Couples Conversations about Aging Parents

We all know that when we get married, we marry the entire family. What we may not realize is that each of us comes to a marriage with expectations about how we will interact with and assist our families.


Middle aged couple2Most couples talk about and come to consensus on topics such as when to visit which set of parents and can usually resolve that by rotating holidays with each family. However, the discussions you may not have had revolve around each of your expectations for the assistance and care of your parents and in-laws as they age. You may be fortunate that the prior generation has already dealt with planning for any needs that will arise in their later lives, but you and your spouse should consider what you know about their current situation, their preparedness for unexpected issues and your ability and willingness to help and supplement their care if needed. While we can’t control the specific course nor the timeframe of how our parents age, we can proactively discuss what our expectations are and how we want to approach it should a need arise.


Consider the following:

A husband and wife are in their fifties and are busy saving and preparing for their eventual retirement. They both work outside the home in fulfilling careers and can finally see the end in sight for college tuition payments for their children. Because they fully paid for their children’s educations, they believe that if they save aggressively over the next ten years, they can get caught up for retirement. Suddenly, the husband’s mother experiences a stroke and needs extensive rehabilitation, which the husband automatically assumes they will assist with. He doesn’t want his mom rehabbing in a facility; he wants to move her into their house and care for her there. However, because of the demands of his career, care and coordination for his mom would likely fall to his wife and would require her to work part-time or not at all. The wife never considered moving parents into their home in the event of a need and although she loves her MIL, she isn’t sure it would be good for their marriage or her relationship with her MIL to bring her into their home. She is happy to coordinate care and assist on occasion, but she isn’t sure how their family can aggressively save for their own retirement if she has to scale back on work in order to provide care to her MIL.

The example above illustrates a case where an in-depth discussion between husband and wife well in advance of any parental issues may have eliminated some misunderstandings and potential disagreements down the road. Issues with our aging parents can be stressful enough simply because it is difficult to see them struggling. Combine that with the stressors of parents vs. in-laws, the demands of careers, teen or young adult children, saving for retirement and you have a recipe for stress and strain in a marriage.

What should you be talking about with your significant other, prior to any development of parental aging issues?

• What are the expectations each of you have for how you want to care for your parents if they need your help?
• Are the relationships (spouse, children, parents, in-laws) strong enough to withstand one of the parents being assisted by you?
• What are your parent’s expectations for how they would want to handle a care need if it occurred?
• Do your parents have adequate resources, either assets or appropriate insurance, to cover the cost of paid caregivers?
• Does your home have adequate space to accommodate the additional person, as well as provide some level of privacy for them and you?
• Will daily care of a parent further inhibit your ability to adequately save for your own retirement?
• If you decided to assist, which of you would be the likely caregiver and why?

These are just a few of the questions that spouses/partners need to talk about, well in advance of any need on the part of a parent. It is important to know that there is no right answer, as it will vary by the degree of the need and the circumstances of each family. Recognize that even if you do plan, things may change and you will have to be flexible to deal with whatever the situation presents. However, having the discussion in advance will help to eliminate some of the stress on your relationship by bringing expectations out into the open and working to find common ground for the two of you.

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