I took a friend to the doctor last week and met a woman in the waiting room who has been caring for her spouse for the past seven years. He was in a car accident that resulted in a blood transfusion that damaged his liver. Last year he had a liver transplant and she is seeing light at the end of the tunnel. She mentioned how she never expected to be a caregiver for her spouse, especially at their age (they were in their mid-50s).
Caring for a spouse brings many unique challenges. As she mentioned, we don’t enter a marriage expecting to care for our spouse, particularly when they are still young. It affects the relationship dynamics.
The benefit of caring for a spouse is that you know each other intimately so there is less embarrassment and you truly care for the person. The downsides are that the caree may be uncomfortable or embarrassed to ask for help. You both also may resent the change to your dynamics or the future you had both envisioned.
While your future may not be what you envisioned, and your relationship may change drastically, there are ways to maintain the bond.
Keep Your Traditional Roles:
Whatever your family’s traditional roles are, try to maintain them as much as possible. In my house, we have a 50/50 split, so our traditional roles aren’t really “traditional,” which is why I say “your” traditional roles. They may not look like they did in the past, but you can find ways to make them work for your family. Here are some examples:
- If your spouse was in charge of the yard work, but has health issues that limit his/her ability to continue, either involve him in the process of hiring a landscaper and have the landscaper report to him or if funds are limited and you become the landscaper, ask for his guidance and opinions when making changes.
- If your spouse was the chef but can no longer prepare food, have him/her help with menu planning or act as sous chef.
- If your spouse was the money manager but can no longer make financial decisions, you can still involve him her in the process. Share any updates or decisions you are making to help them feel more included.
- Re-distribute tasks. If there were tasks that were on your plate that would be more do-able for your partner, discuss switching tasks. Perhaps you did the laundry and your spouse did the yard work. It might make more sense for him/her to fold laundry while you work in the yard.
If at all possible, try to maintain a partnership to keep some of the touch points of the relationship the same.
Maintaining Boundaries and Practicing Self-Care:
While you are serving as your spouse’s caregiver, it is important to try to maintain boundaries and not act as a parent. Of course, you’ll have to take on tasks that push your old boundaries, but whenever you can, step back and let your spouse stand on his/her own two feet.
Don’t do everything for your spouse unless he/she truly can’t. Involve your spouse in as much as he is physically able to do. I have physical limitations that make the physical chores challenging so my husband does the vacuuming, laundry and cleaning. Since I can’t do the physical chores, I handle the “brain” activities such as bill paying, keeping up with the paperwork, meal planning, cooking and shopping. I do the things I can, he does the things I can’t. We work together as a team. Figure out your new team positions and work within them.
Caregiving and maintaining your household, especially if you have to do it alone, can take up all of your time and leave you drained. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of time for self-care, but it is critical to your well-being. If your spouse needs round-the-clock care, enlist support to take time for yourself. Even taking small amounts of time can change your mindset. Whether you only have three minutes or thirty minutes, you can still practice self-care.
Caring for your spouse brings many challenges, but it can also bring rewards. If you and your spouse work together, within your limitations, you can develop a new and stronger bond.