How can we reconnect our marriage now that MIL is in a nursing home

9 answers | Last updated: Jun 17, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

I have been caring for my mother-in-law for a couple of years and quit my job last September to take care of her full time. The stress and burnout of taking care of her has caused our marriage great stress. We finally had no choice but to put her in a nursing home just yesterday. I hope that we can refocus on us now somehow...(still caring for her in a nursing home of course with daily visits). We have neglected everything for her care included ourselves and each other. Any advice on how to recover? We have been married 15+ years. Thanks for your help ahead of time.

Expert Answers

Mary Koffend is the president of Accountable Aging Care Management (AACM), an eldercare consulting and care management firm that works with elder clients and their families to find the best care providers and services to meet their needs.

Thanks for the service to your mother-in-law. I would highly encourage you and your husband to celebrate the efforts you made in the past with caring for her and the continuing efforts you are making to visit her and to have her receive care in a facility that can provide the services she needs.
Although most caregivers are in good health, it is not uncommon for caregivers to have serious health problems. Research shows that caregivers:
• are more likely to be have symptoms of depression or anxiety
• are more likely to have a long-term medical problem, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis
• have higher levels of stress hormones
• spend more days sick with an infectious disease
• have a weaker immune response to the influenza, or flu, vaccine
• have slower wound healing
• have higher levels of obesity
• may be at higher risk for mental decline, including problems with memory and paying attention
One research study found that elderly people who felt stressed while taking care of their disabled spouses were 63 percent more likely to die within 4 years than caregivers who were not feeling stressed.
Also, caregivers report that, compared with the time before they became caregivers, they are less likely to:
• get enough sleep
• cook healthy meals
• get enough physical activity
Given this research, you and your husband need to focus on your own well-being as much as caring for your mother-in-law.
One way to give you more time and more peace of mind is to engage the services of a geriatric care manager to guide and assist you. The geriatric care manager can visit with your mother-in-law at the nursing home and as a professional can work with the facility to get the best services for your mother-in-law and report to you. These kinds of services assure you that you are getting the best care for your family member and let you focus on quality visits and not focus on business matters with your visits.
With the time you have a professional handling some of the care management, you and your husband can use this time to reconnect and do some of the things you need to do: get plenty of sleep, cook wonderful meals, go to the gym or have some long walks together. Have a date and combine a wonderful healthy meal with a fun athletic activity like bowling or dancing. Schedule these activities just like you schedule the visits to your mother-in-law.
Our parents want the best for their children. They do not want you to lose your health and well-being while caring for them. Make some time for your self!


Community Answers

Jaye answered...

I thought the above answer was very good.   I would suggest doing the things together you enjoy.  Make your relationship a priority....take care and God bless...

Cindyb answered...

My situation is similar.  However, my MIL who is living in an independent living apartment, does things that really "push my buttons" and when I react to that to my husband he blows up at me.  My husband says that he will do X if she does Y - - then he doesn't follow thru, which makes me even more upset!  At this point in time I don't know if our 25 + year marriage will survive this.

So this is why I didn't find this article helpful.


Kona answered...

Good luck Anonymous and Mary does have some good ideas there for you.  My husband of 19 years and I have cared for his 88 yr. old mom in our home for over 3 years.  We recently had to move her in to an assisted living home because she now needs 24 hr. caregivers available.  Caregiving for her took a toll on our marriage and it was very, very stressful!  A lot of the work falls on the female even though I'm the DIL and also work FT.  There were times I felt so exhausted and hopeless...I felt like running away!   We are working on getting our marriage back on track, but I think "too much damage" has been done, but I'm trying.   I feel it more.  He is just relieved that she is out of our home and he does have more patience with her now, plus visits her every 2 or 3 days.

Do you really have to visit your MIL every day in the nursing home?  I think you need to focus on your marriage first and visiting her every 2 or 3 days should be fine.  I can tell you care for her, but you do need to focus on your marriage now...this should be a priority since she is in a safe place and being cared for.  Best of luck to you!!

Not myself answered...

CindyB, If you have the time (and stamina?), maybe you could post something more specific about what's going on, and the other caregivers could give you a hand with it--some encourangement, at the very least. For example, are you in that place where husband says "well, now that she's in a nursing home, and I can take care of more things that will give you a real break", and then your m-i-l asks you for things that husband doesn't follow through with, you would probably need to deal with it one way, but if he's blowing up at seemingly insignificant things, that might indicate the need to deal with it entirely differently. More info? In any case, thinking of you, and hope you'll post for help, or information as to where to get it!

Not myself answered...

Kona,It is just generally the case that the caregiver role tends to fall to the woman, as if it were somehow preordained. If your husband is still with you, and things are not extraordinarily bad (e.g. violent, hateful, spiteful to an alarming degree), I would be willing to bet that your marriage is salvagable, if you want it to be. If you feel, for example, that what will help you is a vacation, but you would rather (or have to) just stay home, you can tell the nursing home you will be "away" and give them your cell phone number. If you don't have a cell phone, pick up a prepaid card or disposable phone, and give them that number. If you're really brave, tell them you'll be completely out of touch, and give them a number for someone else in the family (or some friend who can reach you?). Then stay home and have a "normal week" (anybody remember what that is???) and swear that your attention will be directed to yourselves and each other, with a ban on discussion of "mother" for the first five days. Then, and only then, talk about everything if you WANT TO--if not, DON'T! It will take a couple of days to get used to (and maybe even some real worrying, but put that aside--you have to), but it will compel you to realize where real problems do and do not exist. You might find that all you want is to turn to yourself, for a change. Your husband may feel the same way about himself. Each of you, on the other hand, might be looking to the other for what you've been wanting/missing. Everything doesn't need to be "fixed" in that week, but it will give you a chance to determine what it is that is broken. Sometimes, when a major obstacle in a relationship is removed, we find out there really is no relationship on which to focus, it has been so eroded that there seems to be no point. BUT once upon a time, there was. It's almost always in there somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered. If there was once a good solid relationship, think of it this way. Years ago you put away in a box a beautiful diamond necklace, and the chain and setting are silver. It has badly tarnished, and looks like a discardable piece of junk. You know, though, that it is valuable--very valuable. You also know how long it's going to take to clean, but you are too tired to do it. But you KNOW it's doable, so you hang on to it until you have the wherewithal to do the work to restore it to its original beauty, but this time even better, because it will have the lovely patina of its years. Frankly, I don't know what's worse about the caregiver years--whether it's how much I find out about myself that I wish I hadn't, how much I found out about my husband that I wish I hadn't, or knowing that we both know more about each other than we should ever have had to. Maybe you can be the "canary in the coal mine" and let us know? How's that for selfish? Anyway, keep checking in. You've made it through the first, and worst, twenty-five; Hang in there. Thinking of you.

Not myself answered...

Kona and CindyB--odd--I replied to each of these in turn, and then realized I had mixed things up, but in pieces. It was as if they were the same posts but with minor differences, so I was losing track. Rather than making it worse by trying to correct them, consider each post as pertaining to the other and toss what doesn't apply in your case. I'm starting to feel as if I'm living proof that Alzheimer's is contagious :)

Jorie13 answered...

Just putting this out to anyone it may help. First thing I recommend is to review 1 Cor, chapt 13. I'm not trying to say people problems are usually our fault but since we cann't change others, the only thing I found to work is to focus on what I could adapt in myself. When I concentrated on the few positives in one of my relationships and praised my adult relative, they actually changed their behavior without reminders. If I had done the same with my husband, I would probably have saved my marriage. (Didn't really think I wanted to at the time: VERY regretful now). Listening to Joyce Meyer and reviewing Sharon Jaynes' book "The Power of a Woman's Words" has (according to my friends) turned me into much more of a "nice old lady".

Laurielb answered...

I found the first answer to be very helpful. I am the caregiver for MIL, and she has alzheimers, Parkinsons w/dementia, and NPH. She recently had a shunt placed to drain excess fluid from her brain, hoping that it would improve her mobility and cognitive function. We were fortunate that it helped her mobilty, and she is now able to walk. However, it didn't help cognition, or incontinence. Its been a rough go lately, and my spouse and I have disconnected from each other somewhat. I stay home and take care of Mom all the time. SIL comes on weekends to give us a break, and I find that we don't seem to know how to let go, and just be together and enjoy the breaks. We had a meltdown this past weekend, and after talking thngs out, telling each other how we are feeling, and a few tears on both sides, we are going to try and work on "us". I love my spouse dearly, and don't want to lose him, and vice versa. Its a start, and we are both hoping it will help us to actually talk "to" each other, and not "at" each other. SIL has been a tremendous help. She is wearing herself out working full-time, and then driving 2 hours each way every weekend to help out. Her and I had a good talk yesterday, and she helped me see where I have been kind of selfish because of my own feelings and stress level, and not considering my spouses feelings. He is wonderful, and he needs to hear that from time to time.

I wish you all the luck in the world to reconnect and get your mariage back on track. Being a caregiver becomes WHO you are (to you), its how you begin to define yourself, and you feel you have no life beyond that and its hard to turn that off, and just "be". I'm really going to try, and I hope you can too!