Caregivers are particularly susceptible to strained relationships. 80% of caregivers report difficulties in their personal relationships. And estimates of the divorce rate for couples in which one spouse has a serious chronic illness like breast cancer are as high as 75%.
Here are some strategies for caregivers to maintain healthy relationships with their spouse.
Two Types of Caregivers
First, you have to understand that there are two types of caregiving scenarios taking place. In one scenario, a husband and wife might be taking care of a parent or child who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the relationship between them could suffer. In the second scenario, a spouse could be caring for the other spouse, who has been diagnosed. Each situation has unique issues.
In the first, one spouse may be caring for her mom and, in turn, it’s only natural that the time she’s able to spend with her family and spouse will suffer. Guilt can play a significant role when you struggle with whether or not you’re doing enough for your mom or dad.
While some who provide care to their spouses feel the experience strengthens the bond between them, the caregiver can still feel stress and resentment, especially if he or she feels like their relationship has become one-sided. The spouse receiving care may worry that they’re becoming a burden. Physical and emotional intimacy may suffer.
It Takes a Team When Caregiving for an Older Relative
They say blood is thicker than water, but when it comes to relationships, the bonds between husband and wife are paramount.
You can never be too busy not to sit down and communicate with one another. Take the time to talk to your spouse, whether it’s about the caregiving or more mundane matters. And even though you may be tired from being a caregiver, try to find small, regular moments for you and your partner to connect. This can be making time for morning coffee together, a special show that you make time to watch or an evening walk with the dog.
Finally, get help if the burden is too big. It may be that balancing your personal life with your caregiving just isn’t possible anymore. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others if you need it.
Readjusting Expectations When One Spouse is Caring for the Other
To the degree possible, ill spouses should continue to try to do whatever they are capable of – simple chores, listening well, giving thanks. Well spouses should also refrain from trying to be a superhero, taking over all responsibilities and disempowering the ill spouses.
Try to maintain your own social networks. While you likely have many mutual friends, try to maintain your own separate social circles. They can be invaluable – especially when you need to lean on others for support.
Realize relationships change, and consider whether you can adapt. Sometimes couples who are divorced set in to help one another, particularly when there are children involved. Try to be flexible and help the other.
Get Professional Help
Professional marital counseling and individual counseling can help. If you are struggling, please reach out to Forge’s Client Services Coordinator, Janet Dees, at (205) 990-5367 or [email protected]. She can refer you for free professional mental health counseling. She can also match you with Peer Mentor who has been a caregiver, too, and understands.