Carers: changing relationships

Becoming a carer for your partner or loved one can change the way your relationship works. We speak to one carer about her experience and how her caring role has affected her marriage.

Caring for your partner can cause complex changes in your relationship. Rosemary has been a carer for her husband, who has Parkinson’s and a degenerative spinal disease, for the last seven years.

Role reversal

When she became a carer, Rosemary’s routine completely changed and she had to leave her job as a nanny and registered child minder. In the last year Rosemary’s husband has lost a lot of his ability to walk, leaving him less mobile and increasing her caring responsibilities.

“My caring role is a lot of cleaning, cooking, personal care for him, but he can still get in and out of the shower,” explains Rosemary.

This leaves Rosemary with little time to rest or care for herself, it has also caused a shift in the way their relationship works.

“It’s changed a lot, I’m more like his mum now,” admits Rosemary.

“He was always like my carer, he always did things for me and now the roles have been reversed so it has taken a while to get used to, I still feel resentful sometimes and I think that’s normal.

“Even the physical relationship has changed because my husband is so ill and on high doses of a lot of medicine, when that wears off he’s in a lot of pain so he’s sad a lot,” continues Rosemary. “It’s hard for me to watch.”

Concern

With her husband’s condition deteriorating and appointments delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rosemary is concerned about his physical and mental wellbeing.

“We need a stair lift now because my husband is struggling with the stairs, but there’s no [social work] visits at the minute so coronavirus has made it really difficult,” explains Rosemary.

“I think it will be years before he gets a stair lift and it could be too late then which is horrible to say,” she continues. “The way he walks now is like a toddler and it makes me worry because he falls into things and could hurt himself.”

As well as her husband’s mental wellbeing, the current situation and responsibility is also affecting Rosemary’s mental health, she says: “My husband gets very depressed and he is in pain all of the time and that rubs off, it can be very negative at times.

“It’s not easy but we try to keep it light and make jokes about things.”

Guidance

There is still uncertainty around when treatment will return to normal, but Rosemary feels more support for unpaid carers could be implemented.

“I get carers allowance but a little bit more money would also be wonderful and just someone I could talk to would be nice, someone in the same situation,” admits Rosemary.

Having someone to talk to who understands her situation would fill a gap for Rosemary who misses the socialisation of the workplace. The recent shift to online resources has also meant Rosemary feels lonely and unable to access essential support.

“With the virus everything has gone online and I’m not really into that,” emphasises Rosemary. “I prefer reality and meeting up with people but obviously that’s not happening so now I feel isolated and cut off.”

Family

Rosemary’s relationship with her husband has undeniably changed, but other relationships in her family have adapted in different ways.

The couple’s son often comes over to offer help, allowing Rosemary to spend a few hours out of the house, but the changes in the relationship with their daughter has left Rosemary shocked.

“She’s estranged us because she couldn’t cope with my husband’s diagnosis,” reveals Rosemary. “That’s a downside, family not being able to cope because my husband has changed.

“There’s nothing you can do, you just have to accept it and that’s the most difficult thing.”

Although this change has left Rosemary disheartened, she tries to remain positive and not look too far ahead, something she would encourage new carers to keep in mind.

“It’s not as bad as we would have thought seven years on, I feel not thinking ahead too much is important because everyone is different,” explains Rosemary.

Becoming a carer can change and affect each individual relationship in its own ways, but it is still possible to keep your connection. Entering your caring role without expectations of how your loved one’s condition will progress and seeking support can make your situation easier.

The power of talking

Becoming a carer can feel overwhelming and put a strain on your relationship. Relate relationship counsellor Peter Saddington believes communication is essential to maintaining a strong relationship.

“Most relationships start with a couple that is equal in terms of their abilities within the relationship,” explains Peter. “If that changes through illness or some other reason, the relationship in a sense goes through a stage almost of bereavement.”

Finding a way to work through this stage along with any feelings of guilt or resentment will help you to define what the relationship will look like moving forward.

“Talk honestly about what each person is going to do and work with what each person can realistically do,” suggests Peter.

Along with talking to your partner, speaking to a trusted loved one or a professional can help, Peter urges: “Ask for help for yourself, don’t just absorb everything: if you get that support you will probably manage it and make a really good job of it.”

Creating the space to talk about your expectations and needs will lead to a stronger relationship in the future.

“It’s obviously going to feel different in the relationship and it can be really tough, you didn’t sign up to become a carer for your partner,” emphasises Peter. “If your relationship survives such a dramatic change, it is much stronger.”

If you would like more advice on speaking to your partner about how you feel or want to contact a counsellor, speak to Relate.

If you are caring for a partner and want to seek support, contact:

Carers Network

Carers Trust

Carers UK

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