When couples are faced with the dilemma of having to be present for their children and their aging parents this can have a profound effect on any relationship. They can experience a loss of the self as the emotional time, energy, and effort is often consumed by having to take care of other’s needs. Relationships can become strained as the focus and care is often on other key members of the family. It’s important to acknowledge the impact this is having on your wellbeing when one is heavily relied upon by others. It can be a challenge when individuals recognise they are unable to meet the unrealistic expectations and in some situations the unfair cultural bias that one may have grown up with, "I must care for others". Under the strain its natural for one half of a couple to feel excluded and recognise his or her needs are not being met, which can result in one feeling guilty for having needs, guilty for feeling resentful and effectively stopping communication.
Being part of the sandwich generation will impact your role as a partner, parent, daughter or son. It’s important to share your thoughts and to gently lean on loved ones. Unfortunately, under the stress of being forever present, one can conjure up the beliefs that one is a bad child, parent, negligent, or a failure when one is expected to meet the needs of others. Calling upon other members of the family if this is an option is crucial and finding the courage to reach out or speak up will help to ensure the sole responsibility does not fall on ones’ shoulders.
Exploring resources in the community for example respite or adult day care can assist and take the pressure off. Respite can support a much needed break and alleviate the pressure of having to always be emotionally present.
It’s imperative to put in place boundaries around your relationship to demonstrate to both your family and aging parent(s) your wellbeing is important. By pro-actively looking out for your partner, the one who feels overwhelmed, stressed and squished can give hope in spite of feelings of intrusion and being in a relationship that needs its own nurturing. The concept of self-care is important to sustaining the energy required to care for others as well as your own wellbeing. Self-care and attention to the relationship is fundamental to ensuring the lines of communication remain open in spite of the pressures.
It can be nourishing and rewarding for the relationship to make time for each other during stressful times. If one is feeling sandwiched give yourself permission to do one thing for yourself, even if it’s small, like have a relaxing bath, socialising, going to the cinema or going to bed early without any distraction. Factor in some “me time” as part of how you structure your time so both children and aging parent(s) are aware of your own needs.
Don’t hide away, it’s important to allow yourself to feel and experience the difficult emotions, so confide in a close friend or therapist to support you. Whether you are experiencing anger and rage; fear and anxiety; grief and sadness; or regret and relief with the situation you are in, acknowledge how it makes you feel because you matter too.
Psychotherapist - MSc Psych, PTSTA (P), CTA (P), UKCP, MBACP