Caregiving for spouses and partners

Becoming a caregiver for your spouse or partner can have a profound effect on your relationship.

April 30, 2018 - Author: Diane Rellinger, Michigan State University Extension

With sufficient help caregivers can confidently provide care and also maintain their own self-care.
With sufficient help caregivers can confidently provide care and also maintain their own self-care.

Traditional marriage vows tenderly express commitment to love each other through the best that life brings as well as well as through the worst of times. As the journey of life continues, spouses and partners confidently face a barrage of changes and transitions together. Over time and through partnership efforts routines, roles and expectations naturally become established.

Identifying role changes and challenges

Changes in the physical, mental or emotional health of a spouse or partner can have a profound effect on relationships. This can include one partner taking on the role of caregiver of the other.

Regardless if the caregiving role developed gradually or if circumstances occurred that changed life instantly, navigating daily life and assuming and accepting the role of caregiver includes navigating both good and bad days. Grief, loneliness, anxiety and exhaustion are all natural feelings that spousal caregivers can experience as they tirelessly try to meet the needs of their loved one. Assuming unfamiliar tasks that their spouse usually completed previously and adding daily care responsibilities, often while still employed, is stressful and can take a toll on a caregivers’ health.

The isolation associated with caregiving

Spouse and partner caregiving is a labor of love. Loyalty is a significant factor that drives caregivers. Spouses often believe they should tackle caregiving single-handedly and do not readily accept offers of assistance from family and friends. Caregivers may feel they can provide the best care for their spouse and do not ask for additional help even when they are feeling overwhelmed. Most care recipients prefer their spouse to be their care provider. Yet care recipients are often dealing with multiple and ongoing health changes that make their own behaviors and needs unpredictable and sometimes challenging. Care recipients may experience a wide array of feelings like anger, grief and depression that spousal caregivers have to attempt to navigate on a daily basis. 

Caregivers may experience varying degrees of guilt as they navigate and mourn the loss of what once was normal, and grapple with life as it is now. Pouring oneself into the daily care of another can also lead to isolation as caregivers slowly pull away from social engagements to spend most of their time at home. As a spouse or partner attempts to care solely for their loved one the risk of injury and other negative health factors can begin to appear in the caregiver, which can be amplified by age. It is typical for a spousal caregiver to neglect their own self-care in pursuit of immersing themselves in caring for their spouse.

Caregivers benefit from community resources and support

Every spousal or partner caregiver should be aware that they can equip themselves with new skills and knowledge through education and community support. This can help caregivers confidently provide care with sufficient help and also maintain their own self-care.

Most caregivers and care recipients experience continual transitions in their relationship and Michigan State University Extension highly encourages caregivers to seek support and help to find systems that benefit both individuals. There are evidence-based community programs designed to assist caregivers, including spousal caregivers, to maintain their own mental, emotional and physical health. The Powerful Tools for Caregivers program designed specifically for caregivers will increase self-care habits; build confidence in handling numerous caregiver responsibilities like making difficult decisions, dealing with challenging emotions and finding local community resources. To learn about the Powerful Tools for Caregivers program in Michigan contact your local MSU Extension office.

Tags: aging, aging, caregiving, caregiving, chronic disease, chronic disease, family, family, food & health, food & health, health and nutrition, health and nutrition, healthy relationships, healthy relationships, msu extension, msu extension

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