Taken from Caregiving.com Expert Column answered by Fern Pessin:

My husband is caring for his parents who have 24-hour care in a nursing home. My problem is that my husband does not feel comfortable traveling to get away and limit his stress. His communicates that he must be available to his folks “if anything happens.” He also feels that when one of them dies he must be available to tell the other how to cope with the situation. How do I provide support to him when I do not see the picture as he does?


Needing a Break

Dear Needing a Break,

Caregiving can be both physically and emotionally draining. Getting respite is critical to the well-being and even survival of the caregivers. Being the partner of a caregiver makes you a caregiver as well. Your husband’s parents have 24-hour care and you think that should be enough so he can get away. He probably feels that he would never get over the feelings of guilt if he isn’t there when one of his parent’s passes away. It is a tightrope walk. It sounds like there isn’t an opportunity for a sibling to take over for your husband while he gets away? Or perhaps even with a family member there, he would still feel like he hasn’t done enough?

You’re thinking, if you don’t go away and have some alone time with your husband, he may get sick and/or your marriage may suffer. If something happens while you’re away, your husband may never forgive himself and take out his feelings in the form of resentment or anger towards you for “doing this” to him and that will impact your marriage as well. Sharing your fears with your husband about his health risks, tell him how much you want to support him, and ask him if the situation was reversed, wouldn’t he want you to take a break at some point, might bring him into the here and now instead of forecasting the “what if’s” of the future.

Perhaps you can compromise? I have often found that getting away for a short trip, even locally, still gives me the feeling of vacation and respite from my daily life. If your main goal is to recharge your relationship and have some fun, to forget about stress for a bit, then you can find something that meets those goals within a few hours of where your in-laws are living.

I have traveled about two hours away from home to a small museum I wanted to see and stayed in a charming B&B. I went to Universal Orlando with my brother to get away from caregiving for our parents. We spent only one night out but had a ½ day and another ½ day at the park being carefree children again! I have checked into a meditation center for 36 hours of stress reducing nature walks, yoga classes and meditation. I went to a jazz festival that I had to reach by ferry and stayed on the island for one night.

I would suggest that you look for a festival event that is coming up soon, or look for a program that would interest both of you. Perhaps you both like cooking? If so, taking a 2-day cooking or language immersion course from a destination you might want to go to someday would be a fun thing to do and will distract your husband from thinking of his parents non-stop. Maybe you like dance, or music or nature? Try a bratwurst festival with music if you want to go to Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Visit a Japanese garden and hit a Karaoke bar with a hotel stay if you want to go to Japan. Take a flamenco workshop if you want to visit Spain. You get the idea. Consider the same type of staycation whether you like music or spas, construction or gardening, etc. You’re combining your bigger dream with an achievable now.

Maybe even consider doing something for others as a way to get your mind out of your own situation. Building a home for Habitat for Humanity or serving food at a homeless shelter, or working with kids with special needs, can ignite an appreciation for what you have left to give in the world even after parents pass. It must be something you’ll both value.

In the end, if your husband understands you are concerned for his health, you care about his parents and want to support him in any way you can, and if you create a plan that allows him to remain true to his goal of supporting his parents, I think you can get this worked out.

I suggest having your husband visit his parents on the way out of town, suggest that he call in the evenings after you’ve spent the day out, and he can check in again in the mornings by phone, and then visit his parents on the way back home or the morning after you arrive home. Just getting away for one or two nights is going to offer that balance you want to have until you can get away on a true vacation.

One caution is to not push too much. If someone knows themselves and can’t be pulled away, then it’s going to be more about what can you do at home for a day to help reduce the stress level? Or perhaps it’s about you going away and letting him get some time on his own which could allow him to recharge? Sometimes just the planning of a bigger trip for when it’s possible, after caregiving eases up, can motivate and elevate someone’s spirits. The idea that there is something to look forward to, can bring relief and bring joy to day-to-day living.

Starting with a brief, local mini vacay can help your husband see the benefits of getting a break which might lead to long weekends and then perhaps even a week away, or a respite retreat near you.

Good luck. Let us know how it goes.