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Issue 90, September 2005

The Impact of Caring on Relationships

by Lyn Fletcher, Relationships Australia

Most of us don’t like being sick and it isn’t easy caring for someone who is, even when you know that they will get better. When someone is chronically ill, or has a disability, - there is no end to the caring required. It goes on - sometimes for years. Day in, day out, the need for care controls the events and patterns of their lives, disrupting what most folk think of as a normal life. Caring can also change the pattern of relationships -bringing with it new challenges to the families concerned. If the person being cared for is a child, the dynamics of the relationship may not change much as they are already dependent to some extent. With adult relationships though, these changes can be profound.

Early in the caring process the new dependence of one person on another may bring about changes in power and raise issues of trust and commitment. Adapting to the new role for both the carer and the one being cared for challenges even those with the soundest of relationships and good skills in communicating and relating to others. One’s patience is tried, at times goodwill is stretched beyond limits and if the person you are now caring for was the one who used to provide you with support the world can feel like it has turned upside down. The loss of mutuality and togetherness can leave you feeling unsupported and very alone.

Longer term carers become accustomed to these changes and many simply learn to do without the ‘partnership’ that they were accustomed to. Sacrificing your own needs and concerns in order to provide care for the one you love becomes a pattern.

Sometimes the process of caring itself not only changes your partner relationship but also cuts off carers from other means of contact and support. It seems that there isn’t the time and opportunity when you are caring for someone, to make time for yourself or for what becomes the ‘luxury’ of social contacts. Friends become fewer, relatives no longer call by, adding to the isolation you feel and eventually it just feels like it’s you alone that is carrying the burden of caring. This can become a ‘catch 22’ where you begin to feel that no-one else can care in the way you do, the person being cared for won’t accept someone else caring for them and so it goes.

As much as you love the person who is being cared for though, you can’t go on caring indefinitely without it taking a toll, emotionally, mentally and physically on the carer. Every one needs to have time out from caring from time to time - using respite care or time offered by other relatives or friends. Looking after yourself by taking time out means that you are caring for your relationship as well. You come to them with a fresh perspective and renewed energy more able to give the patience and understanding that they need from you as a carer.

Getting whatever help you can to assist with the caring is also an important step in being able to continue the caring without jeopardising your own health and well­being or the relationship with the one cared for. You might think that you can’t get help -whether from organisations in the community, other family members or from friends, and learning how to ask for and accept help is difficult. When you’re the carer it is hard to acknowledge that you need something and to accept some caring for yourself.

It is these two important things, time for yourself and help and support from others, which make the difference between surviving the experience of caring or just coping with it. The provision of respite care, financial, practical and emotional support for carers are all important elements to ensure that families with carers are able to remain together and continue their caring role for as long as it is needed.

If you are a carer, new to the role or longer term, looking after yourself and your relationships are both important factors in being able to continue caring for those you love. Being attuned to the changes that caring for someone can cause in you and your family and getting help with managing these changes if needed, can help you adapt and ensure that relationships stay robust and endure all that caring brings -stresses, strains, challenges and (sometimes) joy and rewards.

“Carers News” the newsletter of Carers NSW, March 2005
“Gateway” the newsletter of AHDA (NSW) May/June 2005

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