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How to Cope with the Impact of Caregiving on Relationships with Others

Everyone has different expectations for the challenges that a caregiving role might bring, such as the difficulty of managing a loved one’s medical needs or transporting them to appointments and day services. But there are social impacts for caregivers as well. Dealing with changes to relationship dynamics, such as tensions that arise among siblings in a caregiving setting, or adjusting expectations for family gatherings during the holidays are a few ways in which caregiving goes beyond helping a loved one with health and wellness at home.

Read on for some different ways that relationships with family and friends outside of your household can be affected by caregiving, and reflections on how best to cope with changes. 

Managing Caregiving Challenges and Setting Boundaries 

One of the most frustrating things to deal with as a caregiver are reactions from people close to you who don’t understand the day-to-day reality of what you and your loved one need to do. These may include:

  • Caregiver criticism. This is when people tell you what you “should” be doing for your loved one despite not understanding what they need or what is realistically possible for you. Some feedback may be well-intended, and the person you’re speaking to will understand when you help them to understand the reality of what you do every day.
  • Expecting too much from your loved one. This person might be disappointed and even blame you when your loved one can’t participate in the kind of activities you used to enjoy. They might not understand your loved one’s limitations, misunderstanding that you are withdrawing by choice or simply not “putting in the effort” to help them participate in social events or other activities.
  • Expecting too little from your loved one. This person may exclude your loved one, and by extension, you, from gatherings and events due the assumption that they are unable to participate at all. They may assume that your loved one is embarrassed of their condition and would want to hide it from others. They themselves may feel uncomfortable and unsure how to act around the person you’re caring for and try to avoid them.

Being excluded from events and traditions can be one of the most heartbreaking changes that occurs after becoming a primary caregiver. The responsibilities of caring for a loved one are challenging enough on their own, but feeling isolated from others only adds to the stress that can trigger caregiver burnout Some people may be unwilling or simply unable to understand your situation. This may even be a family member who was very present in your life before you took on a caregiving role. It’s just as important to recognize when it’s time to cut ties as it is to hold on to the people who respond to your situation with empathy and understanding.  Interactions with family members and friends can be complicated, and it’s normal to feel sad about losing contact with someone even if you didn’t have a supportive relationship to begin with. Always prioritize your own mental health and well-being, and don’t strain yourself by putting in effort to maintain relationships that get in the way of that.

Strategies for Caregivers to Communicate and Promote Empathy

Your life or the life of your loved one may have changed from what it was before caregiving was necessary. Depending on the situation, you may still be able to participate in activities and socialize with the people close to you if certain accommodations are made. The key lies in communicating with loved ones and adapting to the reality of your current situation wherever possible.  Many family members and friends can offer help and support that may be invaluable to you as a caregiver, but they may not know how, or even assume that you have everything under control. Others are often under the impression that family caregivers don’t need any assistance, even if they feel completely overwhelmed in reality. A number of obstacles also prevent caregivers from reaching out to those around them for help. Sometimes, it’s a lack of trust that any other person would be able to help when caregiving becomes difficult. Some caregivers feel guilty at the thought of asking for help from friends and family. A few simple ways to promote empathy and understanding from those around you might include:

  • Ask for company. Having someone to shadow you while you go through your caregiving routine can be a good experience for both of you, giving you someone to talk to and allowing them to witness what goes into caring for your loved one on a daily basis. For family members and friends interested in contributing more actively to caring for your loved one, this can be a great way for them to come up with ideas and plans for how to do so.    
  • Ask for help with specific tasks, whether it be a couple hours of rest from looking after your loved one or assistance with chores like cleaning or grocery shopping. Not only will this help to prevent burnout, it will provide the other person with a better sense of your daily responsibilities.  
  • Call a friend and talk. It can be extremely helpful for caregivers to let people know about what they’ve been struggling with. Even if you don’t want to get into specifics, just calling a friend to chat and mentioning to them that you’ve been having a hard time can relieve some stress.
  • Accept help when it’s offered to you. For many caregivers, the act of accepting caregiving assistance feels like a failure to care properly for their loved one. In reality, it’s the exact opposite. Accepting help is an act of strength that lets others participate meaningfully in your life and strengthens the bond between you.

Friend groups and extended family play a critical role in ensuring that caregivers do not fall into a pattern of unhealthy isolation. Letting others know what they mean to you, reaching out to for help, and keeping them involved in your life can help them to understand your situation and help you to feel less alone.   Do you need help caring for a Medicaid-eligible individual at home? Learn more about Careforth’s caregiver coaching and support program for family caregivers.  

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