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Changing the dynamic of your relationship from a partnership to something that feels less balanced can cause emotional struggle and confusion. While there is undoubtedly an adjustment period, maintaining a strong relationship with your spouse has been shown to improve both the quality of care for the care recipient partner and the satisfaction of providing care for the caregiving partner. In this article, we will discuss how to build or maintain a meaningful and respectful relationship with your partner while you provide care.

Why the Relationship Can Be Hard to Maintain

When one spouse needs care from the other, the dynamic of your relationship changes. You went from a familiar partner in many aspects of your life to the reality that one of you is responsible for the other. This transition is well-documented to be a difficult one: it comes with feelings of both relief and grief, which is a confusing juxtaposition. You may grieve the nature of the relationship before providing care, while simultaneously feeling grateful that you can be there and help fulfill their needs. 

Regardless of how you feel, it’s important to acknowledge that things have changed. Here are our tips to help you find a balance between the role of wife or husband and caregiver:

Tip 1: Communicate

To establish mutual respect in this new dynamic, you need to understand how both of you are feeling about it. During this transition and throughout your time providing care, communication needs to be at the foundation. 

Ask them how they feel about receiving help from you and express how you feel about giving help. Take time to understand each other–including your fears and frustrations–and work together to find a new footing in unfamiliar territory. You’re both in this together.

Tip 2: Find a Support System

Your marriage will change significantly in response to the shift in dynamic. Habits you’ve formed in your relationship, such as regular outings, visits with friends and family, or running weekend errands, may need to change or adjust.

Getting through this incredibly challenging period will be much easier with a strong support system around you. Depending on your age and the age of your community, you may find that your friends either will be understanding and accommodating or they will not. If friends or family or not the understanding and supportive community that you hoped they would be, you can find a sense of community through other channels such as a support group, adult children, siblings, professionals, or other community resources (like churches and nonprofits).

Strong support can help boost your mood and help you adjust to your new normal.

Tip 3: Care for the Caregiver

When providing care to your spouse, studies have shown that the caregiver of the relationship is often at a higher risk of depression than the care recipient. This is true even if the care recipient is suffering from a debilitating physical or mental condition. Caregiver depression and anxiety are even more prevalent if your spouse is suffering from a cognitive condition like dementia.

To provide the highest quality of care for your loved one and protect your mental health, you need to prioritize self care. Here are some self-care tips:

  • Hire a respite caregiver when you need a break.
  • Do things with your friends away from the responsibilities of care.
  • Allow yourself some time each day to do something just for you, like reading a book, having a bubble bath, going for a drive, going for a walk, calling a friend, etc.
  • Talk to a professional to help you work through some of the heavier emotional baggage that this change represents.
  • Prioritize your health by remembering to schedule your own doctor’s appointments, cooking healthy food, getting some exercise, getting some fresh air each day, etc.
  • Find someone you trust to talk to besides your spouse. As you provide care, you may experience a confusing range of emotions and difficulties that you won’t want to share with the spouse in your care. Have someone you can connect with judgment-free to release some of that pent-up emotion.

Closing Thoughts

Providing care to your spouse is an incredibly kind and selfless, yet incredibly difficult and emotional experience. It’s important to know that if you are caring for your spouse, you are not alone—even if it feels that way.

The California Caregiver Resource Centers are a network of eleven independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations across California that were created to be a free resource for caregivers in the state of California. We would love to connect the family caregiver in your life with their local Center, where they can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer questions, and explain how they can best support the caregiver in your life.

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