We call long-term and unpaid care for a partner, family member, friend or acquaintance informal care. Most informal carers look after their own partner.
Caring for a partner can be temporary. A broken ankle can be healed and then you both go back to your old lives. But sometimes the worry is permanent. Such as chronic conditions, long-term physical limitations and mental decline. As a carer, you accompany your partner to the doctor, nursing staff and hospital, for example. But often you also pick up everything else. For example, household chores, organizing tasks, administration or personal care of your partner, such as dressing and washing. All of these can affect the bond between you and your partner. For example, what will change?
It no longer responds
The equality between the two of you changes as your partner becomes more and more dependent on you. You interact in a different way. It is no longer natural to support or trust each other, to have personal conversations and laugh at the same jokes. You can’t always share your feelings with your partner anymore. It becomes more difficult to make a decision together. Also understand each other.
You find each other less attractive
The need for physical proximity and sex is changing. The ‘sick’ may have less need for it, but you as a relative have less time and energy for it. You are both less attractive to each other. Partners and lovers then become carers and patients.
You’re not who you used to be (and neither is your partner)
You may be tired of your caregiving duties, your partner may be tired because of his or her condition. Fatigue has a big impact on how you feel. You are more likely to get annoyed with the other person or discouraged by the situation because it is difficult to keep things cozy together. In Alzheimer’s or dementia, behavior can change much more. Your partner may say things that you are not used to. Your partner no longer sees everything and may be anxious or angry as a result. And you don’t know how to handle this.
Do you fully or partially recognize this? You are not the only one. Research from MantelzorgNL shows that 40 percent of informal carers surveyed miss the fact that they can no longer discuss everything with their partner. 45 percent primarily miss the physical familiarity of the past. But there is also another side. Many partners report that their relationship has become stronger as a result of the illness and the informal care. They discovered unexpected strengths within themselves and noticed their relationship deepening. Below are twelve tips that can help keep your relationship valuable. Tips that you can benefit from if you are a carer for your partner. And as you may recognize.
- Look for a new balance together. Taking everything from the other’s hands is usually not necessary and not good. It makes your partner feel like he or she no longer counts. And you feel that you are alone.
- Don’t take negative behavior personally. It is hard to have a chronic condition. It is normal for your partner to be angry or frustrated at times.
- Don’t try to fight deterioration, but move with it. If you notice that walking is no longer possible, go out with the wheelchair. In this way, you learn to focus on what is still possible, instead of what is no longer possible.
- Cherish moments. Both for yourself and for your partner, it is valuable to pay extra attention to the beautiful moments. Drinking a cup of tea together in the sun. Have a lovely day with one of the children. A notebook where you write down these moments can help give them extra attention.
- Ask for help. Everyone can provide care. It is not about heavy or boring jobs at all. Friends and relatives will also want to do something for both of you. One reads the newspaper with your partner, the other cooks weekly or takes your partner outside for a breath of fresh air. Also get professional help. Domestic help through the municipality, home care through your general practitioner.
- Try to understand your partner’s condition. Read about the disease and ask him or her questions. Where does it hurt and when? What bothers your partner the most and what helps him or her? What is he or she most afraid of?
- Remain respectful. Even if your partner can no longer understand the world due to mental decline and he or she sometimes says strange things. Don’t treat your partner as if he or she no longer matters. Because that only makes him or her insecure. And your partner is not always wrong. Sometimes your partner comes up with very clever statements out of his or her confusion.
- Park thoughts about the future. The future is uncertain. That’s just how it is. What awaits you both is unknown. Worry doesn’t make much sense. Enjoy what is still there. And solve today’s problems.
- Keep doing fun things together. Doing something fun together quickly loses its way if one of the two is not feeling well. Still, it is important to the relationship. Keep doing things consciously, even if it’s just something small.
- Walk alone. If your partner can’t leave the house, it doesn’t mean you have to stay at home. Get out the door every now and then. Shopping, at a museum, for a friend, for one of the children. You sympathize with your partner, but you don’t have to suffer.
- Protect physical intimacy. Sitting together on the sofa is also intimate. Listening to music, holding hands, snuggling in bed. These are small moments of great importance. Because you touch each other in a loving way.
- Talk openly about your wishes and expectations.