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4 Tips to Balance Caregiving and Relationships

It’s vital to your well-being to strengthen the other important bonds in your life.

Doctor advises female patient; Getty Images

Julie Hayes is the Content Manager at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

Caring for your older love one can leave you with an enormous sense of fulfillment. Your role is tremendously valuable to this person who means so much to you. Yet it goes without saying that the job requires abundant time and energy and an often laser-like focus. Where does this leave your own self-care, not to mention the other relationships that matter so much to you?

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Caregiving is generally considered to be a two-party relationship. It’s between you and your loved one. In truth, however, caregiving affects multiple people in various ways. An adult who cares for an older mother or father may find it difficult to juggle caregiving and having a spouse and children. Tellingly, a survey from found that 80 percent of baby boomers who provide care for a parent experience strain on their marriage. Young adult caregivers are not immune to this issue either. They may grapple with maintaining romantic relationships, as well as friendships, due to time constraints and other pressures.

As a caregiver to an older loved one, you may feel that you have to make a choice between that person and your spouse, children or friends. When that comes down to losing any important relationship in your life, it can be painful. According to studies, caregivers already have higher rates of stress, depression and social isolation than noncaregivers. Watching people you love fall away can only intensify these issues. But you can take steps to help maintain these valuable relationships.

Causes of caregiver strain in outside relationships

Several caregiving-related factors can contribute to strain in outside relationships. In romantic relationships, for example, when one of the two people is a caregiver, the following issues often cause strain:

  • Financial problems arising from caregiving costs
  • Time constraints
  • Having to move near to or in with an older family member
  • Lack of closeness and intimacy
  • Trouble handling the emotional, mental and physical tolls of caring for an older loved one

It’s also easy for hobbies and interests that unite people to fall by the wayside, which can lead to the dwindling of friendships. There are only so many hours in the day and, as a result, caregivers can lose touch with friends. Breaks in communication can become tougher to mend with every passing day, so it’s important to head off this potential issue.

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Juggling caregiving and relationships

Sometimes it isn’t feasible to repair each strained relationship you have. But when you take steps to strengthen the bonds that mean the most to you, it can go a long way toward boosting your well-being. Caregiver isolation and loneliness are to be taken seriously. Some experts equate the harmfulness of isolation to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, and isolation can take a toll on your emotional, mental and physical well-being. The following tips may help if you feel your relationships are being negatively impacted by your caregiving responsibilities:

  1. Open up communication

If you spot strain in a relationship, start an open discussion as quickly as you can before resentments pile up. These sorts of discussions have a tendency to become tense and accusatory, so be careful with how you state your feelings. Rather than using “you” language—like “What’s making you so angry?” or “You’re adding to my stress”—try using “I” language—“I want to feel appreciated” or “I am stressed out.” Once the two of you put your heads together, you can then move into “we” language, since relationships are a joint enterprise. “We need to carve out more time to be together” or “We need to schedule time for us.”

Open discussions are also key in making decisions about your loved one. Make an effort, for instance, to speak with your partner before you make changes to your loved one’s living environment, so that the two of you are in agreement in advance of such a major decision. Set clear boundaries for both of you and then respect them.

  1. Reach out for help

Doing everything by yourself can eat up most of your time. As a responsible caregiver, you may believe it’s your duty to handle every task that comes with the territory, but that’s neither healthy nor realistic. Consider making a list of all that you do on a daily basis. If, among your caregiving duties, job and other responsibilities, there is little to no time for others in your life, it’s a good indication that a change is in order.

Allow yourself to call upon family, friends and community resources for help when necessary. Keep in mind that there are a variety of community services available to assist older adults and caregivers—meal delivery services, adult day programs, senior centers, home care, transportation services and financial assistance, among them. 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’re not sure where to begin, the Administration for Community Living’s Eldercare Locator can help you locate resources in your area.

  1. Prioritize your well-being

You may think that your well-being has nothing to do with the success of your relationships. However, if you’re exhausted, stressed, depressed, irritable or frazzled, it tends to have an impact on others, even though you don’t intend it to.

Make it a habit to check in with yourself, as well as your physician. Give some thought to what would make you happier and healthier—more rest, time to work on creative projects, three balanced meals a day—and make realistic goals to boost your well-being. Scheduling time to see to these things can give you a good idea of when you need other care providers to lend a helping hand.

  1. Seek counseling

If you continue to feel strain in a relationship, you may want to consider contacting professional counseling services. Trained counselors can help you and a beloved friend or family member communicate effectively, come up with practical solutions and respect one another’s feelings and needs.

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