Keep Your Marriage Healthy While Caregiving
That is why understanding the impact a loved one’s health challenges have on you and your spouse is a main step to ensuring your marriage remains a top priority even in the most challenging of times.
“Where is my chair cover?” asked Mom. “V, I remember placing it here, and now it’s gone,” she said.
“Mom let’s look for it. You hid it from yourself,” I replied.
“No, I didn’t hide it, young lady. Mr. K. has it,” she replied.
I knew that Kenneth was at work and unaware of the missing chair cover. That was the moment of our initial and startling realization that my sweet mom’s neurological system had succumbed to dementia. And in just three short years - 36 months - Mom’s neurological status necessitates “all hands on deck” from her family in caring for her. We will continue to lift her up until Jesus calls her home or He comes back soon. That’s a snippet of my mom’s health and aging story.
On the other side of the family tree is my mother-in-love, Kenneth’s mom. She lives alone in rural Louisiana. While she is a few years younger than my mom, she has mobility challenges that make it hard for her to walk and care for her daily needs. She’s unable to drive far distances or new destinations because of her delayed responses while driving; it’s a function of aging. A few months ago, she had a car accident because her driving judgment is quite limited now. My mother-in-love now requires physical support from her family to care for her needs for areas in which she is no longer independent.
Caring for an aging parent or for a family member who lives with chronic sickness or disease, meaning there is no medical cure for healing even though God is all-powerful, and nothing is impossible for Him – can be majorly, off-the-charts stressful on a marriage and a family. Kenneth and I are living witnesses as we walk through these inevitable challenges in our marriage. But I and he are so thankful that we have chosen to walk them together.
Caregiving carries the features of chronic stress syndrome: it creates physical and psychological strain over extended periods of time, is accompanied by high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability, has the capacity to create secondary stress in work and family relationships, and frequently requires high levels of vigilance.
It only makes sense that this strain can take a serious toll on caregivers’ relationships in their marriage and family. It is practically inevitable that over time marriages suffer due to caring for chronically sick or aging parents, sapping time and energy and diverting attention from one another’s needs and wants. That is why understanding the impact a loved one’s health challenges have on you and your spouse is a main step to ensuring your marriage remains a top priority even in the most challenging of times.
Open and Frequent Communication
Kenneth and I know that open, honest, and frequent communication can help ease the stress. Our marriage has been tested in this area not just with my mom’s care when she lived with us but caring for her, our oldest son, and my mother-in-love simultaneously over the course of years. And if there’s one thing that could have cause World War III in our marriage it was the amount of time and energy expended. We have had to care for our family members individually and collectively, while balancing other life priorities – jobs, church, and the like.
We realized there are times when one of us is carrying the biggest load while the other’s role is sympathizing and supporting. These burden-carrying duties shift from time to time, depending on which family member is in need. But we had to align ourselves with these shifts lest they add stress to our marriage. We talked it out – often – and we still do.
As the daughter, I am more emotionally tied to my mom’s sickness. She doesn’t lash out at Kenneth, just me. She doesn’t come to him if she’s confused, upset, needs help in the moment, or needs to make back-to-back-to-back calls to me in what seems like an everyday occurrence. She looks to me for this type of support, not Kenneth.
But the same level of care and attention is true for his mom. She calls on Kenneth first and foremost for support and care. So, we’ve learned that our load in caring for our moms is not the same by default. We had to come to terms with this reality to prevent one of us from playing the “victim card” or “making unfair comparisons between the time spent caring for my mom versus his mom. Unfiltered communication, seasoned with grace, has kept us on the same page and rerouted secondary stress. We’ve been both successful and unsuccessful in this area.
Give Each Other Space
Kenneth makes it a priority to constantly check on me when I’m caring for my mom (by the way, Mom doesn’t live with us anymore; however, she visits us for days or weeks at a time now). He’ll ask how my one-on-one time with her was and can he help me with her care. He enjoys spending time with her and joins me in activities with her when he can. He is also supportive and agreeable when I take a day or two off for just myself – to recuperate from stressful caregiving.
We share our journey with you in hopes that you will recognize how important it is to give one another the needed space during times of stressful caregiving experiences. If you’re not in this season of life, you will face it someday, but you are not a victim in your family’s care if you face the experience together as husband and wife. We are called upon to “honor our father and mother,” and we count it an honor to escort them in their evening years, thankful that our parents are walking toward the eternal rewards offered by Jesus Christ.
Pray for One Another
I love the quote “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me,” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne).
It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our own prayer lives, that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers. It makes a difference that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though the threats may not even hit our physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual radar. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end.
Thank you, Jesus, for praying for us.
Friends, Kenneth and I don’t have it all figured out on our journey of caring for our aging and sickly moms. We just don’t. We’re no experts. These are our moms and each time we see their aging demise in action, it’s sobering to say the least, and sometimes it surreal and crushing. If you’re on a similar journey, you know what I’m saying all too well.
But through it all, Kenneth and I have determined to devote ourselves to praying for one another to stand against the enemy’s mind games, to fight against our weak flesh, and to give God glory in all things, for this is the Will of God. We fully recognize that should the Lord tarry in His coming and give us length of days, we will someday walk in those shoes. We count it an honor and a privilege to serve our aging moms. We pray the Lord smiles on us and on you as we serve our aging and/or sickly parents (if we are fortunate to still have them with us).