Are your responsibilities as a caregiver a new dynamic between you and your significant other? Or have you been the default, caregiving for your partner since you can remember?
Whether caregiving is a new or long-standing dynamic in your relationship, it can come with unique challenges. As a caregiver, you might experience feelings of tension or even frustration. This can strain your emotional and physical health, and in some cases, the relationship you have with your partner.
The good news is that it’s possible to have a healthy, happy life with your significant other, and romantic relationships can survive the challenges of a caregiving dynamic. How?
Caregiving for a significant other
First, let’s talk about some of the challenges you might face in this demanding role. Most statistics on caregivers for significant others focus on the elderly, but the truth is that you can be a caregiver for a significant other at any age. In fact, 48% of caregivers are young people, between the ages of 18 and 49.
Whatever your age, there are unique challenges that come with caregiving for a significant other vs. another family member or loved one. If you’re a caregiver for a significant other, you’re not alone. Research says that about 12% of caregivers care for a spouse or partner.
Here are some concerns that may arise when caring for a significant other:
1. Caregiver burnout
Caregiver burnout can come with an array of symptoms, including feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, frustration, upset, irritability, and social withdrawal or isolation. The undertaking of caregiving puts caregivers at an increased risk of negative physical and mental health-related outcomes or impacts, which is part of why it’s so crucial to take care of yourself as a caregiver.
Feelings of guilt are common among caregivers – especially those who care for a family member or significant other. It’s important to remember that any stress or strain you feel is valid. Likely, these feelings stem from the fact that you have a lot on your plate and aren’t directed at your partner. There is nothing to feel guilty for.
3. Relationship strain
During a rough patch, the romance may die down, or unspoken emotions and needs could build resentment and other concerns. This is part of why communication is so important in all relationships, including a romantic relationship with a caregiving dynamic involved.
4. Outside opinions
Every relationship is unique, and not everyone understands caregiving for an SO. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “I could never do that” or “how can you have a relationship?” you know that those words sting. Oftentimes, this is a product of ableism; the truth is that your partner is very much so your partner, and that’s the case in every sense of the word. You’re in this together like you’re in life together, and having a different relationship dynamic does not mean that it will fail.
So, what can you do? Loving relationships are resilient, and if you’re dealing with any of these concerns or other concerns related to being a caregiver for a partner, the tension doesn’t have to continue any longer. Cultivate resilience in your relationship, using the tips below.
Keep yourself and your relationship healthy
Here are some boxes to check, in order to keep yourself and your relationship healthy as a caregiver for a significant other:
1. Make the relationship a priority
Keep the love alive in ways that meet the needs of you, your partner, and the unique details of the partnership. This can mean leaving love notes behind for each other, expressing love through actions or words, or having regular date nights. Date nights are vital for the health of long-term relationships because they provide an opportunity to focus on romance and de-stress, whether those dates take place at home or out of the home. What matters is that you have time reserved for love and enjoying each other’s company.
2. Create a self-care routine
This may include maintaining a regular sleep schedule, having tools to turn to in moments of high stress, setting aside time to unwind on a regular basis, or something else. Make sure you have both “me” time and time for friends.
3. Feel your feelings (without judgment)
Feelings give us information; they tell us what we need. They aren’t facts, nor are they actions, but they are always valid. Work on acknowledging emotions without judgment and calling them in by asking, “what does this mean? What need does this feeling express?”
Are you communicating with your partner? Do you talk about how you feel and what you need with each other? Do you express affection for one another verbally? Feelings go both ways, and where you might be holding your emotions and fears inside, your partner might be doing the same. When you talk about how you feel and express the needs you have, you’ll be able to help each other.
5. Ask for hands-on help
Whether the needs of your partner or your own capacity change, there are going to be times where additional help is necessary. Even if that’s not the case, knowing when to ask for help matters. You might ask family to help around the house, with caregiving tasks, or have someone cover for you when you need time to yourself.
6. Find peer support
Peer support is crucial for caregivers. You might talk with family and friends, find a support group online or near you, or reach out to a peer support network like Supportiv. It’s important that you have time to talk about what’s going on in your life and focus on your own emotional needs. It is not selfish, and it is the way you’ll preserve yourself and your own wellbeing so that you can stay in a healthy mental state and care for others.
For moments of high tension…
Caregiving can come with emotional, financial, and physical stress. When you’re met with one of those high-stress moments, having a way to cope matters. If you’re in a moment of high stress and need something that will ease tension right now, here are some things you can do:
1. Have a signal to give your partner
This could be a word, phrase, gesture, or even an emoji if it’s via text message. If you have signs to give each other that mean, “I’m stressed and need to step aside,” or “I’m feeling down and need support,” it can be incredibly helpful. You can do this with other people in your life, too. Sometimes, it’s hard to communicate your needs when stress is high, and a signal can make it easier.
2. Breathing exercises
Breathing exercises can aid stress relief, sleep, and overall relaxation. The 5-5-5 breathing is an easy one to remember; simply breathe in for five seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, and release your breath for five seconds. Repeat as many times as you need to.
3. Spend time outdoors
Nature is shown to promote stress relief, and if it’s accessible to you, it’s something to take advantage of. Whether this means sitting outside or taking a walk, nature can help to soothe your body and mind and get you in a better headspace.
4. Take on soothing activities
This could be art, listening to music, writing, yoga, simple online games, running, or something else that works for you and is accessible to you.
5. Reach out for social support
Again, this could be via friends, a support group, or a support network. Many people find that having a support system filled with multiple people or groups is advantageous. For example, you might have your friends, your partner, a support network like Supportiv, and a support group or a therapist all at once. This way, you have multiple ways to reach out when you need it.
Your toolbox doesn’t need to look like everyone else’s, but you’ve got to have one. Different coping skills work for different people, and finding what works for you is the goal.
You and your partner are a team, and the chances are that they want to support you as much as you support them. Make yourself a priority, and know that you deserve to get help from other people when you need it.
For more information and other caregiving topics, refer to the rest of Supportiv’s Caregiver Collection here. Remember: you are worth it!