Care giving puts stress on couples

Some marriage preparation materials use a rubber band to describe a couple under stress. Challenging situations bring out instinctive, emotional reactions that might be very different in each partner. So instead of dealing with the anxiety as a unit, they pull in very different directions. No matter how strong or flexible their relationship, it can snap like a rubber band if stretched too far.

Care giving can be hell on couples. It keeps them in a state of perpetual stress, often highlighting their most profound differences.

This can create mutual frustration, blame and bitterness when care giving goals are not reached. It can stretch a marriage to the snapping point.  A medical professional we visited early in our son’s diagnosis surprised us by asking, “So how is your marriage?”  She was warning us that care giving can break couples apart.

As was evident in the two preceding posts, Melissa and I are different critters. She is a more forceful advocate, and I am much more of a conciliator. She was better able to express the stressful run-up to an IEP, because she understands it from an advocate’s point of view, emphasizing resistance and results.  I would write a piece too heavy with “fairness to all parties” to do justice to the anxiety of this week.

Personality differences like ours present challenges:

  • Advocates emphasize results and are not bothered if perceived opponents leave the table unhappy. Conciliators emphasize relationships and will compromise to maintain them.
  • The advocate can be perceived as an unreasonable zealot (which some are).  The conciliator can be perceived as wimpy and a sell-out (which some are).

These basic personality differences can be harnessed positively if the couple stays aware of them and uses them soberly and intentionally.  Like the interrogation strategy in TV cop shows, couples can be intentional about playing “good cop – bad cop,” alternating advocacy and conciliation to progress toward goals.

But anticipation and anxiety can mess with sober planning and thinking, and strategic good cop – bad cop gets replaced by lone ranger emotions…

I hear from enough people who are care giving on their own to know how blessed I am to have Melissa as my partner in life, and intensely so when it  comes to our son’s care.  Knowing, appreciating and lovingly navigating our differences is an important part of caring for each other, which is essential to being care givers to our son.

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