According to a recent survey 44 million Americans are currently providing unpaid care for another adult – whether it’s stopping by more frequently to help with household chores, managing financial matters, or providing full-time assistance for a disabled parent. Perhaps you’re one of those caregivers. If you’re partnered or married, you know how challenging it can be to manage the stress and exhaustion of care-giving while nurturing a healthy relationship at home.
Aside from the actual duties you’re juggling, perhaps the toughest aspect is the fact that neither “job” comes with vacation time, and the burnout factor is huge. Add to that the possibility of sleep deprivation, your own parental responsibilities, increased financial burden – and coping can feel even tougher. Well, we are here to help! We’ve learned a great deal, both from our client families and from industry experts, about strategies to navigate these potentially conflicting roles while keeping stress at a minimum.
- First, COMMUNICATION is key. Don’t expect your partner to intuit what you’re thinking or read between the lines; it’s an unrealistic expectation that can lead to frustration for both of you. It’s important to be able to vent about what’s stressing you out – and that goes for both of you, by the way. Partners and spouses of caregivers can have their own frustrations at feeling overlooked, even abandoned – or at missing time together that’s been pushed aside. Even if you have to schedule time to talk, which might feel forced, do it.
- At the same time, have REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS about what your partner can relate to. Resist blaming them or feeling resentful if they can’t always empathize with your struggles and frustrations. It’s important to have them as a sounding board, but if you need stronger back up, consider joining an online or community support group for swapping stories and sharing coping strategies.
- CARVE OUT TIME TOGETHER. The needs of a sick parent or elderly person can sometimes seem to trump almost anything else; but nothing is more important than protecting your marriage or partnership, particularly during the stressful times when it’s especially vulnerable. Resurrect Friday date night, even if it means take-out and a movie. Meet for a quick lunch date to catch up; even do errands together if that’s all you can manage in a given week. But make sure you create opportunities for alone time whenever you can to protect this important relationship.
- CREATE A BACK-UP PLAN. We’ve seen cases where the demands of caregiving become unsustainable, for lots of reasons, ranging from financial to health concerns to other personal factors. Look into resources now that you could turn to quickly if you needed to – home health aid companies, senior centers, assisted living. Doing this research takes time that you might not have when circumstances force the issue, so make it a short-term priority. Or you may have siblings or relatives living nearby who could take over for you, either temporarily or permanently. Talk to them now, when you have the time to lay out responsibilities and expectations, so that you have someone ready to call on.
Want more information? Visiting Nurses of NY has a great video on caregiver stress you can watch here.