The Effects of Caregiving on Relationships!

Caregivers have so much on their plate, and their lives are drastically affected by their role as a caregiver.  It is not often discussed, but when a couple takes on the responsibility of caregiving, the effects on their marriage can be incredibly difficult.  Granted, there are marriages that are strengthened, but there are many more that are not.  When my husband and I first discovered our daughter had half a heart, we were devastated.  Our lives were turned upside down, and we had medicine logs, sleep schedules, feeding logs, oxygen tanks, sat monitors, and other elements of her care that became wedged between us.  We were told early on to work together, and that many marriages fall apart in situations like ours.  I can see why, as it was a struggle, but our marriage strengthened.  We learned to work together, even when the odds were against us.  We became a team, and still found time to be a couple when we could.

We were lucky, and I am grateful that our marriage survived.  However, I see the effects of long-term caregiving in my parents.  They have been caring for my grandparents for over a decade.  While my grandma passed a year ago, they now take care of my aunt who has terminal cancer.  The road has been long for them, and while they were financially able to handle the monetary burdens in the beginning, the recession hit them hard, and shortly after, my dad was unemployed.  They were stuck in a house in New York with high taxes and a high mortgage, and they had to take a loss on the sale of it.  They lost everything.  Savings, retirement, stocks, and so much more.  They have to live a different life now, and while they had a bigger space to be caregivers in before, they now have a much smaller space.  It leaves little room for privacy.

I have watched them over the years.  They have taken on the overwhelming stress of caring for others with grace, but as each month passed, they lost part of themselves.  They were now bound as caregivers to others, and there was no room for a life of their own.  Their life was caregiving.  Time together was shortened, tempers rose, and the spark they always had for each other was gone.  They still love one another, but their love is now built around the foundation of being a team of caregivers.  My father snaps at my mother, and my mom gets more and more emotional because she is lost in her role.  They get weekly phone calls from family, and see Facebook photos of the life the rest of the family gets to lead while they remain in their job as caregivers.  They say they are grateful for the moments of joy they can give in their loved one’s final days, but they no longer have joy outside of this life.  Their marriage is a kiss goodnight, and in companionship, but the spark is still not seen.

It is difficult to watch a couple that always made me believe in the forever, fairytale marriage become so stagnant, but how could romance thrive in a caregiving home.  Their home is filled with illness and impending death, it contains oxygen tanks, medications that must be sorted carefully, nursing aids that help to bathe grandpa and my aunt.  Yes the home is filled with love and dedication as well, it always has been.  My parents are good people, willing to give everything they can of themselves.  Their home is sacrifice.  But, on the outside, I see the change, and I resent the family members that get to live their lives.  I know my parents feel this way sometimes too, as I have heard it in their voices, but they do not rock the boat.  They want to maintain peace, so they do not say what is truth.  They have been abandoned, and their marriage, their health, and their lives have suffered because of it.

This does not make them poor caregivers, it makes them human.  It is the world that looks in on the caregiver that assumes they are superhuman and must be able to take on so much without loss, but they do lose, and it is swept aside as a small price to pay.  I think our society has become diseased when it can be split so unequally.  When only a small percentage of families will take on the role of caring, and the rest take that as their chance to cut and run.  Where is the humanity in that?  If whole families could share the role of caring, there would be less stress and health related illnesses because it would be a combined effort.  Instead, often one person or one couple take on the entire gravity of caregiving.  How can marriages possibly survive intact.  It is time to hold people accountable and to bring the humanity back into families.  They need to know that once a week or month phone calls are not enough.  They need to realize that love cannot be seen in a heart that casts aside the weak because they can’t be bothered to adjust their lifestyle.  They need to realize that there is no room for selfishness in a family.  And, they need to open their eyes to the caregiving couple or caregiver who is suffering silently, hoping for a little relief.

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3 thoughts on “The Effects of Caregiving on Relationships!

  1. Boy does that hit the head on the nail. Yes it seems along the way we kinda lost ourselves and work like friends. It is very hard to have a marriage when it is all about the people you take care of. Can we get back what we had , that I don’t know. Out of 42 years of marriage, after the kids left home, We had maybe a year alone before the firstone came home. From then on we have housed many family members, friends, and now caretaking. I always wondered what I could have been. I was a stay home military mom. Husband worked and went to school. Now I’m sixty and other than taking care of others for no pay all my married life I am left with not too much in ss so I will not collect my own ss. That is an issue for the caretaker. So times I’m happy, times I’m sad. I do see the happiness on the internet and all the trips and things my extended family does and we don’t. It’s not jealousy I feel, more anger. Why? Because they don’t get it. They say they understand but NO THEY DON’T.Until you are in my shoes for all those years, you have no idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What you’ve written about is so true and so sad for your parents and for you. And your feelings of resentment are understandable.

    Sensitive, caring people can easily get so mired/bogged down in caregiving routines that we’ve worked out at great personal sacrifice, that–understandably– we don’t/can’t assert ourselves and use family as we have a right to do. Social workers use the analogy: the family is like a mobile–to stay in balance and function well, some will need to take up the slack when others can’t/don’t.

    Perhaps not helpful for your parents, but definitely helpful for younger caregivers and caregivers-in-wailing, is Francine Russo’s book: “They’re Your Parents Too.”

    Wishing you strength and luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Susan for your words. I agree with you. To hear words from a caretaker for the yet to be caretakers is a good thing. When it is time for the parents to be taken care of the whole family should prepare for the future for the parents. I refused to put my parents in a nursing home. I loved/love them and I want to know with my eyes and heart that they are being well taken care of. Not left sitting in a hallway of a nursing home being forgotten. I NEED to know they’re not being hurt. When mom was in the nursing home for rehab I had to tell the staff twice to call an ambulance for my mother. It was only medically necessary for a short period of time. I went everyday, sometimes 2x a day to check on Her. A nurse told me ,”You don’t need to come everyday”. I looked at Her and told her,”don’t ever tell me not to come to see Her for I will be here everyday to make sure she is ok till she comes home. I know she meant well but I take my caretaking serious and I will be there. Unfortunately after taking care of Her for 13 years she passed away on a day perfect for Her, Nov.01, 2012 on All Saints Day and she was a saint. Going on 15 years taking care of dad with COPD/emphazima and middle stage of alz..Each day is the same or different. Depends. It is hard work and I get satisfaction when He smiles and is happy for silly things. As for my husband and myself, well lets just say we’ve hung in there this long and I hope we are able to be one again before we’re too old and decrepted. We love each other but we have no time for us. I do know my moms last years ,she was always safe, wrm, fed, loved and well taken care of and never alone. That is what the end for every life should be who lives with their caretaker/family. A happy ending. I miss my mom but I had 13 extra years around the clock with Her and my siblings who were too busy with their own life didn’t. I will treasure those good memories. I’ve let go of the bad. Now dad and my sister-in-law is our lives with more memories. That’s how ya have to think of it when you take on the role. It’ll drive you nuts if you don’t.

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