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When You're Married
to the Caregiver
If you're the husband or wife of an adult
child who is taking care of an aging parent, it can seem that no
matter what you say or do, it's the wrong thing.
Suddenly you may find yourself an outsider as
the immediate family circle closes ranks.
You may feel tremendously frustrated about
your powerlessness: You cannot make everything all right; you cannot
stop the pain your spouse is feeling.
Here are a few points to consider, a few
suggestions, that may make this time easier:
● Remember that the relationship you
have with your in-laws is not the same as the one your husband or wife
has. This is simply human nature. No matter how close you may have
become to your mother- or father-in-law, your experience is not the
same as your spouse’s.
So while you may feel the two of you are
doing more than enough to help, your spouse may not feel that way at
● Understand that every immediate
family has its own little quirks—good or bad. Maybe Dad has always
had a short fuse. Maybe Mom has never been able to relax if there was
one speck of dust on one stick of furniture.
Maybe family members never talk to one
another, they yell. Maybe they never yell . . . or talk. Whatever
those characteristics, they may be intensified under the present,
● Don't take it personally if you are
suddenly outside the loop. When no one really wants to hear your
opinion because this is a "family" matter.
At the same time, you may very well be
affected by the decisions being made by your spouse and the other
siblings. It's not uncommon that several sons will decide what's best
for Mom or Dad but it is the daughters-in-law who end up providing
almost all the care.
Then, too, the opposite may occur. Your
spouse's siblings are no help and so it is up to your spouse and you
to do everything.
● Know that sometimes you will become
the target for your spouse's emotions. The anger, the fear, the
sadness, the frustration, the guilt. Again, try not to take it
personally. Most likely it's not really meant for you but for
something else. For the disease or medical problem that is taking the
life of your spouse's parent. For the pain. For death.
● Remember that while it may seem this
situation has been going on forever and it will never end, it is
temporary. It will end.
In the meantime, you may feel somewhat
neglected, but remember, your spouse is being pulled in many different
directions: aging parent, you, the children, the job. This is a time
when he or she especially needs your help and your understanding.
A spouse also needs to hear, "You're
doing a good job helping your parent but you can't do everything."
It's hard to hear that. It has to be said gently over and over again.
It can seem pretty obvious to you that your
spouse has assumed a new role: caregiver to an aging parent. What you
need to remember is that during this time, you, too, have a new,
special and vital role as well: Taking care of the caregiver.
Supporting the caregiver. Consoling the caregiver. Loving the
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