Marriage and Caregiving: Caring for a Spouse

Posted by Maria Thompson on May 4, 2018 1:10:00 PM

Senior caregiver providing care for her spouseWhen you married your spouse, you took a vow to be there for each other “for better or worse.”

Over the years you’ve learned how to adapt to any number of changes – raising children, an empty nest, illnesses, deaths and more. Now it’s caregiving. It can be heartbreaking, hard and scary.

The following tips will help you care for your spouse and not at the expense of your marriage.

Keep a Positive Attitude

Caregiving isn’t easy. Being unable to stop your spouse’s pain or decline is heartbreaking. And looking on the bright side can be hard.

When you can look at the positives in life, it will improve your mood and life satisfaction. It can also improve the care you provide your spouse and yourself. Start writing down five things you’re grateful for each day. Can’t think of five? Start with three. They don’t need to be profound. “It’s not raining today.” “This coffee tastes good.” “My spouse said something funny.” You’re training your mind to notice and dwell on the positive.

All that said, it’s not always possible to be positive all of the time. Emotions are reasonable, even negative ones. If you are having continual trouble, think about attending a support group or visiting a therapist.

Remember to Focus on You as a Couple

When you’re caring for your spouse, your relationship naturally changes. It’s easy to let the caregiving part subsume everything. To protect your relationship as a couple, set aside couple time when you focus on just that. You might not get out for date night, but you can still set aside time for the two of you as a couple.

Keep Communication Open

When a spouse becomes a caregiver, just about every aspect of the relationship changes. Communication and support are two that are easy to overlook.

To the extent they’re able, it’s important for the person who is receiving care to acknowledge the caregiver. Ask how they’re doing, about what they need and support their outside interests. Caregiving relationships can quickly become only about the spouse who needs care. This leaves the caregiver wide open to burnout and depression.

Get Help When You Need It

You promised, “in sickness and health.” Nothing in your vow said that means putting your own health at risk. There’s nothing noble in that.

Many caregivers want to take care of their spouses. They vowed to care for their spouse “in sickness and in health.” Many take that to mean, “I need to do this myself.” However, the vows don’t include anything about “to the detriment of my own health.”

Caring for your spouse is an emotional and physical job. It can be dangerous to go it alone. You could hurt yourself physically or get sick or burnout from stress and strain.

Accept Help When It’s Offered

Accept help when it’s offered. They want to help. You are honoring them by accepting. The load they lift off your shoulders will give you more time to care for your spouse or even a few minutes for yourself!

If someone asks, “What can I do?” give them a job. Keep a list. Anything from larger projects like raking or driving your spouse to an appointment to small, ongoing tasks that you need to remember. For example, you might have a neighbor who would love to push your garbage to the curb and back on garbage day. They enjoy being helpful and you have one less thing to worry about.

Take Care of Yourself

It can’t be overstated. Caregiving is a tough job and it can take a toll. More so for spouses. The statistics back it up. Those caring for a close relative have a higher risk of declining health as a result of caregiving. It’s even higher for those caring for a spouse.

If you’re committed to caring for your spouse, taking care of yourself can’t be a “nice to do.” If you’re not healthy, you won’t be able to provide quality care for any length of time. To keep yourself in caregiving shape, get enough sleep, drink enough water, eat well, exercise and get time alone each day. Even a few minutes of quiet or reading will work wonders.

Watch for Signs of Burnout

Burnout is dangerous. The emotional and physical effects can be devastating. Reach out to your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms, they're new, more intense and last more than a few days.

  • overeating or undereating
  • little or no interest in things that previously brought you joy
  • flat or depressed mood
  • anger/outbursts
  • resentment toward your spouse
  • resentment toward family and friends
  • drinking more
  • consistent lack of energy
  • ignoring your own health needs (delaying or skipping essential appointments like screenings)
  • insomnia

Know your Options

Even if you plan to keep your spouse at home, it pays to know about options in your area. Having information on hand about resources such as assisted living, adult day care, home health care and respite care can keep you from scrambling in a crisis. It also provides peace of mind. If you'd like to learn more about providing care for your spouse, our Guide to Becoming a Family Caregiver offers advice about the costs of caregiving, resources available to you, and more. 

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Topics: Future Planning, Caregiving

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