Many times when you become a caregiver you have a set of expectations regarding the tasks you will need to do and how often your assistance will be needed. Unfortunately, unexpected medical issues can arise or your loved one’s care needs can change with time requiring additional help and greater commitments. When this occurs it can directly impact your relationship with your spouse or partner.
The fact is we are living longer thanks to better medical care and more effective medications. That increases the possibility that you may be a potential caregiver for an aging parent or other relative. There are only so many hours in a day and the time devoted to caregiving takes away from time spent on other relationships. This is especially true for time spent with your partner and children. The ability to balance, caregiving, work, relationships with family as well as friends, is a skill that few of us are able to master. It requires constant shifting, flexibility, and the ability to be spontaneous. These demands take their toll on both caregivers and partners. There are no good choices that satisfy everyone in these situations.
So what is included in the job description of a caregiver? It can be any or all of the following areas:
- Emotional Support
- Physical Assistance
- Financial Support
- Being on call for emergencies
- Legal and financial help (for example paying bills, paying taxes or sorting out insurance forms, credit cards, banking)
By definition time spent in your role as caregiver means time taken away from your partner, children, work, household chores, school, friendships and more. This may cause significant shifts for your partner’s role if he/she is needed to pitch in more with childcare, finances, and home management.
The emotional toll is important to focus on as well. You may feel anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, tired, stressed, sad, and perhaps angry with the dynamics your caregiving role can create. Your partner may feel angry, resentful, ignored, overwhelmed, frustrated as well. Neither one of you may have the energy or inclination to spend time nurturing your emotional or sexual relationship. Intimacy may be lost in this scenario. Conflicts can easily arise when tensions are heightened and sleep is lost and it feels like much is out of your control.
So what are things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your partner as you continue to do the best you can in your role as a caregiver? Here are some tips to help you cope:
Prioritize the Relationship With Your Partner
Talk to your partner about your concern that being a caregiver may impact your relationship. Express your desire to make sure your relationship with your partner remains a priority.
Make communication a Priority
Carve out time to ask your partner about their life and how they are doing. Do they have concerns or things that are positive that they have noticed regarding your relationship? Express appreciation for things your partner does that you perceive as being supportive. Ask your partner to do the same for you.
Make time to do Things Together that Strengthen Your Relationship
Have a plan in place for regular respite care for you as the caregiver. Be proactive about this. Don’t wait until you are in a crisis mode and totally overwhelmed. Find someone to fill in so you can have time to spend with your partner in meaningful ways. It might be a relative, neighbor, friend, or home health staff. Use this free time to do things you enjoy together. Keeping intimacy alive in your relationship is key to preserving it. It sends the message that your partner is important. It is a way of telling yourself that you are important. It also helps to remember to keep your relationship as a priority. This is also important. The value of the gift of time in a relationship together cannot be understated or overlooked.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW is the author of Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. Role Reversal is the winner of 5 major book awards. Ms. Waichler has been a medical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. She has done freelance writing, counseling, and workshops on patient advocacy and healthcare related issues for 17 years. Find out more at her website http://iriswaichler.wpengine.com