Caregiving & Marriage - The Strain On Your Union
"To keep your marriage brimming, With love in the loving cup, Whenever you're wrong, admit it; Whenever you're right, shut up." - Ogden Nash
Growing up we are sold the idea that marriage is about being swept off your feet by an amazing man with bulging muscles, a castle in the background and a white horse and carriage waiting as our chauffeur assists us both in to drive off into the sunset with our new lives ahead of us. Depending on the level of your desire to go into debt before you were even married, you wedding may have had a similar story line.
We stand at the alter taking the vow of, "...in sickness and in health..." never really taking in the fullness of what that may mean, and in the case where neither one of you are sick but a child, parent, sibling, or friend is i guess that is where the "...til death do us part..." would come in? If you were to be a fly on the wall in many households where caregiving has become the role of both or one of the marital "unionites" you would think death was inevitable or at least the war of words and level of voices would have one believe it was.
In families all across the globe there is right now an argument going on about the treatment, care, symptoms, or being fed up with whatever about caregiving. When I talk about the challenges my husband and I faced as we made our transition down the road of mental health recovery for my son and later for me, people are uncomfortable with the amount of honesty. I'm not sure if it's because they themselves have experienced the strain of something like caregiving can place on a marriage or they can't believe such an intimate and private subject is discussed without reservation. Whatever the case it's a very sensitive topic to discuss.
As we had our very own tug of war over issues regarding the medical treatment of my son, as we became more frustrated with our inability to grasp how he could be fine and all of a sudden not be or if it was all a "put on" there was constant conflict.
Because I was the main caregiver, the one attending the doctors appointments, the grappling with my son to go to therapy and to take his medication as well as other challenges with him being compliant, so I was there in the middle of the war on our son by mental illness.
Bad information from a family member who'd been to school for psychology, but not a practicing psychologist told me my son was using his illness as an excuse to be rude and disruptive and therefore should not be given an inch for fear he would would take a foot. My husband and I set about placing boundaries in our home as our son returned home to live after living on his own for 7 years. Discussions and disagreements about him not being able to maintain employment and struggling with self medicating with alcohol and marijuana brought about full blown, knock down drag out, verbal sparrings daily at some points.
As I begin to educate myself and do more research on people living with the same mental health disorder as my son I realized just how difficult his life was and even more difficult without medication and therapy. This new information brought about a whole different level of compassion, empathy, and understanding. This was during a time when we were spending ourselves into debt trying to keep our son in his own place as having him at home was very challenging with him constantly asking to be taken here and there to friends houses hours away.
We decided to put him in his own place and under the stress of the caring for him, managing two teenage daughters, another son away in college, another having marriage challenges, attempting to keep our jobs, and bills piling up after a relocation to a whole new state our marriage was bending under the weight of our obligations.
When One Mate Checks Out
My husband checked out of the caregiving duties and focused on the working and supporting our family, "keeping the ship from sinking" as he called it, while I filled the role of full time caregiver to our son and managed the children, the house the various other challenges with our other children and a full time job. I felt overwhelmed and would daily remind my husband of all I had on my plate as he came home from work and planted himself in front of the television.
With me no longer working full time, and now a diagnosis of depression and anxiety our home was barely standing. As more and more bills piled in and costs for medication for my son continued as he aged out of our insurance plans, and our other obligations as parents to our other children grew more challenging as we were accused of letting our son get away with "whatever he wanted" we were arguing back and forth with other children and with one another.
As a blended family we also spent loads of time back and forth in the court system fighting for rights to see our daughter from my husbands first marriage, and my daughter from a previous relationship, lists of adversity just grew larger every day.
As we sat at our dining room table looking like two day old corpses complete with the deep dark circles around our eyes and we held tightly one another's hands as tears rolled down my face and my husband asked what more he could do to help me as he was worried about me and my health, and I expressed how worried about his I was, together we worried about the fate of our marriage.
We prayed and we agreed to work together and not against one another. He agreed to join me in the research of how we could better support our son and our family as we held us all together. Lots of hard work, lots of keeping what was important before us and not allowing ourselves to be consumed by our obligations; being deliberate about one another and about life outside of our duties as parents and caregivers is what got our marriage through what was the most difficult time we both have agreed ever.
Remembering not to shut out our mate but to include them and share our concerns about feeling overwhelmed and needing help. Sometimes we forget to share those parts of us. We don't have to be ultra strong or afraid we will look as if we cannot handle the responsibilities of our loved one, thinking and behaving in such a way is not healthy for us or for our marriages. Talk openly and honestly about your fears and concerns, share how you care for your loved one but remember the importance of making time for yourself and your spouse. Self care also includes keeping your marriage healthy too.
How Common Are Marriage Troubles During Caregiving? During my time in supporting mental health caregivers I have found so many layers and family structures affected by caregiving, from single parents, to couples to siblings and friends. Because caregiving can become the role of anyone you can imagine the many different scenarios that could play out, but for the sake of this blog marriage has one constant I've discovered amongst caregivers, a very complicated ball of stress, pain, neglect, resentment, anger and guilt. Those emotions come from both the spouse doing the caregiving and their marriage partner. What I've shared is my own family's story and the importance of prayer, dedication and a commitment to fight to save their marriage.
It's also good to see you are not alone in this struggle to keep "life" in your marriage when it feels like it's on life support. So I researched on Google the affects of Caregiving on marriage and there are lot's of examples of other families out there who are managing thier lives while caring for a loved one and some stories where they are not faring well too. I focused on the ones doing well and how they did it. This is one that gives encouragement:
A study by Caring.com's Marriage Survey discovered "80 percent of respondents said that caregiving put a strain on their relationship or marriage. As one caregiver summed it up, "Even a strong marriage, like mine, suffers from the imbalance in household and child responsibilities because one of us is caring for a parent. Decreased time together, lack of opportunity for consistent communication, resentment of the needy parent, shift in the use of financial resources, increased fatigue and stress all increase the strain on a marriage."
"According to survey results, three factors in particular put caregivers at the highest risk for marital strain:
Holding down a job on top of caregiving duties
Providing financial assistance to an aging relative
Caring for an aging relative in the home
Many of those surveyed are members of the "sandwich generation," managing kids and work as well as caregiving duties. As one harried caregiver explained, "My husband and children always have to work around the current emergency that arises with my mother. It makes you tired physically and mentally to care for someone who's sick all the time, and it drains your energy in all aspects of your life.
89 percent of respondents said caregiving caused them to spend more time apart from their spouse; and 48 percent said it was causing them to "drift apart," diminishing their feelings of attachment to their partner..." ("Love and Marriage (and Caregiving): Caring.com's Marriage Survey" By Connie Matthiessen) See more here
What is most important to remember is one another. Caregiving is hard on all of us. The spouse doing the immediate work and the other spouse not directly involved in the caregiving. What worked for our family was for my husband to become more educated on the illness and to take some of the caregiving duties on as well when he was able to. That came in the form of cooking when I was too tired, spending time with my son during negative symptoms as he learned how to support him, taking the other children out for time away, and keeping me accountable for my own self care...which he is still very adamant about to this day and I'm so grateful for that part of our relationship.
Remember What's Important
Keeping your family together will take lots of hard work. Lot's of forgiveness. Lots of compassion. Lots of understanding. Lots of room for error and for growth. Respecting one another is key. Even when our loved one is struggling with their illness and trying to find their grounding it's important to stay focused on the main goal and that is to love each other unconditionally and not hold one another to unrealistic expectations.
Loved ones, when stable, must do their best to be active in the family and to relieve the caregivers of duties whenever possible understanding every little break means time to recharge and it also builds confidence in the family that the loved one is trying hard to be accountable for their lives. This applies mostly to loved ones who are capable of living on their own and managing their disorder with support or knowing there is support there if needed.
Our son taking ownership in his recovery was a major factor in helping to repair our families relationship with one another, and he thrived with every accomplishment knowing his family finally understood his challenges and were there to support him no matter what.
As far as our marriage getting back to our date nights and making room for quality time for ourselves was very important and a major part of keeping our marriage strong. Keeping our prayer life together and on our own kept us mindful of our vows and what God desires for us as a couple. I honestly can say our marriage is stronger today because of all that we have been through together and made it through.
Nothing strengthens a marriage more than adversity. Marriage therapy played a role as well so don't hesitate to seek out a marriage counselor to help you to find your way back to one another, what's important is to realize you are allies and not enemies. This journey is so much easier when you support one another. Don't give up on your marriage. Fight hard and love hard to keep it strong and healthy. It's possible. Our family is living proof.
Reference: Caring.com "Love and Marriage (and Caregiving): Caring.com's Marriage Survey" By Connie Matthiessen, Caring.com senior editor