When you get married, in theory, you’re marrying just that one person. In reality, you are marrying their whole family — the good and the bad. You may have a wonderful relationship with your in-laws as most people do. However, some people aren’t so lucky, and the in-law relationship is not as pleasant. There can be challenges that are difficult to overcome. Imagine how much more problematic things can become when your spouse becomes your in-law’s caregiver. As trying as it may be, your job is now to be as supportive as you can and to make your loved one’s life easier.
First of all, do some research on your in-law’s health condition, whether it’s a dementia diagnosis or some other physical ailment. Know what your wife or husband is dealing with and be a resource for them if they have questions. This isn’t to say your spouse doesn’t need to do research, but if they know you are also educating yourself about the illness they are working with, it can give your loved one a little peace of mind.
Second, be a sounding board when your spouse needs one. It will happen often, so be prepared to hear it over and over. Listen without judgement and only offer advice when asked. Sometimes, the caregiver just needs an ear to bend and a shoulder to cry on. Be that ear. Be that shoulder. If your spouse asks for feedback, offer it gently. If you have negative feelings regarding your in-laws, don’t let them seep into the conversation. That would just add more stress to your caregiving spouse, and the goal is to reduce the stress. The caregiver could feel the need to manage your emotions around the situation, and that is unnecessary pressure that would need to be dealt with.
Third, help your spouse as much as you can. Stay with your loved one and make phone calls for appointments. Do your grocery shopping, and help keep the home tidy. If you have kids living at home, do as much for them as you can to take additional strain off your spouse. Marriage equals teamwork in all areas of life, including caregiving. A terrific gift is also anticipating a need and taking care of it before anyone has to ask. It can be more stressful if someone offers to help but doesn’t offer a suggestion as to how to help. The caregiver would have to think of ways you can help, which would another decision to make in the sea of decisions your spouse is making for the family.
Fourth, learn to help your spouse set boundaries. Make sure you help your spouse realize how important it is to care for themselves. Take steps to protect your loved one’s mental and physical health. Create hard limits and softer ones in regard to caregiving. This is a fluid discussion because as the diseases progress, more care will be necessary, so always keep those lines of communication open. Touch base often to make sure everyone is on the same page. This will help you both remain connected during these challenging times. Remember to nurture your marriage too.
You will get frustrated. Your spouse will get frustrated. Boundaries will be pushed and even violated. There are ways you both can get help through support groups and counseling. There is no one-size-fits-all solution but you and your spouse will find what works for you. Keep in mind what works today may not work next month, but together you can figure out solutions to make caregiving less anxious and more rewarding. Knowing you have each other’s backs goes a long way in making the journey easier.
Charlotte Foust is the caregiver coordinator for AAAX.