While there is a burgeoning literature offering practical advice for family caregivers, far less information exists for partners-turned-caregivers seeking support in maintaining intimacy with their ailing partners. In addition to the physical, emotional, and financial strain of assuming caregiving duties for a loved one, there is the equally significant stressor of finding ways to maintain intimacy. As more and more partners assume caregiving duties for a seriously ill or frail loved one, there is a need for open discourse and support in maintaining, and even improving, intimacy so that the relationship does not strictly become one of caregiver and care recipient.
The partner-turned-caregiver scenario is especially common among older adults, where one partner is experiencing age related decline or frailty or has developed a chronic illness. This compounds the already present changes in sexuality and desires for intimacy that are common in aging. While the topics of sexuality in older adults and sexuality in chronic illness were considered taboo until relatively recently, there has been a movement, spurred by the growing literature showing a relationship between positive intimacy and quality of life, to destigmatize sexuality in these populations. In fact, the advent of pharmacologic options for common sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction, has enabled many older adults to continue active and fulfilling sex lives into their 80s and beyond. More open dialogue around sexuality in chronic illness has also provided a forum for discussion into ways to maintain intimacy even with diseases previously thought to irreversibly thwart sexuality, such as prostate cancer.
In cases where one partner is seriously ill or one or both partners are unable to continue a sexual relationship, it is important to emphasize that it is still possible to promote intimacy.
If your loved one is ill and you are no longer maintaining a sexual relationship, it is important to redefine your intimacy with your partner. Each time you give your loved one a bath, brush his/her hair, cook a favorite dish or read to him/her, you are showing your spouse your love and intimacy. These small acts will help both of you remain connected despite any changes in your loved one’s physical or mental state.
As a caregiver, it is also important to give your partner the dignity of taking care of himself/herself. Yes, the above acts of love will foster intimacy, but you should also make your spouse feel like he or she is still an adult who maintains some level of independence. According to an article
in The Washington Post
, this sense of control provides the ill spouse a role in the household and a sense of identity, which can help you, the spousal caregiver, avoid being overburdened by household duties.
If the burden of being a primary caregiver becomes too much for you to handle, contact a reputable home care company like Home Care Assistance
. In no way does bringing in additional help and reinforcements to help you provide care indicate failure on your part – it simply reinforces the degree to which you love your partner. You want him or her to have the best care possible so that he or she can be as comfortable as possible. And that, is a very loving gesture, indeed.