The transition from normal life to a caregiving role often happens quickly. An aging parent might be diagnosed with an illness that requires constant support, or have a bad fall that leaves them requiring daily assistance with basic activities.
Families often need to make a rapid decision to move a loved one into the house, make all the necessary preparations for medical requirements, and undertake a huge shift in personal priorities. It’s an extremely tall order, and one that can take a toll on the mental and physical well-being of the person who becomes a primary caregiver.
However, when the person you’re suddenly caring for is a spouse, it brings with it a constellation of challenges that are especially complex. A debilitating trauma such as a stroke or a major neurological disease like Alzheimer’s can mean losing the future you envisioned along with a part of the person you love.
Sometimes in a single heartbeat.
There’s a lot to manage and recalibrate when caregiving for spouses, and finding the right balance between marriage and illness is key to forging your new path forward together.
Take Time to Process
When a spouse has suffered a life-altering health crisis, it can completely change the relationship or even the person you married. It is impossible to overestimate how difficult that adjustment is going to be. Ordinarily, your partner would be your number one ally and friend if you found yourself taking on caregiving responsibilities, but they aren’t going to be able to be your go-to this time.
You are going to need to give yourself time to adjust, grieve, cope, and reevaluate your life and relationship. Ideally, if your partner can still communicate you will be able to work together to figure out what your new life will mean, but that’s not always going to be the case.
Talk to your friends, your family, and community, and be patient with yourself as you work through it. It’s going to be complicated; be kind to yourself.
Find Your New Relationship Balance
It’s very likely if you find yourself caregiving for a spouse your relationship roles are going to have to change. To begin with, your partner may not be able to do some of the physical tasks they have traditionally done. Basic errands that require driving may be out of the question, and more than likely your workload is going to increase.
However, if your spouse is still able to participate, it may be a simple question of shifting roles. Around-the-house chores like laundry and gardening may be better options. These little helps can make a big difference, and keeping your partner active and engaged can do wonders for everyone’s health and happiness.
Don’t Ignore Your Needs
This next part of the conversation is difficult, but it’s better had than not. A loss of physical intimacy can be an extraordinarily difficult hurdle to manage, particularly for spousal caregivers on the younger side. It can affect your sense of self-worth, your ability to have children, and many other aspects of your emotional health. If you can talk to your partner, talk. If you can’t, talk to your friends, trusted relatives, or a good therapist. Just don’t pretend that it doesn’t exist, because it matters.
Monitoring Stress When Caregiving for Spouse
When transitioning from a partner to a caregiver, it is critical to remember that you are going to be subject to physical and emotional stressors that you have never experienced before. Caregivers already suffer from twice the normal rate of depression as the general population, and when it’s a spouse you’re losing a large part of your personal support structure as well.
Consciously make time for breaks and create space for yourself. Even though your life has changed you’re still living it, and it’s important not to let your caregiving responsibilities edit out the things that are important to your own emotional and physical wellbeing.
You may also be able to build in activities with your spouse with a few adaptations. Physical intimacy may be out of the question, but emotional intimacy might still be on the table. Taking walks, going to the botanic gardens, and just being together while you read a book can all help keep you connected when you’re also shouldering the responsibility of caregiving.
While isolation is always something to be guarded against when caregiving, for spouse caregivers the risk is significantly increased. The emotional connection to a life partner can mean pouring all of your time and energy into making sure they are well cared for, and often at the expense of other personal relationships.
Friendships are important to your mental health in general, but never more so than when your partner is no longer providing you with the intimacy and daily emotional fulfillment you need. Plus, your friends can help you manage time and tasks that can reduce stress and keep you healthy.
Finally, a solid online caregiver community can be your best resource for informational and emotional support. There are millions of people out there who are going through what you’re going through, and sharing your experiences can be the difference between going it alone and feeling like you’re part of a team.
Caregiving For Spouse? Let I-Ally be Your Partner
I-Ally knows how challenging caregiving can be, and when it’s your spouse it makes the stress and pressure that much greater. You have a partner in I-Ally, and our online community can offer you the support, expert advice, and resources you need to keep living your best life while caring for your best friend.
Visit us to learn more about how I-Ally can support you on your caregiving journey.