According to a 2015 study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, approximately 1 in 10 caregivers care for a spouse. Changes in your spouse's medical condition and the shift into a caregiver role for them will require changes and adjustment in your relationship.
In this article, we'll discuss some of the changes that you should expect as you step into a caregiver role for your spouse and strategies to adjust to these changes well.
Of course, becoming a caregiver for your spouse will lead to changes in the dynamic of your relationship. Unfamiliar emotions are introduced as they battle illness: your spouse may struggle with losing their independence, and you may experience your own negative emotions around the responsibility of caregiving.
The complicated reality is that marriages can, and do, end as a result of one spouse becoming a caregiver for the other. Here are some strategies to help you adjust to this new reality in your marriage while working to maintain a healthy relationship.
If your spouse can communicate, discuss your feelings and your experience with the changes openly. They may be feeling embarrassment or frustration over their inability to care for themselves, or grief over their loss of independence.
Caregiving requires a period adjustment for the spousal caregiver, and you may not be ready for everything that comes along with your new role. Allow yourself to ease into caregiving by setting boundaries to preserve your physical and mental health.
Remind yourself that by taking care of yourself by setting boundaries, you will be better able to serve your spouse well as a caregiver. Here are some examples of boundaries that you might consider setting for yourself:
When one spouse becomes a caregiver for the other, there are many aspects of the relationship that will change. However, emotional and physical intimacy should remain an important part of your relationship.
This is an area of caregiving that is unique to caring for your spouse. Even if their illness or disability prevents them from being physically intimate, it is essential to communicate openly about this so that each person's needs are met. Have patience with each other as you both adjust to the changes in this area of your marriage.
Becoming a caregiver for your spouse will most likely require significant adjustments to your schedule and routine to meet their needs. Additionally, caregiving for a spouse blurs the lines between life and work, leading many spousal caregivers to neglect their downtime and self-care.
Self-care is essential when you are in a demanding caregiving role. Taking care of yourself allows your caregiving routine and responsibilities to be more sustainable and can prevent problems in your relationship, or negative feelings toward your spouse.
Prioritizing self-care can also help you ensure that you are staying healthy and not missing red flags in your health. Here are some examples:
Maybe you used to eat with friends often, travel, or go on frequent date night outings together. If these things are too difficult or cause a strain on the relationship, you do not have to force them to continue.
As with any family caregiving role, it is common to experience difficult emotions. This can include grief, loneliness, worry, anxiety, and more. Allow yourself to acknowledge your emotions, rather than suppressing them. Here are some ways that you can consider handling difficult emotions:
If caregiving for your spouse becomes overwhelming, seeking help may be necessary. Consider asking for help from family and friends, or seeking professional caregiving help to lighten the burden of your caregiving responsibilities.
Robert Fisher has a background in Nursing and Healthcare management, with specialities in health and wellness, fitness and nutrition.
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