Becoming a caregiver for a spouse is an adjustment for both the caregiver and the person being cared for. When we choose a partner our dream is to grow old together and spend time in ways we choose, with people we want, doing the things we enjoy most in our lives. Unanticipated illness, injuries, or accidents can change this life plan in an instant. It can also change the dynamics of the partner relationship. They are altered and new boundaries and guidelines are developed as a result of assuming the caregiver role. It takes patience, time, and open communication from both parties to make it work. It can work with the proper physical and emotional support, education, and healthcare professionals to help guide you through the process.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving “nearly 3.5 million of all family caregivers are spousal caregivers.” About “24% are 65 years old or older.” This is about “5% of the caregiving population.”
There will always be feelings of grief when the well being of a spouse or partner is compromised in a long term way. Both of you will deal with it in your own ways. Feelings of anger, loss, sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future and how day to day events will go will emerge. If you experience these feelings in different ways from your partner conflict can and will emerge. Your previous relationship will influence the new partner caregiving one. For example, if you were very dependent on your partner, and now he/she is in need of help it may feel even more overwhelming. It can be a time of loneliness when the person you knew seems to be changing.
The feelings of seeing a loved one battling illness and the resulting disabilities can leave you as the caregiver feeling helpless and sad. There may be many conflicts at times when things don’t go smoothly or the condition of a loved one deteriorates. Sometimes assuming the role of caregiver for a partner can be a source of pride. It can be viewed as an extension of your love for your partner. It can create moments of intimacy and expand the boundaries of your previous relationship in ways you did not anticipate. This is especially true when they are able to express their appreciation to you for your efforts and support.
What should you consider as the caregiver of a spouse or partner that will help you in this role:
- Identify Role and task Changes-The rate of burnout can be higher with partner caregivers. This may be true because the person getting the care is not able to keep up the tasks and aspects of the relationship they had prior to their healthcare crisis. This can enhance stress and feel more overwhelming for caregivers. For example, did your partner help with bills or laundry or cooking? If it is difficult for you to bathe or do incontinence care is there someone else you can identify that can help with these tasks? This can help offset potential burnout.
- Be Aware of Feelings of Burnout Before They Increase-There are symptoms of burnout you should watch for as a caregiver. Physical symptoms include headaches, back pain, abdominal symptoms, fatigue, inability to sleep, loss of appetite or eating too much. Emotional symptoms include feelings of anger, resentment, stress, being overwhelmed, depression, short temper, high frustration, isolation. If you begin to experience this symptoms don’t wait, get help from a healthcare professional, friend, or family member immediately. It is the best thing you can do for yourself and the person you are taking care of.
- Understand Your Financial and Legal Situation-Consult an attorney to make sure all of the legal resources you need are in place. Do you understand what the Will, Living Will, or Durable Power of Attorney says? These legal document should be completed for both you and your partner. Are you both comfortable with the contents or does it need to be updated? Are you aware of any debt that needs to be addressed? Do you understand your insurance and what financial resources are available? You may have available resources to help cover caregiving costs that you are not even aware of. If possible have this discussion with your partner while you are able.
- Include Yourself in the Care Plan-Make sure as a caregiver that you allow respite time for yourself. You need time to recharge. You also need to time to do things that you enjoy that you may not be able to do with your partner depending on their health. If there are things you enjoy doing together and you can still them include that in your routine. For example watching a movie, listening to music or current events, or looking at the garden. Do these things together if possible. Sharing moments doing things you used to enjoy can feel good. If you feel the stress of caregiving beginning to build ask for help or seek help from friends, family, neighbors, or healthcare professionals. You owe it to yourself and the loved one you are caring for. It can help to keep your relationship as strong as possible.
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