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Choosing Between Your Spouse And Elderly Parents

Your parents brought you into this world and raised you, and you love them more than anything. You also deeply love your spouse, the person with whom you agreed to spend the rest of your life.

But now you’re responsible for the care of your parent and your spouse is upset for a variety of reasons. You’re caught in the middle and don’t want to ruin a good relationship on either side.

When you’re stuck between your spouse and an older parent, what’s the right move?

To decide between a spouse and an elderly parent, you must talk to your spouse about their concerns and really listen. Also, have a meeting among family to see if another family member can step in as the primary caregiver or can help you with some of your parents’ needs. If your elderly parent must move in with you, be sure to set boundaries beforehand.

This guide to balancing a marriage (and potentially a family) with the responsibility and care of an older adult will cover topics such as whether caregiving affects marriage, if you’re obligated to care for your in-laws, and how to handle divorce if it comes to that. Keep reading!

Who Is More Likely To Provide Care For An Aging Parent?

Unfortunately, the data on who the likeliest caregiver of elderly relatives is older information. Pew Research put together a very informative, compelling body of research, but it’s from 2013. We’ll use it because it’s what’s available.

According to that data, between men and women, women are the ones who step up as family caregivers for elderly parents more often, at 13 percent compared to seven percent for men.

Of the adult children who act as caregivers for senior parents, most are not married (15 percent).

Another seven percent of respondents were married and juggling both their families and elder care, which is very hard work, indeed.

It would be nice if we had more current data, but even these stats paint a pretty clear picture as to where the responsibility falls for the care of an aging parent.

How Does Caregiving Affect Marriage?

Before the decline in your senior parent’s health, you likely focused most of your time on your own family, whether that’s just your spouse or your spouse and children. Perhaps you worked at a job full time after having kids or maybe you became a stay-at-home parent.

Now you have one more responsibility on your shoulders, as your senior parent is relying on you for care. What are the ramifications going to be for your marriage?

Here are some unique challenges that can arise when you become the primary caretaker of your elderly parent.

Less Time And Energy To Spend With Your Family

You only have 24 hours in a day just like everybody else. If you have to take that time to juggle a job, your family, and your aging family member, you’re not going to have much left at the end of the day.

If you used to have regular date nights with your spouse, those will likely fall by the wayside. On the weekends, when you two used to spend meaningful time together, you’ll either be taking care of your elderly parent or trying to catch up on your sleep.

For home caregivers like you, a weekend is simply a time when you can ditch your work responsibilities to focus more on your personal obligations. It’s not about having fun anymore.

After all, it’s not like you can leave your senior parent in just anyone’s care. You feel guilty whenever you go out unless it’s to take care of household responsibilities such as grocery shopping.

Negatively Affects Your Finances

Besides the drain on your time and energy, taking care of an elderly parent can have financial implications.

For one, a senior’s Medicare might be able to pay for some of the costs of doctor appointments, medication and medical equipment, but it won’t cover all of it.

Plus, for whatever isn’t entirely covered, the burden may fall on you to pay for the rest of it out of pocket, especially if your parents don’t have any savings left.

This is the current situation with a friend of mine. Her parents have no savings and their social security doesn’t cover everything, so she and her husband are buying them food and helping them pay their rent.

In addition, depending on your parent’s medical conditions and the type of care they require, you might have made the difficult decision to quit your job to care for your parent. A coworker of mine just did exactly that, after her elderly father took a fall that cost him the use of one arm.

He was reliant on a walker before his injury, but now must use a wheelchair. She and her siblings could no longer be long-distance caregivers, so they moved him into her home. It was the right thing to do, but it meant she lost her paycheck.

Between the financial cost of medical equipment, the recurring medication charges, the price of gas to go to and from doctor’s appointments, the medical care, and then the everyday costs like groceries, clothing, and supplies, caring for a senior parent at home can be very expensive.

If money is tight between you and your spouse or they make more money than you do, then they might take issue with where the household expenses are being redirected.

Your Spouse Can Become Resentful

Between having to spend all this time and money on your aging parent, your spouse can become jealous, angry, and resentful.

Even if they once got along very well with your mother or father, your spouse could begin to view their in-law as a burden. It’s only human nature.

This will deeply upset you, as they’re still your parent even if they’re not in great health. Thus, you can become resentful of your spouse as well, which deepens the problems between you two.

More To Argue About

If you’re a caregiver for an elderly parent, you might find yourself arguing with your spouse about a lot of things.

For example, a married couple might argue about who should take care of the parent when one of you is sick or who should stay home from work to care for them. You might also argue about how to best care for the parent, whether that means hiring help or doing everything yourself.

And, of course, you might argue about money – how much to spend on their care, whether to use your own savings or take out a loan, and so on.

Let’s face it – the other issues you two argued over prior to don’t disappear either. You may seemingly fight all the time, even over little things.

Ultimately, being a caregiver for an elderly parent can be a very challenging role, both emotionally and logistically. But by communicating openly with your spouse and working together as a team, you can make it through this tough time.

Communication Is Key

One of the most important things to remember if you are a caregiver for an aging relative is that communication is key. You and your spouse will need to be on the same page when it comes to making decisions about your parent’s care.

This can be difficult, as you may have different ideas about what is best for them. However, it is important to remember that you are both working towards the same goal: ensuring that your parent is safe and comfortable.

With that in mind, here are a few potential areas of conflict that you may need to address:

• Who will be responsible for which tasks?

• How will you deal with disagreements about your parent’s care?

• What will happen if one of you needs a break?

By being honest and open with each other, you can make sure that you are both on the same page when it comes to caring for your elderly parent.

Should Your Aging Parent Move In With You?

Your senior parent is currently living in their own home. You’re over there every single day taking care of them, so it makes more sense to you to have your elderly parent move in with you.

You have a spare bedroom, so why not?

Although the decision seems like an easy one to make, it’s a choice that requires a lot of thought and consideration. There are several factors to mull over before you can decide to move your elderly parent into your home.

Remember that you must involve your spouse in the decision-making process, as they have to live with your senior parent, as well.

Why Can’t Your Parent Live In A Nursing Home Or Assisted Living Facility?

This isn’t meant to be a rude question, but what’s preventing you from moving your parent into a nursing home or assisted living facility?

Understand the key differences between a nursing home and an assisted living facility here.

Is it that no such facilities are available in your area?

Or, perhaps you researched nursing homes or assisted living and they’re too expensive? In that case, some facilities might offer financial assistance, so be sure to ask if you’re interested in one.

You might also think that no one can take better care of your elderly parent than you. While all adult children like to think that way, the rigors of senior care can be a lot to handle every single day.

You don’t want to spend a lot of money to make modifications so it is safe to move your senior parent into your home and then have to turn around and spend more money on assisted living or a nursing home.

Can Anyone Else In Your Family Live With Your Elderly Parent Instead?

If you’ve decided for any reason that assisted living or a nursing home are absolutely out of the question, then that means your elderly parent has to live with someone in the family. Does that someone necessarily have to be you?

You might have a slightly older brother who’s retired and has a lot more time to provide care around the clock. Perhaps your sister has been a stay-at-home mom and her kids are now finally of school age.

Of course, you can’t just make up someone’s mind for them; it’s their decision as well. You’d have to have a family meeting where you all discuss who’s in the best position both financially and time-wise to care for your elderly parent.

Read our guide on how to talk to siblings about caring for elderly parents.

Can You Afford To Have Your Elderly Parent Move In?

The potential financial strain is one of the biggest and most important factors to consider when you’re deciding whether your elderly family members will move in with you.

At-home care can cost thousands of dollars per month and tens of thousands of dollars a year. In the meantime, your own needs don’t stop, nor do those of your spouse and/or your children if you have them.

You may be eligible to receive payments to take care of your elderly parent, but how much money this is varies. It can chip away at the costs of medication and equipment but likely won’t entirely offset those costs.

Putting yourself in debt to take care of a senior parent is not wise.

At some point, your parent will no longer be with you, but that mountain of debt will linger on. If you want to buy a car, move into a new house, or make any other major financial decision, the debt can hinder you.

Do You Have The Time To Accommodate An Elderly Parent Living With You?

Caring for a senior is a 24/7 job. If you already have a full-time job or you’re at home raising the children, you might not have the time to commit to your elderly parent.

As we mentioned before, there are only 24 hours in a day. You can’t make time appear out of thin air. Providing personal care to older people can be very stressful and time consuming, no matter how much you love them- especially if they have health problems or declining cognitive abilities.

Aside from your other commitments, you’ll also need to take care of your own health to be able to help them.

If you can’t make caring for your senior work as part of your routine, then it’s not a good idea for them to move in with you.

Will Your Elderly Parent Be Okay With Living With You?

Although your elderly parent might not have the best memory anymore, they are still very “with it” and should have some say in what their fate is.

Now, of course, it’s a different situation entirely when they refuse to move anywhere (because they want to remain independent), but they very clearly cannot take care of themselves.

However, if your senior would rather try an assisted living community than live with you, you should respect that.

After my mom passed away, we offered my then 93-year-old father a place in our home so he wouldn’t be alone. Although we had the room to accommodate him, he declined our offer.

He had the money to move into a senior community and he could still take care of himself, except for meals, which the senior complex would provide. He simply didn’t want to be a burden, or be the cause of possible strife between my husband and myself.

So, we respected his wishes and helped him move to a place close enough that it was easy for him to drop by. It was the best decision for Dad and us.

Divorce When An Elderly Parent Lives With You

Unfortunately, for the reasons we outlined earlier, your marriage might unravel because of your elderly parent. While I think the health of your marriage should come first ahead of your parent’s care needs, depending on the circumstances that’s sometimes easier said than done.

If you’re exploring a divorce, you’ll have more than pets and property to divide. Even more so than the childcare battle, you’ll have to decide what will happen to your elderly parent.

You probably won’t get into a heated legal battle with your spouse over the fate of your parent, like you would over a pet or your kids, but it can happen.

If it’s your parent who is the care recipient, then you should continue to take care of them. Likewise, if the senior parent is your spouse’s mother or father, then the responsibility of care should go to them even if you were the one caring for your in-law before.

As for where you and your senior mother or father will live, that depends on how the divorce shakes out. If you get to keep the house, then you can continue caring for your elderly parent there, should you decide to keep the house. You’d certainly have more space than before!

If you don’t win the house or you can’t afford to keep the house after a divorce, then you’ll have to search for alternate housing. You might rent an apartment or condo for two.

After all, now is not the time to explore nursing homes or assisted living unless you have financial assistance on your side.

Although you’ll have a lot going on after a divorce, try to create a long-term plan for where your senior can live. If your elderly parent has cognitive decline or dementia especially, then moving them around too many times can worsen the condition.

You certainly don’t need that kind of stress right now!


Choosing between a spouse and an elderly parent would be the hardest thing! You should ideally honor your wedding vows and choose your spouse, however, you can’t just leave your senior parent by the wayside either.

We hope the information in this article helps you navigate this precarious situation gently, which is how it’s meant to be handled.

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