When your spouse is ill, the focus of your entire life changes and stress levels increase for all areas of your life across the board. And while you love your spouse and you want the best for him or her, the high stress levels that come with serious or prolonged illness sometimes challenge spousal caregivers to behave at the top of their game.
Below we’ve put together a guide to help you through the process of caring for a sick spouse to help you understand what makes this process challenging and how you can deal with it in the best way possible.
The Stresses That Caring for a Spouse Brings
When you take on the added responsibility of caring for a sick spouse, there are certain stresses that have an impact on your relationship, on how you function in the world outside of your home, and on your financial well-being.
Below we talk in greater depth about each of these stressors and what to expect when you take on the challenge of providing care for a loved one who is seriously ill.
More of the Household Responsibilities Fall on You
When a spouse becomes ill, you must often take on a greater proportion of the household responsibilities. This added stress alone may radically change the way that you have to go about your daily routines.
The added household responsibilities are compounded with the responsibility of providing care to your spouse, which may, itself be more than a full-time job. Realistically, you will need to ask other family members and friends or even professionals for assistance to manage it all.
Consider hiring professionals to help you get through the process of taking care of a sick spouse. Even if you decide to do the bulk of the caregiving yourself, you might want to consider hiring someone to help with tasks around the house like taking out the trash or cleaning to give you the time that you need to recuperate and care for your own needs too.
Being unrealistic with yourself about what you can actually accomplish and handle could lead to negative outcomes. On the other hand, if you’re realistic and you create a plan with plenty of “air space” for you to deal with the emotional content of having a sick spouse along with all the added responsibilities, you’ll be more likely to keep your relationship with your spouse in a good place emotionally.
Caregiving Can Be Very Costly and Can Cause Money Issues
Having a sick spouse may lower your income by half or more of what you normally make per year. Having fewer funds, in turn, can make it more difficult for you to balance your resources in a way that will allow you to have a reasonable schedule and time to take care of yourself.
If you’re considering taking on the caregiving responsibilities for a spouse, financial well-being will factor heavily into the equation. If you have to work to support your family and develop a whole new financial plan during this time of crisis, you need to be very reasonable about what you can accomplish during the time when you’re at home.
Illness and Spousal Caregiving Can Cause a Loss of Intimacy
When a spouse becomes ill, intimacy suffers. In fact, the spousal relationship can change dramatically in a variety of ways as a result of a major illness. Though intimacy may be diminished by the challenges of providing focused caregiving, the relationship itself might be strengthened through the process.
But if you know that intimacy can be lost as a result of taking on caregiving responsibilities as a spouse, you can mentally plan for this shifting relational landscape and make efforts to keep intimacy intact, if possible.
Providing ongoing care for a sick spouse can challenge even the strongest relationships. And while you might be very intimate with the caregiving aspects of your relationship such as changing your spouses’ soiled bed linens and assisting him or her with movement from bed to bathroom, there may be little time left to laugh or to have conversations with your spouse about the things that interest you.
As the caregiver, you may find that it’s hard to go to that level of interaction and relating to each other that exists beyond the caregiving needs of your spouse. Finding ways to take breaks from caregiving to recharge and come back to the level of intimacy you’ve always enjoyed with your spouse in the past is an essential element that will keep you motivated as a caregiver.
Spousal Caregiving Can Cause Resentment
Caregiving is a taxing job and if you’re doing it 24/7 for a spouse who is ill and not able to reciprocate, resentment can build up.
Professional caregivers get paid for their services which makes caregiving into a balanced situation. But for a spouse who takes on caregiving as an altruistic deed for their husband or wife, resentment can build up over time if the need for reciprocation isn’t recognized.
Without some form of reciprocation between spouses, the relationship may start to feel one-sided with the sick spouse feeling a lot of guilt and the caregiving spouse feeling exploited.
Dealing with Sick Spouse Stress
Having a sick spouse is stressful by itself without adding caregiving responsibilities into the mix. So, if you take on the responsibility of caregiving for a spouse who is ill, it’s important to follow some of the suggestions we provide below to keep your relationship balanced and to maintain your own health throughout the process.
Compartmentalize Being a Loving Spouse and a Dutiful Nurse
As a caregiver for your sick spouse, you will need to take time off from your nurse-duties. There are different ways to compartmentalize your caregiving to keep it in check and avoid turning into a full-time, on-call nurse for your spouse.
One of the most important things you’ll need to do is make sure that there are other caregivers available to support you daily. No one can be a 24 hour, 7 day-a-week caregiver and expect to perform their caregiving tasks without faltering.
You can compartmentalize your spousal duties and your nurse duties by creating a schedule where you take time off as the caregiver and let someone else do that work.
When someone else is providing care, you need to take some time to transition back into your regular self by perhaps taking a hot bath or by going out for a walk first. Take some time to yourself to switch back into your non-caregiving self and to keep the nurse-self and the caregiving-self compartmentalized.
Get Support from Family
You’ll need support from your family if you’re providing care to a sick spouse. Call on family members to do caregiving shifts so you can take some time to yourself on a regular basis to recharge and rejuvenate. Family members sometimes help in surprising ways when given the opportunity. Support may come to you and your spouse in different forms.
If you’re struggling financially to support your spouse by providing care, reach out and ask for assistance. Though family members may not themselves have the money to donate to your cause, they may be able to put on a spaghetti supper or some other event to help raise funds.
If you need time to yourself, ask for support from trusted family members who would be willing to give you some much needed time off. If you don’t have family members you can trust to provide care to your spouse, ask them to help you take out the trash or do some light cleaning to help you stay on top of your various responsibilities.
Get Medical Support If Needed
If your spouse is sick and he or she needs a lot of assistance in your home, consider hiring a home health aide or a Consumer-Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) aide to help you not only with caregiving but with household chores as well.
Through the CDPAP program in participating states, you can hire a child, friend, or another relative to help care for your spouse. These relatives are reimbursed for their time and efforts through Medicaid, freeing you up to do whatever else needs to be done to support your household.
Though spouses and parents caring for children under 21 years of age can’t be reimbursed for caregiving through the CDPAP program, as a spouse you can hire trusted family members to provide caregiving and they’ll be reimbursed for their time through Medicaid.
This program can relieve some of the stress that comes with having a sick spouse and family members who work as caregivers through this program can make a living wage through CDPAP to support their own households.
Ask the Sick Spouse to Give
Finally, if you’re providing care to a sick spouse, give your spouse ways to give back to your relationship that are within his or her power to perform. Often, sick spouses feel a lot of guilt about the position they’re in and this guilt can lead to anger, which in turn, leads to misunderstandings.
If you give your sick spouse the opportunity to give something back to you to reciprocate for all of your caregiving efforts, this will help keep the relationship healthy and avoid feelings of resentment that can build up over time.
Though your spouse may not be healthy enough to take out the trash or vacuum the floor, he or she may be able to dry dishes next to you while seated. Or perhaps you can give your spouse the task of finding relaxing programs to watch on TV when your caregiving “shift” ends.
Think about “jobs” for your spouse to do to help them feel less guilty about their illness and to take some of the stress off your shoulders at the end of a long day. This will keep your relationship healthy so that you and your spouse can continue to enjoy each other’s company as a source of enjoyment and mutual support.