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Top Tips to Help Aging Family Members- September 2012
September 18, 2012

Caring for your Partner, Spouse, Friend or Sibling

In a recent email a visitor to my websites commented on the “aging parent/adult child” dynamic that shows up in many of my articles. When I started eldercare coaching, I was focused on the aging parents. As time moves on, I’m meeting more clients who are caring for siblings, friends, partners and spouses. This issue of the newsletter is just the beginning of a new dialog about these caregiving challenges.

Each relationship has its unique character that changes when the new element of caregiving is added. When we are caring for a “peer” we may not be faced with the child/parent dynamic but rather faced with the challenges of a relationship that is changing from being equal to one where one person is providing care and other is receiving it.

Here are some suggestions on how to manage this transition:

Be sensitive to the changing nature of your relationship. The best adult relationships are mutual and supportive. How can the two of you create a new relationship that has caregiving as a component and still retains the mutual support? It’s likely that both of your contributions to the relationship will change. Having a sense of mutual contribution is important to help maintain balance and mutual esteem when the balance is shifting due to one person’s health care needs.

Find ways to connect that are not about your caregiving role. In what ways can you revive an old mutual interest or find a new activity or interest that you can share with your loved one. It’s hard for your relationship to flourish when caregiving is the only aspect that you are focusing on.

When caring for a sibling, be watchful of how old family roles that both of you may have outgrown, may pop up. It’s easy especially when stressed by an illness for everyone to revert to their historical role in your family drama. Take care to examine your interactions with siblings that echo how you interacted as children.

Be sensitive to changes in the balance of power between the two of you. If a loved one is dependent on you for care, it doesn’t mean that one or the other of you always gets to “win”. Carefully examine your feeling and thought for ideas like “I get to win because you need my help” or “I get to win because I’m sick.” This can be such a cosmic shift in the relationship power structure that you may need to seek outside help to navigate the new normal.

There are losses that need to be mourned by both the person who is ill and the care partner. There is no doubt that a serious illness or disability means that your old life, dreams and plans need to be mourned as you are both building a new picture of what life is like now. Be forewarned that this process of mourning will show up again and again as your loved one’s condition continues to change.

Are you caring for a partner, spouse, friend or sibling? How is this experience different from what you expected? What tips do you have for others in the same situation? Reply to this newsletter and I'll include your comments and suggestions in the next issue.

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