“Love is all you need,” sings The Beatles, and that idea of love conquers all is woven all throughout our society. Oftentimes, this is the case, but when you or a spouse develop a chronic disease like dementia or another life-changing condition, even rock-solid marriages can be shaken to the core.
“A chronic condition like Alzheimer’s disease fundamentally changes the basis upon which your marriage has been built, which means you are forced to rewrite the expectations of your relationship,” says Beth Vellante, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover, a memory care assisted living community in Andover, MA. “The longer you’ve been married, the more difficult that can be to do.”
Spousal caregivers, unlike caregivers who are adult children, face some unique tactical challenges. Often, the caregiver is also of advanced age and has medical issues of their own. Their financial situation often takes a larger hit. Spousal caregivers are also at a higher risk of becoming socially isolated, and are more likely to experience depression.
However, according to Beth, being a caregiver is not an insurmountable challenge for a marriage. “Many spouses have found that, even as one spouse becomes caregiver to the other, it is still possible to have a fulfilling, nurtured and romantic relationship with your marriage partner,” Beth says. “As with most things in a marriage, success comes down to just a few key points: communication, compassion and teamwork.”
Changing and Resetting Expectations
The first step for any spousal caregiver is to reset your expectations of what the marriage “is.” “Up until this point, you and your partner have had plans and a future path for where you wanted your life to go. The chronic issue you’re now facing may force you to rewrite those plans.” It’s normal to mourn the loss of what was, she says, but it’s essential to work together with your spouse to determine what steps to take moving forward – and what, realistically, to expect.
“Obviously, essential plans revolve around care, financial matters and other essential needs,” says Beth. “But don’t forget to pay as much attention to your relationship and how the disease will affect you moving forward. Remember, even as one door closes, another opens, so take some time to figure out what you can do moving forward instead of just what you can’t do.” For example, you may not be able to travel as much as you had planned, but you and your spouse can still take small trips together, attend local events or add on new hobbies that are enjoyable for both of you. It’s all about finding enjoyable ways to spend time together to nurture your romantic relationship.
Making Time for Romance
It’s easy for the spousal caregiver to become solely focused on the “care” part of the relationship and let the “spousal” part fall to the back burner. This isn’t good for either party because it builds resentment, sadness, depression – and that’s just for starters. Instead, make it a top priority to have “couple time” penned in to your schedule. Think about the things you and your spouse love to do together and carve out a little time each day to have fun, whether that’s snuggling in bed in the morning, having a regularly scheduled “date night,” reading books out loud to one another, taking long walks together … whatever it is that makes you smile and gives you the opportunity to feel closer to your spouse.
Asking for Help
It can be hard to think of making time for romance when you barely have enough time to get everything accomplished during the day. That’s why it’s so important for spousal caregivers to ask friends and family for assistance whenever possible. Beth says that there’s often a sense of shame associated with asking for help, especially when it comes to caring for your spouse. But no one can do this alone, and you shouldn’t have to.
Have a list of tasks that your friends and family can assist you with, and be specific. Ask your daughter to go grocery shopping for you, or have your best friend watch your spouse for a few hours while you go to a doctor’s appointment or a hair appointment. Find ways to delegate tasks, whether that’s hiring a maid service, a meal service or a professional caregiver. You might also wish to look into adult day care services and other respite options that can give you (and your loved one) a bit of a break.
Remember That You’re a Team
It can be tempting for the caregiving spouse to become the chief decision maker when the other spouse has been diagnosed with a chronic condition. However, remember that you’re not the sole decision maker. Married couples are a team, and your partner deserves to have a say in his or her care – in fact, whenever possible, he or she should be making the decisions about their care. Being able to talk about the situations, review the options and make decisions together will help avoid resentment and stress, and can even help you become closer as a couple.
Live Each Moment to the Fullest
It’s easy to get swept up in worry about what is to come. It’s easy to feel down when things aren’t going your way, or when you or your spouse mourn something that has been lost to you. That’s why it’s so important to be present and enjoy each moment as it happens. You and your spouse still have many moments together where you can live, laugh, love and create memories that will sustain you both throughout the caregiving journey. Show each other simple, loving gestures every day. Take photos. Spend time together doing the things you love to do. Ask for the help you need to stay healthy and have the time you need to nurture your relationship. Even though your situation has changed, the relationship you’ve built is still there and will sustain you throughout this new chapter of your marriage.
Exceptional Care. Engaging Lifestyle.
Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover provides specialized memory care in an assisted living environment that is comfortable, positive and welcoming. Built solely to care for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover creates a wellness-focused, engaging lifestyle that respects individual preferences, focuses on residents’ abilities and creates meaning in daily life.
Dedicated Memory Care.
Through every stage of memory loss, residents and their families have complete peace of mind. Our compassionate dementia care and unique programs are tailored to meet the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of each resident wherever they are on their own journey, allowing them to age in place safely, comfortably and with dignity.
Supportive, Purpose-Built Design.
Featuring a stunning residential design, Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover is much more than a beautiful place to live; it’s a community where residents’ lives are enriched and families enjoy meaningful moments together. Our research-based design features soft colors and lighting, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life-enrichment stations that empower residents to explore their homes with confidence.
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