Support for Spousal Caregivers

The Salt Lake Tribune / Associated Press

Provo>> A Brigham Young University study says that couples who have one member experiencing a decline in health report a happier marriage afterward.  The study involved more than 1,200 married people nationwide between 1988 and 2000 and was published in November's Research on Aging medical journal.

BYU researcher Jeremy Yorgason says the reason why happiness goes up was outside the scope of his research, but men under 55 reported an increase in marital interaction when they or their spouse suffered a disability or illness.  However, the change isn't a big one.  On a scale of one to thirty, most people in a couple in which one member is disabled rated their happiness a single point higher.  Women under 55 reported no change in happiness when their husbands became disabled or ill. All other groups reported they were happier.

"We were expecting that when one spouse had a decline in health that their marital quality would also go down.  We did find some evidence of that," Yorgason said.  "What we were surprised by was in those same analyses, when someone reported to have the onset of a disability, their own marital quality improved."

Yorgason said previous research indicated that when health goes down, marriage happiness tends to follow.  "Some of the qualitative studies suggest that it's more complex than that.  Couples can actually come closer together when they confront challenge as a unified front," he said.

American Fork resident Steve Phillips suffers from multiple sclerosis and has been in a wheelchair fro the past three years of his 12-year marriage. He said, while difficult, it has also brought him and his wife, Teresa, closer together.  "I look back in hindsight and I'm really grateful for some of the things I've had to go through," said Phillips, 34.  "I know it sounds kind of odd, but because I have physical limitations, I have to accept help.  I have to ask for help."

Richard Anderson is the president of the Well Spouse Association, a New Jersey based national support group organization for spousal caregivers.  He lost his wife in 2004 after a 29 year battle with scleroderma, a disease that hardened her internal organs and chronically fatigued her.  He said it's important to the success of the marriage that caregivers don't forget about their own needs.  "What tends to happen is people get locked into it, and they really want to do the very best for their spouse," he said.  "They focus on the illness and they forget about their own needs and the need for some kind of balance in their life."

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