What do you do when eldercare begins to take a toll on your marriage?

Caring for aging parents or in-laws can put strain on the relationship of the child taking care of his or her parent. It’s often a hard road for many couples, so I hope this post today can bring you some encouragement. We’ve been talking this week about getting a little older–and as we age, our parents’ health starts to play a bigger role in our own lives.

An anonymous guest poster today has some wise words for those of us struggling in this area. I encourage you to really tackle this area of your life–find ways to find peace, or new ways to live to make a more feasible long-term plan.

I hope you’re encouraged.

Not long into my marriage, my mother-in-law’s health began to decline – to the point that she could no longer drive, yet could still live in her own home.

That set my husband and me on a journey that has lasted nine years to date.   

Nine years of me being the primary resource for my mother-in-law’s errands, grocery shopping, doctor appointments, hospital stays, prescription pick ups, banking and gift shopping. Nine years of my husband caring not only for our own home repairs, mowing and snow removal, but also that of his mom’s house.

She isn’t flush with cash and neither are we, so rarely has it been an option to hire many of these tasks out. Not to mention, as children of an aging and increasingly declining parent, we feel an overwhelming sense of integrity and responsibility to be her advocates and support. 

We love her, she needs us, and we know it. She has no one else, as she is widowed and my husband is an only child. We are it, so to speak.  

And we have been doing all of this while raising two kids. Our children were 3 and 9 when we began caring for my mother-in-law. If you looked up sandwich generation in the dictionary, you would see a picture of us.  

Along the way, my husband and I have aged as well, facing our own emotional and physical difficulties. Sometimes – especially early in this eldercare journey – we have mustered the resolve and grit to face the heaviness of it all together.

But the toll of the journey slammed against the toll of our individual angst has begun to add up. Our marriage has stood the test, but not without damage to our oneness.  

This last year has been the worst year of our marriage. The. Worst. Certainly that wasn’t all because of eldercare. But eldercare thrown heavily into the mix of normal everyday stressors puts a couple on a fast track to depletion, and we increasingly have been depleting in isolation, not in each other’s arms.

And that has been painful. For him. For me. For our relationship.

So, now you know the raw and vulnerable back story. It also is good, though, for me to share what has kept me from reaching my breaking point and has kept our marriage from imploding.

Some of you may be navigating eldercare (or you will at some point), and it can be reassuring to know you aren’t alone.

Here are the five things that have helped me tremendously: 

Eldercare taking a toll on your marriage? Here are five things to keep in mind to help keep your marriage strong.

1. Embracing an eternal perspective.

This sounds cliché. I know. But there is a boatload of truth in the reality that we all are simply passing through.  This life is but a glimpse, and each of us will face struggles and challenges.

Yes, my eldercare journey has been hard, but I began to look around. I saw that everyone I knew had faced or were facing difficulties, whether it be a loved one’s addiction, devastating career challenges, illnesses or debilitating disabilities, tragic deaths of people they love, crumbling marriages or unfulfilled dreams.

God also has been faithful to soften my heart to help me see that my mother-in-law too has faced her fair share of devastation in her life.

I struggle at times keeping my eyes on the eternal perspective, but when I do, I see better. I cope better. 

2. Getting good counselling.

I started seeing a counsellor once a month three years ago, because I realized I hungered for the insight of someone who is removed from the situation.

Certainly she has helped me in many areas of my life, but as far as eldercare, she has equipped me to grasp that it is possible to acknowledge my frustration, yet at the same time journey it with humble maturity.  She has helped me not get steeped in resentment, and simultaneously encouraged me toward practical problem solving.

She has listened unconditionally when I most needed it. 

If you can’t afford a counsellor, consider asking your church or other local ministries if they offer free counselling. And definitely find one or two safe friends in whom you can confide without fear of judgment. Women should have women confidantes, and men should have men confidantes.  

3. Relying more intimately on God.

A mentor encouraged me to let the challenging journey of caring for my mother-in-law compel me to rely more on God. Her words came at a good time, because I had been looking for my husband to be something to me that truly only God can be.

I’m not saying I stopped leaning on my husband, because that wouldn’t be healthy either. But I have become discerning about my need to press into God, His Word and His steadfast encouragement.  I needed to let go of my expectation that my husband fill a need in me that only God can fill.  

4. Having something to look forward to daily.

In the messiness of life, this one little technique has sustained me often. Each day I make sure I have at least one thing to look forward to.  

Sometimes it is as simple as carving out an hour to curl up with a book. Other times it may be coffee with a friend or a trip to the zoo with my younger son. And still other times it might be a date with my husband when we can bolster our fragile connection. 

I also began to embrace the “don’t wait to live” mantra. If someone has an extra ticket to a baseball game or hockey game and invites me to go, I say “yes.” I also challenged myself to take up watercolour painting. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I went to the art supply store, picked out some paper, brushes and paints and gave it a try. I find it incredibly relaxing.

I cannot change the responsibilities of caring for my mother-in-law, but I can become more intentional in taking care of myself in the midst of it all. 

5. Slowing down.

I admit. This is a tough one for me, because like a lot of you, on any given day I have a bazillion things to do.

Not surprisingly, there is no rushing with a sick and weak elderly person. While driving to appointments, sitting in waiting rooms or stopping by her house to drop things off, I have tried to take more time to ask her questions and learn more about her past – the years before she was married and had a son.

I try to be more patient, because I know – truly know – that this journey of relying on me is not easy for her either.

You may or may not face eldercare responsibilities in your life, but I assure you that God is faithful to give you ways to cope and navigate. By His very nature, He wants to be next to us and reveal to us glimpses of goodness. 

I still stumble in the journey, even after nine years.  But I have learned to cope and some days even thrive.  I trust that my heart and my marriage are better for it, even if I can’t always see it in the moment.

What are some ways you’ve “dealt” with eldercare? Do you have any creative problem-solving ideas that have worked for your family?

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