Dealing with changing relationships
Looking after someone can have a big impact on relationships, in both good and bad ways. It can be difficult to know how to deal with your changing relationship with the person you look after.
Looking after someone can bring you closer to that person as you'll probably spend more time with them than you have in the past so you can build an even closer bond. If the person you care for's condition deteriorates, you may find that the dynamics of your relationship changes over time, this is especially true if you’re caring for someone with dementia.
Caring can also strengthen your bonds with those around you. For instance, you might have a sense of a shared experience with other family members who are assisting you and find some comfort from that.
On the other hand, it is understandable that caring for someone can strain relationships and cause tension between you as the carer, the person you care for and family and friends. As the main carer you may feel that other people aren't doing enough to help you and this can cause resentment. The demands of caring can also affect the amount of time you have to spend with friends and other family members so they may feel pushed away.
It can be very difficult to deal with changing relationships so if you are struggling make sure you get some support. Maybe you could join a carer support group or use an online carer community to get advice from other carers.
Maintaining your relationship with the person you care for
In the early stages of caring for someone you should try to keep things as normal as possible and carry on doing things you both enjoy. Try to do things with the person, rather than for them, so that they stay involved in daily household life and don’t feel like you’re patronising them. They may still be able to complete tasks, but just need a little more time.
If the person you care for was previously fit and well, they will likely find it very difficult and frustrating that they now need you to care for them. It's possible that they will take their frustration out on you as the person they are closest to. They may do this by snapping at you, shouting or sulking.
Try to be understanding, keep calm and don't snap back at them. It's difficult, but the best thing you can do is ignore the person or leave the room to give them chance to calm down. When they are in a better mood you could talk to them about how it makes you feel.
If you are struggling to cope with your changing relationship then don't be afraid to get support - the carers directory has details of support groups, telephone helplines and support services.
Practical things you can do to help maintain your relationship
- Spend quality time together - set regular times to spend time with the person you care for doing activities where you can be on a more equal footing. It could be as simple as sitting down to watch a film together, playing cards or having a chat about a topic you are both interested in. It could be going out for a meal or, if the person you care for is able, going for walk.
- Talk to each other. If the person you care for is able to understand, talk to them about your changing relationship. It's likely they share the same worries and feelings and talking about it will help you stay close to one another.
- Show affection. It's important that you let the person you look after know that you care as it helps you stay close. Obviously the nature of your relationship (married couple, siblings, parent/child) will depend on the level of affection you show but don't be afraid to give hugs and kisses. You can also show affection verbally by telling the person how you feel about them.
- Taking time out - caring for someone can be difficult and stressful. It will be easier to maintain a positive relationship if you get regular breaks from caring.
- Don't dwell on how things were. If the person you care for used to be fit and well you will probably find that you miss how things used to be. Many carers grieve for how the person they care for used to be, particularly if you are a couple. Some couples find their roles have reversed, for example, the protector is now the person being protected. But try to look forward rather than back. Things may be different but look for positives if you can - it may be that one positive is that you now get to spend much more time together than you did in the past.
- Get professional support. A relationship counsellor will listen to you without judging and encourage you to talk about your worries. They will be able to give practical advice on maintaining your relationship.
Counselling services in Derbyshire
Relate offer family and relationship counselling services, both online (web chat) and in person at one of their local branches.
- North Derbyshire Relate can be contacted on tel: 01246 231010
- Derby and South Derbyshire service on tel: 01332 349177
Maintaining relationships with friends and family
It can be difficult for carers to maintain relationships with friends and family, particularly if you've become a carer suddenly.
Caring responsibilities may mean you have to repeatedly turn down invitations or cancel plans at the last minute. Friends who haven't got experience of caring will find it difficult to understand and may gradually stop inviting you places.
They may also feel awkward about visiting you at home for fear of getting in the way or feeling uncomfortable around the person you care for. A lot of the time friends and family just don't know what to do.
There are a few things you can do to maintain friendships:
- Try not to make arrangements to meet friends unless you are sure you'll be able to keep them. This is easier said than done of course, and sometimes the unexpected happens and you have no option to cancel. But try not to make arrangements to go out unless you've got firm arrangements in place for the person you care for - this could be a trusted family member coming to sit with them while you go out with friends.
- Don't be scared to tell your friends how you feel. If you are struggling with your caring role then talk to your friends. If they feel you trust them and want their help they are more likely to work at maintaining the friendship.
- Use modern technology. It's never been easier to keep in touch with people. Use your phone, social media and messaging to talk to friends and family. If you struggle to get out, why not have a regular time each week where you speak to your friend by phone or video messaging? There are even video messaging apps available where multiple people can have conversations - perfect if you have a group of friends.
- Ask your friends for a small amount of help. The help could be getting you some shopping or sitting with the person you look after for a short time. Most friends and family members will be happy to help you out if you tell them exactly what will help you. Afterwards, remember to thank them and let them know you appreciate even a small amount of help - if they feel you need them then they will probably be happy to be there for you.
- Invite friends and family round to your house. If you can't get out then ask your friends to come and see you if you can. You could cook them a meal or watch a film together. If they feel uncomfortable that they'll be in the way at your house, try and reassure them. It may be difficult for you to entertain visitors if there's a lot to do for the person you are looking after, so try and pick a time of day when your caring responsibilities are less pressured, for example when the person you care for usually has a nap.
If you are a young carer looking after a parent, sibling or even a grandparent, you may feel that your caring role makes the dynamics of your family feel a little bit strange as roles become blurred. Childline has lots of good advice for dealing with family relationships in general as well as specific advice for young carers.
If the person you look after has cancer, you may find advice for young carers on the Macmillan website useful. it was written by other young carers.
Relate (details above) also offers counselling services for young people.
Information and guides
The Carers Trust has an excellent interactive guide to managing relationships that offers support and advice whether you care for a spouse, partner, sibling, child, neighbour or friend.
The Carers UK website features an interview with Radio 2 presenter Johnnie Walker and his wife, Tiggy. The couple talk about how their relationship suffered and how they managed to cope while caring for each other during cancer treatment and recovery with help from the Relate counselling service.
Other helpful websites
- Carers UK - your relationships
- Age UK - your changing relationship
- Relate - self help
- Rethink - siblings network
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