Is Your Blow-Up Around the Corner?

Caregiving can test your patience like no other life experience. Day after day, it seems that caregiving chips away at your patience, bringing you closer and closer to a blow-up.

How close are you? Take our quick test to find out.

A. Your mother calls you to her room for the umpteenth time in 10 minutes. You know what she’ll ask before you reach her doorway. Sure enough: You find her in her bedroom, ruffling through her nightstand drawer. “Yes, Mom,” you say, in your calmest possible voice. “What do you need?”

Your mom turns around: “I need my Rosary,” she says, “that’s what I need. What did you do with it?”


1. Say, “Mom, we’ve been through this 20 times already today. I don’t know where it is. I didn’t take it. You’ll just have to find it yourself” and leave the room. Thirty minutes later, you check back on your mom and find her room is disarray. An hour later, you’ve put her room back in place—and forgot to pick up your daughter from school.

2. Say, without a twinge of guilt, “Susie (your sister, your mom’s favorite) took it. I don’t know why she keeps taking your Rosary from you. She knows how important it is to you. I would never do that.” (Serves Susie right, you think, as you head out the door. She never helps, she might as well take some of the blame.) This, of course, becomes the only thing your mom remembers all day. She follows you from room to room asking, “Why doesn’t Susie love me? Why would she take my Rosary?”

3. Help her find it. You say, “I know how important the Rosary is to you,” you say. As you move things around in the drawer, you place one of the replacement Rosaries you keep handy in the drawer. You let your mom find it. “There it is,” you say. “I’m so glad you found it. Let’s go in the kitchen and make some tea.”

B. Your husband starts bellowing for you: “Take this oxygen tank outside,” he says. “I’m going to have a cigarette.”


1. Take the oxygen tank outside, but make as much noise as you can and ding as many walls as you possible. You stand outside with the oxygen tank for 30 minutes (this will show him, you think!!) and, once you feel frostbite take hold of your fingers, drag the tank back inside. Your husband looks up from the paper as you bang, ding and swing the tank back into the living room. “You put some dents in the wall,” he says as he calmly points to the living room wall. “You’ll have to paint and spackle tomorrow.”

2. You scream and stomp one foot, then another: “You can’t smoke!! You can’t smoke!! I’m calling the doctor!” You call the doctor’s office; as a result of your phone call, the doctor prescribes valium—for you.

3. You say, “I think we’ll keep the oxygen tank in here. I’ll open the door for you so you can go outside and smoke.”

C. You finally are out of the house (your neighbor volunteered to stay with your care recipient), although it’s only to run to the grocery store. You’ve run out of hard candy, the only thing that seems to keep your care recipient calm in the afternoons. Sucking on the hard candy seems to keep her distracted, keeping her late afternoon agitation at bay. On your way to the store, an older driver pulls in front of you, almost causing an accident.


1. Lay on the horn, which keeps blowing and blowing and blowing and… You applied so much pressure it seems you’ve stuck your horn. You drive to the store and all the way with your horning blowing. In addition to the hard candy, you also bring home a splitting headache.

2. Without thinking, you raise a particular finger which relays a particular message. And, then because you know the driver is probably hard of hearing, you roll down your window and yell: “Don’t you know how to drive?? Get off the road!” Ten minutes later, the guilt is so great about the finger and the screaming that you purchase the wrong hard candy at the store. It’s a long evening for you and your care recipient.

3. Say a quick “Thanks”, with a look to the sky, that no one was hurt as you change lanes. “I think I’ll take the long way home,” you say to no one in particular. You call home and speak to your neighbor: “It’s such a nice day,” you say, “that I’m going to take 15 minutes to sit in the park.” “Good for you,” your neighbor says. “Enjoy!”

D. Your spouse is having a bad day today—so you’re having one, too. No matter what you do or how you do it, it’s not right. Now, she wants lunch and is requesting the very meal you don’t have.


1. Run out to the store and buy what she wants. Inside, you’re cursing her. You call your daughter and say, “I can’t stand your mother today. You’ll have to come here and take over.” Your daughter arrives and takes advantage of the opportunity to lecture you: “I can’t keep rescuing you,” she says. “If you can’t handle this, we’ll have to talk about nursing home placement.

2. Fix the meal you had planned. You’re so burned up about her lack of gratitude that you burn lunch in the process. You tell her, “Too bad! It’s what we have, so it’s what you’re getting.” You and your spouse spend the rest of the day in silence. The silence lingers overnight and into the next day.

3. Stop for a minute to take a few deep breaths. “Let’s sit and talk for a minute,” you say to your spouse. “What’s going on today? We’re having such a bad day. I love you too much to spend a bad day with you. How can we make it a good one?”

How did you do?

Mostly 1’s: The bad news: You’re angling for a blow-up. The good news: It hasn’t happened yet. Take as much time on your own as you can; whether it be at night after your care recipient has gone to bed, or early in the morning before your care recipient gets up. And, give yourself a break from some scheduled activities when you can. Your rest is the top priority. And, continue to vent and rant to your support system—letting it out to them is healthy.

Mostly 2’s: The bad news: You’ve had your blow-up. The good news: What goes up, must come down. Give yourself a break, let anything but the most important caregiving responsibilities go. Call in the reserves, schedule extra help, go to bed early, get up late—whatever you can manage. Everyone has blow-ups. Move on, but be sure you move on by taking some important time to yourself. And, look to your support system to share those bad days; they often can turn a bad day into something that’s amazingly not so bad.

Mostly 3’s: The good news: You’re in good shape! The bad news: The challenge is keeping yourself in good shape. Give yourself time, even if you feel you don’t need it. And, continue to participate in your support system; they’ll be great to have on your bad days.

19s Comments

    • Profile photo of

      I have the same problem; what support system!?! My siblings are selfish, and I get their speeches of, ” well you decided to move to help our parents, I didn’t so deal with it.” that is how much help I get and I am the sole Caregiver for 2 parents. I am so stressed out and have no one to talk to.

  1. What if your sick spouse is the one blowing up at you? All the time, about every little thing? I’m at my wits end. Any referrals for this problem?

      • He was diagnosed with tongue cancer 3 yrs ago, had radical surgery, radiation, chemo. He’s only 51, lost 70 lbs from the stomach tube, hates everything now even though his prognosis is good. I finally convinced him to ask his doctor for something for anxiety 3 months ago but he still blows everything out of proportion – worrying, yelling, crying, etc. He may have beaten the cancer but I’m afraid he’ll have a stroke and the stress of constantly being verbally assaulted is wearing.

        • Profile photo of Denise

          Hi Sandi–Ugh, what an exhausting situation for both of you. My suggestions would be to follow up with his physician/oncologist about his behavior. Ask for suggested treatments and referrals to therapists/counseling services which can help. It doesn’t seem that his anxiety medication is solving the problem and additional intervention is needed.

          I also would suggest having an honest discussion with your husband: Tell him you understand the past three years have been a very scary time for both of you. You are here to support him. However, when he becomes verbally abusive, you are leaving the room (or house, etc.). Beginning today, you will no longer tolerate abusive behavior. Then, if he becomes verbally abusive, do just that–leave.

          You also can discuss your concerns about his change in behavior. Ask him: Who can help him develop coping skills so he’s better able to manage? Share any information/referrals you’ve received from his physician. Tell him his emotional health is as important to you as his physical health and that is emotional health is critical to the emotional health of your marriage.

          If you are concerned about a discussion with him one-on-one, then have a discussion during an appointment with his physician.

          Does this help?

          Best, Denise

          • Yes, this helps. We actually have a doctor appt next week and I plan to bring this up then. I’ll try the “leaving” idea but then I wonder why I’m being punished and have to leave when I didn’t do anything. It’s hard.


  2. After 9 months of caregiving, I understand blow ups personally.
    Today after taking my husband (who is still on a walker due to a brain bleed the last day of Jan. 2010,) to vote, I backed into another vehicle as we were leaving the voting place. We have a lift on the back of our vehicle and I did not give enough room to back up without scraping the bumper of the other vehicle. “Blow Up” or crying time for me. I had to blame someone, so I blamed him for not helping me watch. Went home, called the our insurance company to report, got on the internet to try and find someone else as frustrated as myself.

  3. Profile photo of Denise

    Oh, Claudette, I’m so sorry about the fender bender. That is very, very frustrating. I hope it felt better to tell us. Keep coming back… :)

  4. Lord, I feel like I have discovered a whole world that I didn’t know exsisted. i felt like I was the only one going through this hell. My husband is 80 years old. He has chronic kidney failure, heart disease and the beginnings of dementia. I have been couped up with him for over a year. He is in and out of the hospital. Has been stopped from driving. His health is very fragile. I am with him 24-7. there is maybe 30 minutes a month that I get out of the house without him. He is controlling and has been for the 44 years we have been married. I am 16 years younger than him and not in great health. He blows up over little things and I guess I do too. he is a pack rat and clutters the house constantly. He makes bad decisions about money and resents me even suggesting different ideas. I’m a retired school teacher and not stupid. I find myself letting little things build up and just loosing it. Of course he does the same things. We never used to fight or argue that much. I can’t talk to him about it because he says I am the problem that he doesn’t do anything wrong. we have two sons who live close by and help as much as they can but don’t really give me any personal time. they are busy with jobs and children of their own. The one shining light in my life is my grandchildren. but he is making it uncomfortable for them to be here. I guess all I know how to do is complain. thanks for listening.

  5. Profile photo of Gary

    Hi Dee, you’re right–here, none of us is alone! :) Even though the situation’s different in my case, I’m a 48-year-old single male and only child caregiving for my elderly 82-year-old widowed mom, so many feelings and situations you described in your 1/18 post are ones that resonate with me.

    Juggling an academic full-time work, with my own health problems, grad school, and supporting mom, I alternate between feelings of nurturing, guilt, resentment, frustration, anger, and sadness. Sometimes I feel I’m doing everything right, but others I sense that nobody understands or supports me.

    Ever feel like the rest of the world can express their feelings related to themselves or your family’s current caregiving situation, but when it’s your turn to want to do it, it seems like nobody wants to hear or has time to listen to *you*? I do sometimes. It’s like I’m there to cater to others’ needs, but I’m the one who never has needs of my own.

    You might get a lot of this thrown your way converstionally: “Oh, Dee, are you talking about your husband again?” “Dee, you should get out and pursue hobbies or have fun with friends more frequently.” “Dee, I can’t help it, and you’re making me feel hurt or stupid!” I bet you do — and, just copy/paste “Gary” with your name, and that’s often my experience, as well.

    More often than not, the caregiving “Monday morning quarterbacks and sideliners,” as I like to refer to the non-caregiving particpants in my life (including the well-meaning ones), will phrase their questions and concerns with regards to the care recipient. Do they ever stop to think of what the burdens or multitasking are doing to the caregivers? Sometimes, I just don’t know.

    Maybe we eventually all become so good at it, it’s like some Zen-self-perpetuating thing and we just make it look easy, so people inadvertently think that they don’t need to express worry or empathy as much for us as for our care experiencers. Advocacy for the right to express and support those caregivedrs’ feelings and needs is what I hope to help with more of as time goes on (if I make it!). Hang in there, if only even to remind us of the inspiration your resume of past and ongoing caregiving efforts for your husband have already instilled in us all! ~Gary P./Boston

  6. Thank you. This article hits home for me. I was the primary caregiver for my father. My mother passed away quickly from cancer in 1999. My only sister lived quite a long way away, but did help when she could. But, I was almost at my breaking point. If people have never gone through this, I hope that you do have a good support system on your side because you will need it. My father passed away in 2005. I did make it through but I still have some guilt feelings that I didn’t do everything I coiuld.

  7. Profile photo of

    Hello Everyone,
    I am new here and feel a bit of relief reading all these posts. I completely lost it with my brother last night – yelled and cursed and I know that didn’t make him feel too good – Its just been too much , too long and constant.

    I am thankful to finally find some support…. Mine is a long story , and tonight is not the time to go into it but My brother got hit by a car and had a stroke – I am the only family and have been the go to person for about 11 years …!!! I recently came across the country to get him out of a nursing home , if I didn’t he ‘d still be there . He needs 24hr care – Is confined to bed other than a hoyer lift . He is only getting 10hr of help from an agency but I help during those hrs as well as the remaining 14.
    I feel bad that I blew up , but I came here 5weeks ago and have only gotten freash air briefly a few times.
    When I was aross the country I was involved 24/7 .
    I was hoping to create a plan where I am part of the pic , not the whole pic…

    There are alot of cutbacks and alot of people not doing their jobs … its all left for me. Will it ever be o.k.?
    Thanks for listening…

  8. Profile photo of

    Hi Gary
    Just wanted to add. I so agree with you. Some of us are very capable beings and end up getting penalized for all that we manage to do…. We keep on keeping on and creating miracles of one sort or another , but on the iinside I bet I am not the only close to breaking points many times.

    We need to unite and have a bigger voice about all that is going on in this country . There is a lot of injustice . Perhaps if we could find the space and band together we could make a difference for ourselves, our family (friends) and our country of caregivers .

    Many prayers and hugs for All on here ((( ))) – very grateful to find this special place
    Eileen ( NYC) and (WI)

  9. I had a blow up today at my mother-in-law about her medicine she has to drink in four oz. of water, she has to drink every other day . She thought we were going to poison her. She said she wanted proof that the doctor ordered it. It upset me, I blew up. That’s not me. I was upset after that. I cried. I went to her and apologized for what happened. She said it was alright. She didn’t remember it. She said I was a good nurse. I was so upset. I am in need of a break. I felt so bad.


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