And the burden is blowing my mind…

I was privileged to adjudicate the recent Rolling Inspiration Caregiver Competition and two issues struck me. All the entrees were women and the vast majority described the care they provided for their husbands. This is contrary to common advice that warns strongly against spousal care giving because it is notorious for destroying marriages. However, I recently received a response to my article titled ‘The Twin Towers of Burnout’ that was published in the previous edition of Rolling Inspiration. Tony has been caring for his wife Crystal for the past 20 years after she became hemiplegic following a stroke. He now recognises that much of what he thought was anxiety and depression could have been burnout.

“I am just coping, with nothing left over at the end of the day…”

So we look at two very different perspectives. Both couples are in long-term relationships and both are husbands caring for their wives. However, one couple seems to be coping better than the other. Is there a magic formula? Of course not. Relationships are as complex and diverse as the genes that make us what we are. At best, I can give a few pointers.

As with any challenge, we have three options: we can fight against it, run away from it or embrace it. Many caregiver marriages suffer the fate of the first two options. But when love and faith urges us to embrace the challenge, we embark on a very rocky road. How we respond to this will determine where we end up - tired, scared and despondent, or spiritually strengthened and bonded in love – not merely persevering with gritted teeth, but with a sense of purpose and joy.

The crux of this journey is that we must travel as a team. We cannot fight one another, even though we invariably will. Managing our attitudes toward life and toward one another lays the foundation for success. A team must also be absolutely honest with one another about how they feel, how they experience their situations, their sorrows, their fears and their anxieties. But, most importantly, for a team to succeed it must be stretched. No “shame, you poor thing”, but rather “let’s go for it!” Of course be realistic about one another’s limitations, but supplement and encourage rather than say “we cannot do it because it will be too difficult for you”.

A very real issue in a spouse-caregiver situation is the matter of sex. I am not even going to attempt any advice here because it is a veritable minefield as every relationship is unique. However, this will just serve as an observation. In marriage, love, friendship and companionship are far more enduring than “good sex”. Especially as we get older and the driving passions start to settle down we tend to realize that a comfortable cuddle can be very gratifying as well. So, if active sex seems to have disappeared off your radar, weigh it up against love and companionship before you make up your mind.

Lastly, we are all created with the ability to choose. Possibly, the greatest burden of the caregiver spouse and also the greatest fear of the disabled spouse, is the option to simply call it a day and walking away from it all. I cannot tell you what to choose but what I can say is, once you chose to commit to one another, put all the other options out of your mind and focus on the life that you chose. If you are starting to feel sorry for yourself, shift the focus to other things like the needs of your spouse, your children, family and friends. This goes for the both the caregiver and the spouse. By focusing outward on the needs of others gives you a wider perspective and tends to lift you out of your funk.

So, love one another, talk to one another, take on life with one another and enjoy the ride.