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Posted September 8, 2008

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Caregiver Care: Caregiving and Marital Trouble -- a Bad Recipe

Q.  Do you think it would be advisable for a family member who has shared that they are having marital problems to have a parent with dementia come and live with them? They are stating that they feel this will help their marriage. To me, that is similar to having a baby when you are having problems in your marriage, and it is not the answer to the problem. Can you please advise? 

Sue C., Gurnee, Illinois.

A. Of course, you already know the answer to this question. Adding a demented in-law to a stressed relationship (I assume this would be someone's in-law) is just not a good idea. If there isn't already enough resentment, money pressure, time pressure, sleeplessness, lack of privacy and loss of "together" time, just add someone into the mix who will, 1) have a hard time adjusting to the move; 2) one day need hands-on care; 3) keep getting worse instead of better.

Even the strongest marriages have been brought to the brink by the first item on that brief list above: RESENTMENT. Someone is going to be doing the bulk of the caregiving, and that person will some day resent the dickens out of the less involved partner. This is not a recipe for saving a marriage.

Both babies and seniors are living, breathing, feeling beings. Bringing either a baby or a senior into a troubled home is simply not a marriage “fixit.” Instead, I suggest that they consider the adopt-a-goldfish analogy. When things don't work out between the marital couple, there's bound to be a kid in the neighborhood whose mother will let him have a goldfish – but what would you do with an elderly, demented loved one you brought into a troubled home that splits up?

This answer is provided by Molly Shomer, MSSW, LMSW, a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. Molly, a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues, is the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is, and she can be reached

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