“What happens to your son,” I asked, “if your marriage crumbles?”
This man had called into the show with his worries about his son with autism, and how he and his wife could ever get him to adulthood—and what would happen once they did.
He and his wife were set to enjoy a date that night, but he was still concerned about leaving his son with the grandparents. He added his marriage had experienced significant bumps along the way as they cared for their son.
After a pause, he shared, “He would be devastated.”
“So, given that you’re telling me his well-being is deeply connected to his parents having a strong marriage,” I replied, “it sounds like one of the most effective things you can do for your son right now, and as he grows, is to work on maintaining a healthy relationship for the two most significant people in his life.”
I asked him to promise himself to enjoy the date and not feel guilty being away from their son.
Then, I added, “You love your son better by caring for and loving your wife. The two of you will be better equipped to deal with whatever challenges await, if your relationship is healthy.”
The needs of the diagnosis or challenges often overpower the needs of the heart. Impairments tend to suck the oxygen out of the room—leaving at-risk relationships gasping for air. Yet, those relationships serve as cornerstones for the health of the caregiver, and the caregiver’s ability to attend to the one(s) with impairment.
These relationships extend to immediate and secondary families, as well. Families who formerly enjoyed amicable relationships in pre-caregiving days, often crumble under the stress of caring for a loved one.
Financial stresses affect all caregivers and often those around them.
A neurologist friend shared the number one question families ask him following a loved one’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
“How much will it cost?”
He added that the family fractures start almost immediately when looking at the financial costs. Sometimes, the caregiver’s proximity to the loved one and that loved one’s money sparks tension in family members. Recent celebrity family squabbles featured in the media provide sad testimony to that fact.
Although money issues can strain virtually any close relationship, a severe medical condition thrown into the mix brings exponential stress. While wise to consider the comprehensive cost of long-term care, those costs too often eclipse the hidden and possibly more damaging costs permeating every personal relationship—and many professional ones.
Caregivers are cornerstones who must protect against the cracks of stress.
All too many caregivers listen to their own dark thoughts and find their self-esteem plummeting. Difficult relationship, financial, and professional decisions prove better when the caregivers remain healthier. One of the best paths a caregiver can follow is cultivating healthy relationships in their caregiving journey; starting with the caregiver herself/himself.
It begins when caregivers commit to becoming a healthier individual regardless of the condition of an impaired loved one.
Every caregiver benefits when picking up the phone—even if it feels like it weighs 100 pounds. Ask for help from a trained professional.
Starting with a primary care physician to check the physical impact of the stress, a caregiver can easily get a referral to a licensed mental health counselor and from there, to a support group. Once caregivers tap into those kinds of resources, they can then incorporate their other relationships into a healthier path of counseling, support, and community.
Sometimes the disease robs a caregiver of a healthy relationship in the marriage, but a caregiver can still honor the marriage even if a spouse is unable to reciprocate.
Honoring a loved one doesn’t mean honoring the disease or impairment. Although some relationships may prove too toxic to repair, most can be restored and improved. Broken hearts and relationships can affect financial decisions. However, working out relationship difficulties amid the pressures of caregiving can be one of the best financial decisions a caregiver —and a family — can make.
Simply put, healthy caregivers make better caregivers. And healthier caregivers make better financial and relationship decisions.