November 5

6 Sanity-Saving Tips to Help You Care for Your Aging Spouse


"Till death do you part" was a commitment that you didn't make lightly. Now age is making that promise harder to keep every day.

You swore to yourself and your spouse that you'd be there for them through everything that life throws at you. You loved them then and you love them now — but taking care of them every day as they age is taking a toll on your relationship and your own health. 

You have spent your life with your partner as a team. 

Now they need more from you and you find yourself getting irritated and operating on a shorter fuse with the person you love. 

What are you supposed to do?

First, understand that you aren't alone. Sharing a life with someone through all your ups and downs is hard work. Let us show you some tips to help you stay in there for the long haul and rekindle your spark.

How to Care for Your Aging Spouse

Your role as a partner has shifted more and more into that of a caregiver. You’re starting to really struggle with the demands that have been placed on you and you are feeling guilty for not being able to do more and be better. 

You’re so tired and stressed that it’s making you irritable and ready to snap. 

You don’t mean to get short but you just can’t seem to help it. You beat yourself up for it every time because you know that none of this is their fault. It’s getting harder all the time to put on a happy face and stay positive. 

You’re not alone. We’re here to help! Keep reading for some suggestions to help you maintain a positive attitude.


Maintain a Positive Attitude

We can hear your sigh of frustration already. You’ve already been trying to stay positive and it’s not working or you wouldn’t be reading this post. Don’t worry, we have some advice that will help.

I don’t doubt that you have been trying to stay positive from the beginning. It’s frustrating and exhausting to put on a happy face when all you feel like doing is screaming and bashing your head into a wall.

As the days wear on the negativity starts to overwhelm you. It’s easier to give in to the negative emotions, fears, and doubts than to keep fighting through them.

But staying positive is achievable with these tips and practice.

How to Flip Your Perspective

The key to changing your attitude from a negative to a positive is to let go of all the negativity in your life. The negative thoughts, feelings, actions, and people around us have to go.

  1. Start by making a list. Think of all the things that are bringing you stress or causing you to feel down.
  2. Once you have your list completed, it’s time to flip the script. Look at each item you wrote and come up with a way to turn it into a positive one. Don’t see a way to do that? Then come up with ideas to make changes to the situation to remove the obstacles.

For example, you used to love to travel and go places with your spouse, but now they have a chronic health condition that makes traveling too much of a hassle. It’s easier to just stay home and try to find a solution. You tell yourself “as long as they are happy then you are happy” and you just take it one day at a time.

The more time goes by, you start to resent them a little for your isolation.

You know deep down it’s not their fault, but you hate missing out on opportunities to socialize with your family and friends. You can’t join them for holiday celebrations anymore because they live too far away so you just never see them.

This might seem like a hopeless situation and it’s much easier to sink into that pit of negativity. The more you sink the more hopeless it might seem. The thing is, it’s probably not as big of a hassle as you think.

Airlines and travel agencies have made a vast amount of improvements to accommodate the ones we love with chronic health conditions.

There are even some ways to make traveling with a spouse who has dementia, sleep apnea, oxygen tanks, hearing or vision impairments, diabetes, or wheelchairs much easier than you might think.

Instead of telling yourself that it’s too hard and not worth the hassle, look up ways to make traveling easier. If you still don’t think it’s something you want to try, then make the time to go alone and visit with friends and family when you can. It’s important that you take some time back for yourself.

You feel like you have to stay with your spouse 24-7 and you worry about going too far and leaving them in the care of someone else, but you have to take care of yourself too. Hiring a private-duty caregiver can ensure they receive adequate care and alleviate some of your guilt so you can travel and enjoy your life.

You can’t provide the care your spouse needs when you’re burnt out and drained yourself.


Practice Self-Care

Traveling and socializing are probably not the only things you have been putting off. You’re so busy and that before you know it, a whole day has gone by and you haven’t eaten. The only reason you are noticing now is that your body has started protesting loud enough for you to notice. 

Maybe you had so much to accomplish the last few days that you are staying up way too late. Burning the midnight oil is starting to become a frequent thing because you just don’t have the time to sleep.

Showering and bathing for yourself could be taking a back seat to caring for your spouse’s needs instead. You keep telling yourself it’s not that bad and you will be just fine. As long as they are happy and getting what they need you can manage. 

Without realizing it you start becoming more irritable and snapping at your spouse when it’s not warranted. You don’t mean to but you just can’t seem to help yourself. 

The lack of self-care is really starting to weigh on YOUR health and YOUR quality of life.

Being stressed out all the time, not eating right, not sleeping, and not making time for yourself can cause some serious health issues. You can’t care for your spouse when you are in need of care yourself. 

Increased blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, weight gain or weight loss, headaches, irritability, mood swings, depression, and anxiety are all common health concerns that can be caused by lack of self-care. There are some simple changes you can make to ensure your needs are getting met too.

Changes You Can Make

  • Forgetting to eat? Try setting alarms on your phone or some other device to help remind you when you need to grab a bite. 

  • Not drinking enough water? Try one of the water bottles with marks on it to indicate how much you should drink throughout the day.

  • Not sleeping enough? Set a reasonable bedtime and stick to it! If you are having trouble sleeping and you aren’t sure why then go see a doctor. Don’t put it off and try to struggle through. 

  • Feeling isolated and alone? Make it a habit to socialize every day. 

Not sure your spouse will be ok with traveling or letting you go out alone? Are you afraid that bringing it up will lead to a fight? Learning how to communicate effectively is crucial to maintaining your sanity and keeping the love alive.


Learn to Communicate Effectively

Communicating with our aging spouse can end in blow-ups, misunderstandings, and unintentional hurt feelings quickly. One second everything is perfectly fine and then the next you are screaming at each other.

Dealing with all the complications and hardships life throws at us as we age isn’t easy. 

It’s difficult for the person going through it, but it’s just as hard on their spouse. 

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, spouses who also double as caregivers are at a higher risk of experiencing depression. 

Learning how to take a step back from our emotions and discuss things logically is not the easiest thing to do. It takes a lot of practice and willpower. 

Deescalating the Situation and Working Through Triggers

It’s too easy to snap and go on the defensive when you are always exhausted and feeling burnt out. It takes a conscious effort to change the way we speak and approach the hard topics so we don’t go into a conversation ready for a fight. 

Practicing proper self-care, as mentioned above, is crucial to the success of this. If you’re irritable and have a short fuse because you didn’t get enough sleep or haven’t been eating right, it’s only going to make it that much harder for you to control your emotions. 

Here are some things you can try:

  • Acceptance
    Accept the fact your spouse isn’t the only one who might need to make some changes. Take responsibility for your own actions and be willing to work on the things your partner wishes you could do better. Don’t just ask them to be the one to change and take the stance that you haven’t done anything wrong. 

  • Open Mind
    Go into the conversation with an open mind. Listen to your partner and ask them about how they feel and why the situation makes them feel that way. Don’t ridicule or tease them about their feelings. Be empathetic and really try to understand where they are coming from. 

  • Find Solutions
    Focus on finding solutions to your problems instead of placing blame or rehashing the details. Name-calling and I-told-you-so’s are not productive.

  • Stay Calm
    Keep a reign on your emotions. If you feel like things are getting heated, call a time-out from the conversation. This doesn’t mean you have to leave the room and ignore each other. Instead, change the topic to something that you both enjoy talking about until you both feel relaxed enough to discuss your issues again.

  • Don’t Yell
    Use your inside voice and keep your tone and body language non-combative. Going into the talk ready to fight will just put your spouse on edge. They can sense your mood and feel the tension even if you think they can’t.

For some more tips to try, read the following article from First Things First: Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage

Reconnect with Your Spouse

Playing the role of a caregiver can put a real damper on the relationship. When you constantly have to monitor them, help them, and tell them what to do, it creates so much tension that it’s hard to break through it.

They get tired of your “nagging” and you get tired of being underappreciated and not having any time for yourself. 

When the only interactions you have with each other end in arguments or silence, it’s time to make some changes.

How to Bring Back the Spark in Your Marriage

Learning to communicate more effectively is the first of many steps in reconnecting with your spouse. Making an effort to do some of the recommendations below will help ease the tension and bring back the spark in your marriage.

Spend quality time together.

This means time spent actually interacting with each other. Sitting in front of the tv or just being in the same room is NOT quality time. 

  • Try doing activities that you can do together. Go bowling, go out for dinner, catch a movie and discuss it on the way home, or play games together. 
  • For some more ideas, take a look at this article.

Make it a point to do something thoughtful for each other each day.

  • Leave a little love note somewhere you know they will find it. 
  • Cook their favorite meal or eat out when you know they are stressed and not in the mood to cook. 
  • If they drink coffee and have a hard time getting up in the morning, prep their coffee the night before so it will auto brew when they wake up. If your coffee maker doesn’t have that function, you can still prep everything so all they have to do is push the button. 
  • Show them that you thought about them and cared enough to make the effort.

Take the time to learn each other’s love language. 

Everyone has their own idea of love and what it means to show love. 

  • For some people that might be gift-giving. 
  • Others might feel loved when you spend quality time together. 
  • Physical touch is another way we show our love. 
  • Give the book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman a read. It’s a real eye-opener and can you show you how to mend some of those sore spots and open wounds in your marriage.

Recommended Reading: Ask the Expert: A Helping Hand

Join Support Groups

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that you are not alone. There are plenty of other couples out there struggling with similar circumstances. Being able to vent and share your frustrations with other people who understand what you are dealing with is vital to your sanity. 

We can’t vent to our spouses about the things that are driving us crazy when it has to do with them — especially when we know that it isn’t their fault. They are having to lean on us so much now and they don’t enjoy it any more than we do.

When you feel like you can’t take it anymore and you are going to explode, it’s ok to reach out and ask for help. It’s better to ask for help sooner and not wait until you’re at the breaking point. Just talking about your feelings can really make a difference with how you cope with the situation.

Find a support group in your area.

Bring in a Professional

You love your spouse and you still want to help but you just don’t think you can do it alone anymore. Understand this — knowing our limits and asking for help is OK and it is NOT a sign of weakness. 

It takes a stronger person to admit when they need help than it does to just keep doing it alone. Don’t risk your health and your sanity when enough is enough. 

We have a lot of experience helping couples just like you. We can offer assistance with in-home care options, help you plan ways to enjoy your life together, or help you explore other options if that time comes. 

Request a Consultation today and let us help you! Don’t wait too long!

Request a Consultation

Life over 50 is complicated. From illnesses to general aging-related difficulties, there's a lot to learn and a lot to cope with. We understand and we're here to help answer questions and provide guidance on your options.

About the author

Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

President & CEO, Aging Life Care™ Manager

“I am dedicated to working with older adults and their families to maintain dignity and enhance their quality of life.”