Dear Family Advisor

My Husband Balks My Care At Every Turn!

Last updated: Sep 06, 2011

Image by bensonkua used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

My husband (a retired policeman) has a host of things wrong with him, including failing eyesight, but he insists on driving. I've tried offering to drive myself, or getting his friends to pick him up -- I've even hidden his keys. He's being stubborn, even though I've shown him newspaper clippings of horror stories where something awful has happened at the hands of an elder adult who's no longer capable of safe driving.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. We fight over when he takes his medicine, his refusal to diet (he's 100 pounds overweight), and just about anything related to caregiving.

I didn't want to become his caregiver to begin with, and fighting with him about it is miserable -- plus it's really hurting our relationship.

You and a couple of million others are all going through the same spouse-caregiving transition issues -- and at least that means you're in good company. Caregiving your mate is one of the hardest changes you'll encounter in your marriage. You've been partners, friends, and lovers, and now you're his nurse, physical therapist, taxi driver, and pharmacist all rolled into one? No wonder he's balking and you're miserable!

The best way to approach it is to embrace your inner bossy self -- but keep quiet about it. After being a policeman for years, in such a male-dominated field, your husband could well be experiencing control issues now that he's retired and in increasingly poor health. Be patient. No need to pick a fight, but do pick your battles.

For example, you know it's pretty unlikely your hubby will start sipping on alfalfa-sprout smoothies, but if you can control what comes in the house and how it's prepared, you can transition to healthier food choices without his noticing so much. Don't announce that you're going to start a regimen of two 20-minute walks a day -- just grab his hand and lead him out the door. Make up an excuse to visit a neighbor, or be crafty (crack a joke, tease, and don't forget you're never too old to flirt!) to nudge him out the door. Don't talk about weight loss and exercise while you're doing it. In the words of Nike, just do it!

On a serious note: When it comes to unsafe driving, if he might harm himself or others (and only you know if this is a real possibility), then it's time to hold firm and do what's right. It may take several big arguments to change his ways, and those aren't fun -- but they could save someone's life (possibly yours). That's worth having a fight about.

You might have to get your doctor or optometrist involved, and that brings up another point: Any time that you can delegate a caregiving decision to someone else -- whether it's physical care, medical care, dealing with driving, or whatever else might come along -- then do it. Think of yourself as the caregiver coordinator, not the do-it-all. Let someone else go toe-to-toe with him about his physical therapy or why he's not taking a certain medication daily. You have to pace yourself -- and it's crucial that the two of you are partners on this journey, not enemies.

Sometimes that's easier said than done, of course. When the stress-o-meter starts to spike, then it's time to talk to someone else about the fears and frustrations that come with caregiving. Call a good friend, or check out local caregiver groups or caregiver forums and talk with others who've had to deal with similar situations. You need someone to vent to. Life is changing on you, and no doubt you feel scared and anxious. Most of us don't want our spouses to change, get sick, and, though I hate to say it, die. We freak. We try to control, manipulate, bargain. We somehow believe, "If you'll just do this, then that other bad thing won't happen." But life's not like that. We can't stop the changes, and we can't "fix" or control anyone -- and, yes, disease and loss are part of the tapestry of what it means to be alive. So talk to a good friend. Pour out your fears and doubts to someone who'll listen and who'll urge you to stop being so hard on yourself and everybody else.

Finally, when it comes to your husband, I encourage you to remember to switch off your caregiver side and slip back into being his wife. Nobody wants to be married to -- or become -- Nurse Ratched. Both of you are under such stress; remember to be each other's relief. There's nothing like the companionship, strength, and sweetness that comes with someone who's known you for so long. When you go out to eat, act like you're on a date, and don't talk about money or health or any other hot-button topics you two usually fuss about. Talk about a movie you want to see or an upcoming weekend trip or reunion.

Get back to being a couple. It's too easy to become so engulfed in all the worries and issues that come with caregiving that you forget that your relationship needs to be nurtured in order to reap the benefits.