Couple walking in winter landscape

Nurturing Your Parent Partnership

How caregivers can keep their marriage healthy
Author: Beth Levine

“Why did you leave that tailgate open?” Kelly Baker, of Bridgeport, Ohio, remembers snapping accusatorily at her husband, Josh. She had been frustrated, frightened and resentful because their then-3-year-old son, Jaxson, who has hemophilia, had run into the gate, hitting his head hard, necessitating yet another anxious trip to their hemophilia treatment center. Kelly blamed Josh for being careless. Was she the only one around there who could pay attention?

The Impact of Chronic Illness on Family and Relationships

The stresses of caring for a chronically ill child can take a big toll on a marriage. After Jaxson was diagnosed at 7 months, the Bakers found their lives centered around the kids (they also have a daughter, Analise, 11), putting their partnership on the back burner. “We didn’t trust that many people to watch Jaxson so we could tend to our relationship. We didn’t communicate. We weren’t spending any time together,” Kelly says.

“This is not unusual,” says Cathy Tiggs, MSSA, LISW, an adult and pediatric social worker at University Hospitals Cleveland Hemostasis & Thrombosis Center. “Caring for a chronically ill child piles on stress, burnout, depression and fear. Couples put everything they have into caring for the child, forgetting to take care of themselves as a couple,” she says. They may be at loggerheads over financial issues or the best way to care for their child, or resentful because one partner feels overextended and unappreciated—or they’re simply exhausted and lashing out at the only person there to receive it, their partner.

Why You Should Make Your Marriage a Priority

Many parents who have difficulties within their marriage because of a lack of attention often feel guilty about taking time out to nurture themselves. With so much to do, how can they possibly have a date night?

If you’re looking for permission to tend to your own needs, consider this: A strong marriage is beneficial for your children as well. “We lead by example. We demonstrate to our children how to compromise and work respectfully together under less-than-perfect situations. This is not just for the couple; it’s for the entire family,” Tiggs points out.

Shortly after the tailgate accident, when Kelly and Josh realized their marriage was going down a slippery slope of resentment and anger, they started making changes. “Three years ago, we found a trustworthy babysitter and we started planning to do things as a couple,” Kelly says. “Then we began eating healthier and getting more exercise.”

How is life today at the Baker household? “Excellent,” Kelly says. “Josh and I are working together, not against each other. Our mind, moods and marriage are so much better.”