When Caregiving Affects Your Relationships
By Julie Hayes | 06/15/2023
There is no question that caregiving takes dedication. Your time, effort, emotions and mental headspace are all invested in this important role. Giving of yourself for the sake of someone else can be a beautiful thing. However, it can leave you without as much time or energy as you would like to take care of not only yourself, but your relationship with others.
Caregiving is often looked at as a partnership between two people—the caregiver and the care receiver—but in reality, it touches many people in different ways. An adult caregiver caring for older parents may struggle to balance this role with having a spouse and a family. In fact, one survey from Caring.com found that 80 percent of baby boomers who provide care for a parent experience strain in their marriage. Relationship strain can also affect young adult caregivers. They may struggle to maintain romantic relationships, and have less time to spend building friendships.
When you’re in this situation, it can feel like you’re being forced to “choose between” your older loved one and your spouse, children or friends, and when either choice means losing someone you love, it can feel heartbreaking and even cruel. Studies show that caregivers already have higher rates of stress, depression and social isolation than non-caregivers, and crumbling relationships only add to the stress and sense of being alone.
Sources of caregiving-related relationship strain
There are many reasons why caregiving can cause strain in outside relationships. When one person in a romantic relationship is a caregiver, the following sources of strain tend to be common:
- Financial difficulties due to caregiving expenses
- Lack of time spent together
- Needing to move closer to or share living space with an older loved one
- Lack of closeness and intimacy
- Difficulty managing the emotional, mental and physical challenges of caregiving
When caregiving responsibilities overwhelm hobbies and interests, caregivers and their friends can also withdraw from each other due to lack of common ground. Caregivers can also fall out of touch with friends due to their busy schedules, and the breaks in communication are often difficult to repair as time passes.
Balancing caregiving with relationships
It’s not always possible to fix every strained relationship in your life. However, it’s important to make an effort to strengthen the bonds most important to you. Caregiver isolation and loneliness is a very real problem—some experts equate the harmfulness of isolation to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day—and it can have a long lasting impact on your emotional, mental and physical wellness. If you feel caregiving is hurting your relationships, consider doing the following:
1. Make it an open discussion
If you notice that a relationship seems to be straining, open up communication as soon as possible before resentment builds. Such conversations can often turn tense and accusatory, so pay attention to how you frame your comments. Instead of using “you” language—such as “Why are you so upset?” or “You’re making this hard for me”—try using “I” language—“I want to feel more supported” or “I feel stressed.” When working for solutions together, you can then move into “we” language, since relationships are a team effort. “We should look for ways to spend more time together” and “We need to make a plan for this.”
It’s important to keep communication open when making decisions about your loved one, too. For example, you should talk to your partner before making decisions about your loved one’s living situation, and make sure they’re genuinely on the same page as you before committing to a decision. Be clear about each other’s boundaries, and make sure you respect your partner’s.
2. Enlist help
Taking on everything by yourself can leave you with little time for anything else. By becoming caregiver, you may feel bound to take on every associated task, but that’s typically not healthy or realistic. Try writing down your schedule. If, between your caregiving responsibilities, job and other obligations, there is little to no time for other people, this is a good sign that something needs to change.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to family, friends and others in the community for support when you need it. Also remember that there are many different types of community services available to help older adults and caregivers—meal delivery services, adult day programs, senior centers, home care, transportation services and financial assistance, just to name a few. Care coordination services like WeCare…Because You Do can also help you in building a care plan that is realistic for your needs.
If you don’t know where to start your search for support, the Administration for Community Living’s Eldercare Locator can help you find what resources are available in your area.
3. Make your wellness a priority
Your wellness may not seem like it has anything to do with the strength of your relationships. But if you’re tired, stressed, depressed, moody or overwhelmed, that tends to affect the people around you whether you mean it to or not.
Be sure to check in with yourself, as well as your doctor. Consider what would make you happier and healthier—more sleep, time to dedicate to hobbies, three balanced meals a day—and make realistic goals to improve your wellness. Scheduling your goals can help you determine when you need other care providers to step in for support.
4. Reach out to counselors
If you’re still struggling to make a relationship work, it might be time to reach out to professional counseling services. Trained counselors can help you and a loved one communicate effectively, work towards practical solutions and respect each other’s feelings and needs.