A friend who follows Heart of the Caregiver came to us a while back with a story and a request. Here it is:
My wife and I were caring for her mother for the last couple of years. We both have demanding careers and we are still raising children in addition to caring for my mother-in-law. We were honored to be caregivers to a special lady, but our marriage suffered greatly during this time. Can you share tips for how to keep the flame alive while caring for an aging loved one?
Family Caregivers who are married, dating, or in a romantic relationship must find ways to maintain the intimacy of their relationship while managing the rigors of caring for a loved one. This is not an easy task, as caregiving can leave little energy for romance of any kind. To be successful at balancing your love life while providing care for another, you must consider your options, make a plan, and then implement! Sound familiar? This is the strategy you must employ repeatedly to find balance in all areas of your life, including romance.
First, what are your options? Romance doesn’t come in one size, and neither should your choices when it comes to this important component in your relationship. The “date-night” template might not be your best option. Perhaps mornings are the best time in your schedule, when you feel rested and refreshed. Maybe a midday lunch with roses and chocolate would work. Also, intimacy is not restricted to one activity or moment. Loving words and gestures go a long way to nurture your relationships. Regularly exercising your partner’s primary Love Language can greatly strengthen your bonds and enhance your energy as well. If you don’t know what your partner’s love language is, find out here.
Once you’ve determined your Love Language and that of your partner, sit down together and make a list of activities or actions that fit each of your primary Languages. If you both like games, make a game of it by putting these in a bowl and drawing out one each every so often. Maybe you decide to draw one a week, and then make it happen. Just be sure you are both on board with the plan and stay flexible to gain the most benefit from nurturing your relationship.
I know that Betsy’s Love Languages are Gifts and Quality Time; I also know that she loves surprises. The best way I can romance my wife is to surprise her with an unexpected lunch, dinner, or night out at a local luxury hotel or B&B with phones turned off, or even something as simple as flowers delivered to her at work for no particular reason. These simple things delight her, and I love to see her smile. She knows that my Love Languages are Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation. When I take her out for dinner, she holds my hand and talks about things I’m involved in. She compliments me or affirms decisions I’ve made or positions I’ve taken in my role as a legislator. Knowing your partner’s Love Language can make small gestures go miles in keeping the flame alive between you.
Sometimes it’s hard for the Family Caregiver to get time away for romance. This is where Respite services are critically important to the success of your efforts to find balance and nurture your relationship. Respite care can be provided for only a few hours, or even a week or more. Local homecare companies like Home Instead can provide temporary service up to around-the-clock care for several days or weeks. Some local Assisted Living facilities also offer respite services; in most cases these are offered for a 7-day period and require moving your loved one into the facility. Home Care and facility-based care will be private-pay, unless your loved one qualifies for respite care benefits through government programs like the Veterans’ Administration. If you cannot afford paid help, perhaps you have family that can step in and provide care for the time you will be away. If this is the case, be sure to ask your rescuer to come for several days prior to your time away, to be certain they understand the responsibilities and time required. This will help minimize interruptions during your time away.
The important thing to remember is that romance should be practiced regularly with your partner. Date night should not end with marriage, or children, or caregiving. And if the person you are caring for is your romantic partner, the romance is more important than ever. The Family Caregiver can still be the spouse of the one receiving care and should fan the flames as often as possible. Small romantic gestures between you both can help your relationship’s different facets sparkle like fire. A healthy romantic partnership will energize your caregiving relationship and your entire life.