When you become a family caregiver, you don’t usually have the opportunity to stop doing everything else. You probably have to manage a lot of other priorities in addition to providing care for an aging parent or loved one. If multitasking is one of your gifts, then more power to you, but if it’s not, you might feel like you are drowning most days.
Between caregiving, keeping house, paying bills, fixing meals, and organizing medication schedules and doctor’s visits, you hardly have time to breathe. Add to that managing a job and raising children, and there’s probably no more energy with which to nurture your marriage.
Betsy and I will celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary this week. Our marriage is built on faith, friendship, respect, and love. While no marriage is without its challenges, we have been truly blessed. Betsy and I are partners in every way we can be, so when she was caring for her mother in Georgia during that last year of Sarah’s life, it was hard on us both. She was stretched to the breaking point, trying to make her mother’s final weeks comfortable while also managing work responsibilities remotely and keeping our family informed and supported. She was far from home and very lonely during that time, and I struggled to find ways to encourage and support her, so she felt my love.
One of the things Betsy did to nurture our marriage during that time was to call me when her mother was taking a nap, and she had a little time to herself. We would spend a few minutes catching up on the details of our day; that call allowed us to draw strength from our connection. She also took care of herself by eating a healthy diet and keeping up with her exercise schedule. She tried to get regular sleep and didn’t stress out too much about the housekeeping. She would also send me an encouraging text or email at other times if she knew I was dealing with something stressful or worrisome. It humbled me to realize that I was on her mind, even a little, during those difficult days in her life.
If you feel like you have no energy to put into your marriage while caring for aging loved ones, have an honest conversation with your spouse. Choose a comfortable place and a generous block of time. Don’t try to talk when you are both stressed, exhausted, or in a hurry. Discuss how you can find time to be together regularly to strengthen your marital bonds. Share a meal; take a walk, and hold hands. Plan a regular date night. Schedule everything. Embrace the reality that one of the things you may have to let go of is spontaneity, at least for this season of life. Once you put a plan together, tweak it as needed to figure out what works best.
Most of all, never assume that a great marriage will stay great without putting any effort into it. That’s like starting an exercise program, then quitting after two or three years. All that fantastic progress you made in becoming physically fit will quickly diminish if you stop working out. The same thing can happen to a marriage when one spouse becomes wholly focused on caring for aging family members. But with intentionality, a marriage can grow and thrive during this time. Both partners may find your love and devotion strengthened as you learn new aspects of your relationship.
Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about ways to maintain your marriage as a caregiver.