Dear Family Advisor

My mom gets wildly jealous when I spend time with my husband!

Last updated:

March 30, 2009

I can handle my mother's early-stage dementia, but her jealousy is hard to take. She lives with us. And she doesn't like to see my husband and I spending one-on-one time together, whether it's kissing or even sitting next to each other on the couch. We've had to start locking our bedroom door because she barges in, saying her lights aren't working or she heard a noise -- or she bangs and bangs and cries.

I make sure I'm affectionate with her, and we don't flaunt our relationship in front of her. But I don't want caregiving to ruin my marriage. My husband and I are desperate to spend an hour or two together. How do I handle this?

Your mom is probably jealous of your life more than of your marriage or husband. She might perceive her own life as being mostly over, whereas you're in your prime. It's only natural for her to wish she were younger and more active than she is now. Jealousy is a normal emotion adults don't like to admit we have -- but we do. Your mom is also "attached to your hip" right now because you're her familiar safety zone. She may be a little depressed or anxious, which could be part of her clinginess, too.

You're already on the road to dealing with her feelings just by acknowledging them. Try not to get caught in the vortex of her emotions or react every time she does something that pushes your buttons. When it's "her" time, make an extra effort to focus -- don't take phone calls or plan dinner. Let her know ahead of time when the two of you will be together, even if it's just hanging out at home. That way, she has something to look forward to.

You'll also need to set some boundaries. More than 80 percent of caregivers in a [Caring.com survey] (https://www.caring.com/articles/love-and-marriage-and-caregiving) said that caregiving is hard on marriage, even a strong marriage. Your mom won't respect your boundaries if you don't. Create a schedule and do your best to stick with it. She may pout or come up with excuses to barge in, but you can't budge. Let her know when you'll be with your husband alone -- your marriage is something precious that must be tended to, too.

I used to set up a coffee pot in my bathroom so my husband and I could have coffee in our bedroom, read the paper, and chat before we ever opened our door in the morning. And yes, use the lock! A granny camera or baby monitor lets you check on your mom just to make sure she's okay. Do everything you can to make her part of the house safe to help you feel better about that precious time together.

Be a little sneaky and include a walk or gardening during your time with her, even just for 10 minutes. Sunlight, fresh air, and physical activity help us sleep better, flood our system with "happy" chemicals, and strengthen our bones. Help her see that her life can be interesting, fun, and still has purpose. You can gently nudge her into groups or clubs of older adults where she can make friends. Remember to compliment her, too -- she needs to know that you respect and appreciate her and that she has a lot to give.

Finally, realize that you may never be able to make your mom happy or less jealous. She may have locked herself into this way of thinking and no matter what you do, she's going to act the way she wants. If that's the case, then you simply have to go on and do what's right for you -- and for everyone. Instead of viewing her jealousy as an issue you have to fight against, consider it a wake-up call. It's pushing you to create healthy boundaries that will support all your relationships. It's an ironic blessing to be reminded to carve out time for those you love -- including your husband and yourself.