How to Be an Exceptional Caregiver for a Spouse: 16 Tips

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Numerous circumstances can lead you in becoming a caregiver for your spouse. Accidents, illness, dementia, and general decline are just some of the few. Caregiving can be a sudden unexpected event or a slowly progressing situation. No matter how it happens, caregiving for a spouse can be disruptive to your life and your relationship. 

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Having a roadmap to navigate caring for a spouse will help you be a better caregiver, a healthier person, and maintain your relationship’s integrity. The journey may have some bumps along the way, but flexibility and compassion for your spouse and yourself can help you get through.

How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy When Caring for a Spouse

The dynamics of any relationship are complicated. Through time it is natural for spouses to develop habits and routines that evolve into the emotional glue binding them together.

When one spouse needs care from the other, that balance can be disrupted. When this happens, it can feel as though you and your spouse are unmoored from the ties that connect you. Reasserting your bond takes some work, but you can do it, and you may end up being closer than ever before.

1. Focus on good communication

Open and honest communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship. Overwhelming, unfamiliar emotions and feelings from both the caregiver and receiver make good communication more important than ever. 

  • Listen to one another: Allow one another space and time to express frustrations and anger—schedule regular times to talk about feelings and practice good listening skills. When someone feels heard, they feel cared for and loved.
  • Ask for what you need: Each of you may have different needs, and expressing those is healthy. It is far better to have open communication than to let the pressure build. You can’t expect your spouse to read your mind, and you can’t read theirs. Rather than make assumptions, just ask!
  • Offer support: It is easy to assume what support means to your spouse, but they may want and need something entirely different. Ask how you can be more supportive and make sure it happens by making support a part of your daily routine.

2. Your Spouse is an adult

No matter how physically or mentally impaired your spouse is, they are still an adult. Reminding yourself of this will prevent you from slipping into treating them as a dependent even though they may be relying on you for much of their care. Try always to show respect and include your spouse in decisions.

3. Understanding intimacy

Intimacy may change dramatically when you are caring for your spouse. Physical or mental limitations can alter the intimate contact you had before. You may need to recalibrate your expectations and consider other forms of intimacy to keep the emotional connection between you alive.

Your spouse may feel unattractive or undesirable in this new care receiving role. Acts of intimacy such as touch, massage, and romantic gestures can keep the spark alive. 

4. Avoid isolation

Isolation from friends, family, and outside activity is not healthy and can contribute to mental health problems. There may be significant challenges to getting out of the house or otherwise accessing gatherings or other social events.

Try not to let this stop you from reaching out to let people know you want and need to see them. Even using video platforms or phone calls to connect with people is better than nothing at all.

5. Reassess your roles

In a relationship, it is natural for each person to assume specific responsibilities. When one partner is no longer able to do that, it means the caregiver has to take over some of those duties. The transition can be shocking and overwhelming if you don’t know what you are doing.

Discuss how to manage this reassessment of roles and responsibilities and talk about how important it is for each person to be flexible and accepting.

6. Look for joy

Sometimes you have to look for joy. When caregiver duties and burdens seem all-consuming, it can be challenging to find things to feel good about.

Those activities and thoughts that bring joy won’t come looking for you, so you need to go grab them. It might be something as simple as watching a funny movie together or going for a drive to get out of the house. You may even need to put your joy activities on your calendar.

7. Consider marriage therapy

Marriage therapy is not an admission of failure. Therapy is not that different from hiring a coach or other professional to help you improve some aspect of your life.

When either of you feels that your relationship is not headed in a healthy direction, it might be time to try marriage counseling. Most therapists offer virtual therapy, so you don’t even have to leave the house.

How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout When Caring for a Spouse

Avoiding caregiver burnout is one of the toughest challenges of any caregiver. Part of the difficulty is recognizing that you have reached caregiver burnout and then doing something about it.

Caregiving can be rewarding, and you are showing your love to your spouse by providing for their needs. But, when you find yourself constantly exhausted, depressed, irritable, and feeling hopeless, you are probably experiencing caregiver burnout.

8. Take care of yourself

Taking care of yourself is a lot harder than it sounds. Caring for your own needs might seem selfish or take you away from important caregiving duties. The fact is, you will be a better, more compassionate caregiver if you take care of yourself.

Carving out time each day for exercise, meditation, yoga, or any other activity you have a passion for will keep you calm and centered. Prioritizing good nutrition and sleep will also help. 

9. Ask for help

We know how hard this can be. Asking for help might make you feel as though you can’t handle your spousal caregiving duties or you don’t want to burden other people. Most people are happy to help you, with a bit of guidance. Chances are, they may not know what to do.

Be brave and reach out with specific tasks that someone can help you with. Even the little things can take some pressure off of you. If necessary, consider hiring in-home help for tasks like cooking, cleaning, transportation, and shopping. In-home care is very flexible, and you can request as many or as few hours as you need. 

10. Look for resources

Caregiver resources are plentiful and include in-person and online information, support, and forums. Depending on the level of support your spouse needs, there are videos, webinars, and a vast wealth of reliable information on almost any medical or cognitive disorder. The emotional benefits of not feeling alone in caring for a spouse are very comforting.

11. Set realistic goals

As an overachieving caregiver who wants to do everything for their spouse, things can get out of hand. You can’t do everything, and there are only so many hours in the day. One way of feeling in control and simultaneously making progress is to set realistic caregiving goals.

Setting small achievable goals helps your spouse feel as though they are working towards recovery or at least making progress. Writing daily goals will keep you focused, and you and your spouse can discuss and adjust as necessary.

How to Prevent Caregiver Resentment When Caring for a Spouse

Life can come at you fast, and when you become a caregiver for your spouse, resentment can build. Neither of you wants or expects to become a caregiver for the other, and life for both of you changes in unexpected ways. You may not be able to eliminate caregiver resentment completely, but you can cope with it. 

12. Find a safe way to vent

Anger and irritability are common responses to the stress and strain of caregiving. Taking those feelings out on your spouse might contribute to relationship issues and increase tensions.

Try to find a way to vent your feelings that won’t affect your relationship. Go outside for a walk, talk to a friend or any other activity that releases your frustrations.

13. Keep a journal

Keeping a journal can be a way of expressing your feelings and, for many people, is therapeutic and comforting.

It is worth a try, and journaling is also an excellent way to track your experience and the progress you and your spouse are making. Some people prefer pen and paper and others use audio to record their thoughts each day.

14. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you. Meditation and yoga, or any other activity can be a good way to practice mindfulness.

Part of mindfulness practice involves deep, slow breathing, which has been found to reduce anxiety and stress. You can practice mindfulness any time, anywhere. To get started, check online for some training modules, alongside any mindfulness and meditation apps. 

15. Talk to someone

Talking to someone can be a valuable way to express feelings and explore ways to deal with caregiver resentment. You can speak with a friend, family member, spiritual advisor, or therapist. Find someone you trust and feel comfortable with.

16. Movement

Movement is part of self-care and a crucial way to cope with caregiver resentment. Resentment is emotional and physical. Tension, anxiety, and anger manifest physically, and any kind of movement releases tension and helps control emotions. Yoga, biking, swimming, walking, running are some of the options. 

Being a Caregiver for a Spouse

You are on a new and unfamiliar journey as you become a caregiver for your spouse. Don’t forget to take time for yourself, and remember the bonds that connect you. Although things have changed, you can still keep your love strong.

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