Even the strongest relationships are put to the test when one or both partners are caregivers for someone they love. Financial pressures, exhaustion, resentment, distance and lack of privacy are just some of the ways caregiving stress can overwhelm a relationship.
As a caregiver, you may become so focused on the needs of your loved one that the connection with your partner can start to slip. Recognizing your needs as a couple and making your romantic relationship a priority is critical to your health and happiness. To protect and strengthen your relationship while caregiving, aim to:
Take time to talk. It’s so common for caregivers to keep their emotions and stress inside, but this will only inevitably push you further away from your partner. Opening up will help you better understand each others’ feelings and behavior, prevent resentment or misunderstanding and bring you closer. Your partner will also be more willing to help manage responsibilities and offer emotional support when they understand where you’re coming from.
Forgive and forget. When caring for a loved one and juggling life’s demands, your patience may not be at its best. If you are unkind to your partner during a tense moment, resolve to apologize right away. Give your partner this same leeway and be willing to forgive. This doesn’t mean that you should accept cruel behavior, but cut each other some slack and allow for slip-ups and bad days.
Spend time together. Don’t let the difficulties of caregiving take the joy out of your relationship—make time to reconnect and have fun. If date nights and weekends away aren’t possible, find connection in the small, everyday moments. Even going to your loved one’s doctor’s appointments or running errands as a team can offer time together in an otherwise packed schedule. Make little romantic gestures like a walk around the block while the sun is setting, a candlelit (takeout) dinner, or hidden love notes. Little actions can go a long way!
Allow for space. While it may sound like a contradiction, you also need to be willing to give each other space. When you’ve spent all day meeting the needs of your sick loved one, children, coworkers, partner and friends, you may want and need some time alone. Offer your partner the same space. Don’t take it personally and encourage each other to get out of the house, do things you love or take up new hobbies.
Get support. Don’t be afraid to ask for backup. Look to family, friends, community resources and respite care to help you take time for your relationship. Join a caregiving support group so you can get new perspectives and talk to other people experiencing similar challenges. It can also be enormously helpful to have other people to lean on for support instead of always expecting your partner to fill that role.
When the people you love are pulling you in many different directions, it can feel impossible to make it all work. By prioritizing your relationship through teamwork, understanding and patience, you can not only cope with the challenges of caregiving but create a bond that is better than ever.