and tap the side, or another would dig deep with the spoon trying to get the last drop.

That’s what it felt like–that I there wasn’t enough of me to go around. Sandwich generation moms really feel this struggle. But looking back, I also see what a rich and textured time it was in my life. Being needed is a good thing. Feeling “cushioned” or sandwiched on both sides can be comforting and defining.

Did my marriage suffer? Yes, at times. My husband got the worst of me. He got the sleep deprived, always griping about something, not very romantic or considerate–me. He knew when I came to bed, I might have to get back up in 30 minutes, and maybe even 3 or 4 times that night. He knew that if my mom had a particularly rough night that he’d “pay” the next night–with a frozen pizza for dinner, or he’d pitch in, do the dishes or take the girls to an activity while I sat zombie-fied on the couch.

But we made it. We got through. He was patient. Understanding. Tolerant. I’m sure at times, I made it harder than I needed to by complaining. We create a lot of our own troubles. He’d hold me in the shower and just let me cry. My mom’s Alzheimer’s was hard–physically and emotionally. He’d wash my hair and towel dry me and I would still be crying. He’d pick my mom up when she fell out of bed or was yelling that someone broke into her room. He was firm when I needed him to be, kind when he needed to be.

Make caregiving Easier on Your Marriage:

  • Be a team. Don’t make each other the enemy. Stay on the same team. Tag team, take turns, help each other out.
  • Don’t both be down at the same time. It’s pretty natural that if your hubby has a bad day at work, you make him a cool drink, you listen, and you encourage him that tomorrow will be better. If he had a rougher day than you did, then keep your mouth shut and let him vent for a change.
  • Not trying to be patronizing to you guys, but my husband doesn’t “need” too much. If I smile when he comes through the door, ask him how his day was–and listen, give him something to eat )–anything, (or ask him to pick it up) and give him some lovin’ once in a while–he’s a happy guy. I’m glad I know how to please him. He knows what I need, too.
  • Play! Flirt! Chase each other around the house and give each other towel snaps. Turn up the radio and dance in the kitchen. You may not be able to get away–so don’t use that as an excuse. Use that sense of adventure, imagination and humor and sexiness right at home. We used to sneak kisses in the laundry room–and it made me think back to our dating days and trying to grab a kiss without  “mama” catching us.
  • Keep that love life going. Now, I know, you don’t feel like it. But sex can be like exercise. I rarely “feel” like exercising, but once I get rolling, I’m glad I did. Do it any way. Maybe you can’t muster that 100% of the time, but your spouse needs you–and face it, who else in this whole world will give you what you need if not your spouse?
  • Make time for each other–every day. I don’t care if it’s a walk to the mailbox. Hold hands and take your time. Sit together and have dinner. The wash, the dishes, the baths, the meds can all wait. Even if you have to sit in your mother’s room and eat  frozen pot pie off tv trays, being together is what counts.
  • If you lose your temper, say you’re sorry. Your nerves are bound to be raw. If you yell, snap, get sarcastic or downright mean–be quick to say sorry–and be quick to forgive.
  • If you’re at the end, and your loved one is in hospice care, then know that this won’t last forever. Your life, your routines, your family traditions will all go on hold, and this is going to be hard, but get through the best you can.
  • If you lose your way and your relationship feels stretched beyond its limits, or dry as a saltine cracker, trust that you’ll find your way back. Relationships are resilient, and caregiving doesn’t have to break it.

In the end, and caregviving does sadly end, you’ll be able to look at each other and say, “Look what we did.” Loving each other through the storms of life–the sweet times, funny times, and stressful times is really what it’s all about.

Sometimes you don’t know how good your marriage is, until it’s been tested. Is caregiving hard on your marriage? Sure. But you can stay together and even grow closer by the experience. Iit can also show you just how strong the two of you really are.

~Carol O’Dell

Family Advisor at

Syndicated blog at

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