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One move is to seek emotional support--from family, friends and co-workers. This includes talking on the phone with friends, taking time to be alone with your spouse, joining a support group, going to church and finding humor wherever possible. Jim and Charlene Lowry instituted a 30-day check-in; each month they ask each other, "Are you still O.K. with this?", about continuing to care for her dad at home. So far, both have said yes. "It's not crushing us," she says, "because we're looking at 30-day chunks, a month-to-month lease." Another key strategy is to prioritize. Some spouses--primarily wives--choose to work fewer hours or put their careers on hold. Others opt to ignore certain household chores. On the positive side, they make schedules for family life and couple time, and they make backup plans for child or elder care.
One common strategy, however, makes couples feel worse: cutting back on their favorite activities or their social lives. "People who decreased their social involvement," Neal reports, "were more depressed and had less general well-being. It's likely that they also had less satisfaction with their marriage."
Doris and Jeff Roberts gave up a lot of their social life--and missed it terribly--but they found other ways to make their marriage stronger. They would go for long walks and talk, talk, talk. "By the time you get home," says Doris, "you've kind of worked through it." When Jeff's dad was still alive, they left him and Jeff's mother in a respite-care home several times so they could get away for a weekend and once for a whole week. Now that his mom is alone, in an assisted-living facility, which she enjoys, Jeff still attends to her frequently. But at his wife's urging, he asks for help. For example, he suggested that his mother ask one of her friends to drive her to church on Sundays so that he could spend that time with Doris.
To get through the hard times, all these couples tell themselves their trials won't last forever. Take the long view, they counsel. For the Lowrys, that view is represented by their grandson Ethan, 2. "We'll say, 'It's been so hard, but we'll see Ethan on Saturday night,' and we have that common thing to look forward to," says Charlene. "Seeing him reminds us that life is not all about old; it's also about the promise of youth."