Caring for a Spouse

elderly couple walkingPeople who provide care for an ailing spouse or partner don’t need Valentine’s Day to remind them of the unique challenges they face. Without support from others, those challenges can seem overwhelming. A few simple tips may not make every day into Valentine’s Day, but they can help you remain strong as your bond changes over time: – Connect with others. Spousal caregivers tend to spend more time with their spouses than most married people, yet they often feel extremely alone, especially in the case of disorders that affect cognitive function. There’s no substitute for the support and understanding of other spousal caregivers. The Well Spouse Organization and other groups can connect you with your peers. – Keep communicating. Try to communicate a full range of emotions with your spouse, including gratitude for efforts to support your caregiving. Many caregivers and their spouses develop an intimate brand of humor to express their affection as well as their frustration. (Here are some general tips for communicating with a care recipient.) – Educate yourself. Staying informed about your loved one’s condition isn’t just a way to make sure you’re providing effective care — it can also connect you with other caregivers facing similar challenges. Look into disease-specific support organizations such as The Alzheimer’s Spouse. – Talk about sex. Lost or changing sexual intimacy is one of the most under-discussed challenges caregivers experience, and it’s often not a straightforward matter. For example, it’s sometimes the caregiver’s stress and exhaustion, not the care recipient’s condition, that gets in the way. Air such issues with your partner, if possible, or your support network. – Go easy on yourself. Many spousal caregivers don’t distinguish their responsibilities as a loving spouse from the intensive, day-to-day caregiving they now provide. As a result, they often carry a heavy burden of guilt or resentment about perfectly normal thoughts and feelings. Again, discussing your feelings with others is often the most important step.