There are quite a few stories out there to tell us about how caring for elderly in-laws ruined marriage for some people. It sounds selfish, inconsiderate, and extremely disrespectful but it does not necessarily have to be all those things. Marriage is tough in itself anyway, with all the compromises and adjustments both spouses have to make to keep the domestic ship afloat. Add to that equation in-laws who are dependent on you for their well-being and most basic needs and the dynamics of your marriage can get quite complicated pretty quickly.
Living in a joint family in India comes with a long list of challenges. Sometimes that can even result in the issue of choosing between your spouse and elderly parent because they just do not get along. As messy as it seems, it is a reality in many households. Someone in a similar situation approached us with the query listed below. Counseling psychologist and certified life-skills trainer Deepak Kashyap (Masters in Psychology of Education), who specializes in a range of mental health issues, including LGBTQ and closeted counseling, answers it for them and for us today.
Caregiving Is Ruining My Marriage
Table of Contents
Q. I have had an arranged marriage and we live together in a joint family. My father-in-law is retired from the armed forces and things have been going fine for the most part. Being elderly, they have had health issues from time to time. Recently, he suffered a stroke and is bedridden. My mother-in-law is also pretty much bedridden due to her own illnesses and cannot help with looking after her husband. We are a double-income family and I am extremely stressed out trying to cater to everyone’s needs – including my own children (we have two). I cannot stop working because it’s my money that pays for their nurses and frequent hospitalization. My husband knows that the stress has caused me diabetes but there is nothing he can do. Clearly, caring for elderly in-laws ruined marriage completely.
Recently, a friend suggested to me that I should speak to him about moving them to a care facility such as an old age home, but I cannot broach the subject with him. We also belong to a community where it is expected that we will look after the parents so an elderly parent ruining a marriage is not a complaint that anyone will even accept. My husband is a dutiful child but cannot see that even our children are suffering because they end up looking after the grandparents after coming back from school. It is hindering their study time and so on. The situation is taking a toll on us as a family and I know that we cannot live like this for too long. What should I do? I really don’t want to be the kind of person who is making her husband choose between spouse and elderly parent but I feel like I am not left with any other choice.
From the expert:
Ans: I understand how tough your situation is, given all the people involved. Guilt, resentment, anger, and anxiety might be the dominant emotions guiding your fear and hence the choice you might want to make. From where I look at it, it seems that you all urgently need some emotional care, and skills to deal with the situation that you have described; before we talk about changing the situation itself. Humans have dealt with and have the capacity to deal with bigger threats than those that our modern lives inflict.
Your work-life balance is clearly disturbed, which is why you feel that caring for your elderly in-laws ruined marriage for you and your husband. It is okay to suggest that your parents-in-law be moved to a care facility if you are firm about how adversely elderly caregiving affects marriage; however, do you think that would also serve as a negative trigger for your relationship with your husband? So let’s see what options we have to deal with the issue. You can use one or a combination of the following:
- Hire help or a nurse to come and take care of them during the time that none of you is able to
- Try therapy and counseling for the emotional support you obviously need and to gain skills to deal with your situation
- Find regular hours (at least four hours a week) to do what you enjoy and find relaxing and recreational. I cannot emphasize the importance of spending time with yourself. Incorporate yoga and meditation into your routine
- Look for a daycare center for your parents-in-law and see how that arrangement works out for them
To take steps in any of the above or other directions, remember a relatively balanced state of mind is essential. Developing physical illness as a response to an unpleasant stimulus is a problem independent of the triggers you face; whether it is taking care of in-laws or looking after the household and professional challenges. Hence, this needs to be attended separately and addressed in a way that deals with the core of the issue and not just the nature of the trigger. Hope that was helpful.
What To Do When Elderly Caregiving Affects Marriage?
This situation is tough for both spouses in the relationship. On one hand, one spouse is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of taking care of their in-laws; and the other has to endure the predicament of choosing between spouse and parents. Maintaining a balance and your sanity in a household like this is truly a great effort.
Now that the expert has highlighted how one can deal with this issue of elderly parents and the marriage problems that arise from it, Bonobology will now dive deeper into what can be done about this. Elderly parents ruining marriage and driving you up the wall? Let’s figure out what one should do next. Read ahead with a pinch of empathy:
1. Steer clear of the blame-game
If you start blaming your partner or their parents, it will only make your married life more difficult. The solution never lies in pointing fingers at one another. So avoid blame-shifting even if you feel like elderly caregiving affects marriage adversely for you. Understand how choosing between spouse and elderly parent is also extremely difficult for your partner. Express your concerns to them but without pressuring them. Remember, the situation may be affecting your spouse too, but in such cases, there are not too many choices.
2. Prioritize your spouse
It’s possible that the taxing domestic responsibilities may have resulted in your relationship being neglected. It’s time to remedy that by putting extra effort into the relationship. Instead of focusing on how caring for elderly in-laws ruined marriage for you, take an initiative to not be stuck in that same rut. It’s time you stop feeling down about this and do something about your relationship.
Whether it’s surprising your spouse with a candle-light dinner, trying something new in bed or helping the kids with their homework so your partner gets some quality time together, it’s time to turn things around in your relationship step-by-step. We can see how elderly caregiving affects marriage but the onus of improving things is on you, as a couple.
3. Get support from a CNA
Are you tired of constantly worrying and thinking, “Elderly caregiving is ruining my marriage”? Just dwelling on that thought and not being able to do anything about it will only make matters worse. You have to be prepared to take some measures that work well for everyone involved.
Since you’re unable to manage their care on your own, consider hiring a certified nursing assistant or a CNA to do the job for you. Home care can go a long way in helping the parents and allowing you to flourish in your own family life as well. After this, you might not ever have to complain about elderly parents ruining marriage as this is a sure-shot solution that will keep everyone happy.
Keeping it short and simple, we finally come to an end to this overview of elderly parent marriage problems and what can be done to remedy them. Remember, you have a right to have agency in your marriage but you still should be as kind and comforting to the elderly in your family as much as you can be.
It sure can. Their constant presence and catering to their needs can take a toll on a couple’s relationship; besides, there can be many awkward moments when living in a joint family. This can start putting immense pressure on the couple.
Making space for yourself and getting couple-time is challenging when elderly in-laws live with you. Instead of nurturing your marriage, most of your time and energy is spent in their caregiving. Prioritizing your marriage without neglecting the needs of the elderly in-laws living with you is the right way to strike a balance and ensure that one doesn’t suffer on account of the other.
You need to support your spouse by being there for them and their parents as well. Take care of your partner’s parents but also take care of yourself and your partner. Their parents’ deteriorating health is bound to be emotionally taxing for your spouse and they may also feel bad for not being able to give you enough time and putting all this work and pressure on you.