The sacred vows exchanged in a marriage will undergo many tests in the course of a lifetime. But few things will test a marriage more than when a spouse becomes a caregiver. If you’re faced with that prospect, or you’ve recently gone through such an emotional upheaval, here are some things you can expect as you move forward.
You and your spouse will have a variety of intense emotional responses. This is normal. Your spouse’s radical change, whether it’s a spinal cord injury, chronic disease, loss of a limb, or any other number of debilitating circumstances will test both of you. Anger and bitterness are to be expected, but you should also prepare to feel fear and anxiety that you won’t be able to physically or emotionally be able to handle your new stations in life.
You will also mourn the loss of your spouse’s health as you struggle to adapt to what your future may be instead of what you had planned it to be. Isolation is another common response, especially during the inevitable quiet times. You may also feel guilty because many of your own needs are now going unmet.
Adjusting to a new routine will take time. As the caregiver, you will also need to take over most, if not all, of the chores that keep a household in smooth working order. The division of labor (who does the laundry, cooking, cleaning and so forth) will all fall on you. These added burdens will also come on top of new responsibilities that come for caring with your spouse. Depending on the severity of their disability, you may also need to undertake personal grooming for them, administer pain medications, change dressings and bedding, and other numerous related tasks. Accept that things will not be easy. You may find it hard, but you will need to accept what has happened and embrace your new set of circumstances, as difficult as that may seem.
One of the major decisions you’ll need to make is whether or not to get a professional caretaker to help on an ongoing basis. Some people find it hard to accept that they can’t do it all, but for many, the sooner they realize just how difficult it can be to do it alone, the better their situation becomes when someone else steps in to ease their burden. You should not fear or feel awkward about assistance. It is there for a reason.
Being a caregiver to your spouse is definitely stressful, but it can also be dangerous to your own health as well. Consider these warning signs as legitimate reasons to seek outside help.
- Not eating properly due to a lack of time
- Losing sleep
- Getting out of your exercise routine
- Drinking too much alcohol or using drugs to dull your own pain
- Feeling depressed or hopeless
- A loss of energy
- An inability to feel joy or happiness with things that you normally do
- Resentment toward your spouse
- Ignoring your own health problems and doctor’s appointments
- Not connecting with friends in your social network like you have in the past
Many of these are normal reactions when your spouse becomes ill or disabled. You are not only your spouse’s caregiver, but you must also be your own caregiver as well. If you are reluctant to seek help for your own issues, consider this. You can’t be a good caregiver to someone else if you can’t take care of yourself first. The truth is, your spouse will be in a much better place when you are in a much better place.