Most relationships have ups and downs, but how many of us think about what it might be like to be faced with the responsibility of caring for a partner on a full-time basis. Did you know that there are 2.8 million people over the age of 50, providing unpaid care in the UK? Of course, some people enter into relationships with someone who is already disabled, with their eyes wide open, fully prepared to look after them 24 hours a day. However, for most of us, the role of carer is thrust upon us, either because of an accident, or long-term illness. It’s not surprising to learn that not all relationships survive, especially when you think of the pressures placed on each partner. It changes the whole dynamics of a relationship for all sorts of reasons.
If we take two able-bodied people, living together, there is usually an assumption that both will share certain responsibilities and maybe some social activities, but each will be able to function independently of the other most of the time. One partner may be better at DIY, the other may be a good cook, but hopefully it all balances out and each partner will feel fairly equal in the relationship.
So, what happens when you become responsible for caring for a partner? Well, of course it depends on what sort of relationship existed previously. If both partners are already devoted to each other, that may make it easier to adapt to their new roles. However, both being a carer and being cared for, raises a huge number of issues for each person. The carer may find that they are now responsible for the running of the household, including all financial affairs, as well as looking after their partner. The dependant may need to rely on their partner for the majority of their needs, ranging from washing and dressing to medication and mobility.
Each has to cope with a range of difficult emotions. The carer may experience worry and anxiety about the well-being of their partner, as well as their own ability to cope with the added stress, long-term. The dependant may suffer with anxiety and stress about their condition and how they might deteriorate. In addition, both partners may share feelings of guilt, frustration, fear, grief, loneliness and resentment at different times. However, it’s more than likely, that neither will want to burden the other by telling each other about how they feel. As a carer, you may feel you have no one to talk to and maybe even feel disloyal talking behind your partner’s back. However, counselling can provide an opportunity to off-load your feelings in a safe, confidential space.
Not all of us are natural carers and it can feel a huge sacrifice, giving up our freedom and lifestyle to look after another’s personal care needs. As individuals, we all have a choice as to how we respond to drastic changes in our lives and there is no right or wrong way.