Q: My husband does so much for me now that I am getting frailer. I cannot even cook or clean like I used to, and it makes me feel so guilty. How can I still maintain my relationship even when he has become like my caregiver?
A: Guilt is a very common feeling and one that is difficult to avoid. We have certain expectations for ourselves and our loved ones, and any time that shifts we naturally worry about our role. There is a lot of literature about the caregiver feeling guilt and stress, but not much is talked about how the care receiver is feeling.
Being in a position to require help from our loved ones is never easy. Most of us would prefer to be the one providing the care rather then receiving it. No doubt the shift in roles in your home has created some changes to your relationship with your spouse. However, it does not always have to be a negative change.
You can reframe what your spouse is doing for you and see it is an act of love, and something that can bring you closer together. This is a new phase in your relationship, and you will need open communication with your spouse to figure out how to make this feel right for both of you.
Have an honest conversation about your feelings and ask for his feelings as well. Perhaps there are ways to delegate some of the tasks so that you do not feel he has taken them all on himself. You can hire someone to clean, order prepared meals, and ask other family and friends for support. You can learn more about the County’s home delivered meal program and see if you qualify by calling the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging at 805-477-7300.
Think about ways that you can still help your spouse as well. Perhaps you cannot do the laundry, but you can sit and fold it. Or you can create a grocery list for him to use, or even order them online for curbside pickup. There are always ways that you can still contribute and even if they look different now.
If your husband is providing you physical help, make sure you have all the resources you both need. Check with your doctor to see if physical therapy may help you gain strength or techniques to be more independent. Ask the physical therapist for a home evaluation to see if adding grab bars or changing the location of furniture may make the home safer and easier to navigate.
You can share your worries with your spouse while also sharing your appreciation. Being able to accept help and not resist or argue will make it feel more comfortable for both of you.
Most people have trouble accepting help. It is important to understand why. It may be that it makes you feel weak or vulnerable. You may worry about how it looks to others. Or you may be concerned your spouse will resent you. Examine your feelings so that you can address them and move forward. It is when we push our feelings down that we tend to see them emerge as guilt.
Let go of your insecurities and embrace that is it okay to rely on others. It is always important to be realistic about our needs so we can live fully. Imagine if the roles were reversed and ask yourself if you would want your spouse to feel guilty if you were helping them.
As we age, many of us will need to rely on others at some point. Our society as we grow up values independence. It can be very challenging to shift to a view of valuing interdependence. However, interdependence is what we really need, so that we can support each other to thrive in the best way possible.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org