When Caring for a Parent Causes Marriage Strain

Q: We need to have one of our parents move in with us in order to care for them. What advice would you give to keep that situation from taking a toll on our marriage?

A: As much as you might hope it won’t, this situation will probably take a certain toll on your marriage. But this can also be an incredible blessing to your family. 

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For example, my maternal grandfather lived with me and my family for a period of time when I was young. It was a great experience for me. And it worked out for my parents because my grandfather was sensitive to my parents’ need for connecting time. When my dad would come home from work, my grandpa would scoot out of the room because he knew they needed time to talk.

Not all parents will be so accommodating, so you will need to set some boundaries to be sure that your marriage doesn’t suffer. You need to set realistic expectations because this new person in the home changes the dynamic. You and your spouse need to discuss the care-taking role, who will do what, how much is expected, how will this person be best cared for (for example, does someone need to be at home at all times for safety issues?). Will there come a time when physical care becomes too much? At that point, what needs to happen?

It will be tough and may even seem uncaring, but you need to talk about these things and be very realistic about what you each can and can’t handle. We usually coach people to talk about these situations using time frames: Say, “For the next three months, we’re going to do this. Then we’ll reevaluate.”

If you take a parent into your home, you are showing great honor, and that is important. However, if this situation begins to take a toll on your marriage and you can’t solve the problem in a way that works for everyone, you must realize that your marriage needs to come first.

For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!