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Relationships And Caring

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Relationships and Caring

This information is intended to raise awareness of the impact of being in the caring role for a partner or member of the family.

Caring is such a small word for such a big set of actions and the word “carer” can start an avalanche of misunderstandings around what that really means and the changes that inevitably happen. Some of the readers of this factsheet will know only too well just what it means for them, and some may be about to embark on the joys and challenges of being a carer now or in the near future.

Relationships are rarely fixed in just one pattern throughout life. They grow and change with every life stage and life event and most people manage to navigate through smooth and troubled waters most of the time. However, when a partner or family member becomes less abled – and that may be for a variety of reasons usually associated with ill health – it may not be easy to acknowledge that a different kind of relationship will emerge.

There is often a transition period as the adjustments to being a carer start to kick in. During this transition people will often try hard to hold on to the way things had been before the illness or disability. Various stages of denial, shock and anger will be quite usual, although in some situation like dementia, changes can take place over a longer time span.

So, how do people cope, and what happens in the transition period and afterwards?

  • The way that people cope is often determined by previous life experiences and therefore varies from person to person. Life has probably dealt a few curved balls from time to time and it would be quite usual to either “fight” like mad to manage things, or take “flight” from the situation. This fight/flight syndrome is something that you might like to think about. Which is more common for you? Does it always work
  • One thing is certain that relationships will change and sometimes with no chance to negotiate the changes. It will be important to remember that the person you are caring for will have a history with you, that no life stage or event can take away – hopefully there will be happier times in that history that you can recall when needed.
  • Your health and wellbeing needs to take an equal priority to the loved one you are caring for. So think about what things (activities/relationships/interests) you really want to keep. It is rarely necessary to give up all of the things that give you an identity when you also take up a caring role for loved one. When you are firmly in the role of carer, (and you may be juggling different roles at the same time) it can help to think about an image that you can keep in mind to monitor how much you are giving to being a carer, especially if you feel isolated, overwhelmed, tired and stretched.

Here are two examples that might be. However, you might like to think about or draw your own: 

  • Think about your caring role as a thermometer or traffic lights, all the time you are in the green area, things will probably be managed. If you find yourself feeling the strain you are probably in the yellow area. If things are just overwhelming you will be in the “resentment” zone and then it is time to re-examine your support network, talk to others about spreading the load, and pull back into yellow or green again. Maybe even talk to your partner or family member and re-negotiate what you can do and what someone else may be able to.
    • In this zone, I am coping with my tasks and time and I am happy to accept my role as carer
    • In this zone, I am prepared to stretch myself a bit over and above my role as carer
    • Resentment zone

Imagine you are the stand of the scales shown below - the two bowls of the scales are loaded with two parts of yourself. One carries all your loves and likes in life in general and the other one carries all your loves and likes in life in your caring role.

scalesSometimes the scales will tip one way and then the other, when you feel overwhelmed it might be useful to think if the weights need re-balancing.

You might also like to take this one a step further and list what tasks and time actually go in each bowl, it can be quite a surprise.

Talk to other people who are caring for partners or family members

It is always comforting to talk to others in a similar position. However, each relationship and situation is different and just because something works for one person it does not mean it will work for you. Relate counsellors can help with your individual and specific struggles.

This factsheet was produced by Relate, charity number 207314, company number 394221. Revised April 2019.

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