Transitioning from a spouse to a caregiver role for a loved one can be difficult and challenging for any relationship. There are times when the responsibilities of caregiving for a spouse can be difficult to navigate.

When being a spouse takes a backseat, you may feel more like a nursemaid tending to a patient. Understandably, this can be a confusing and heartbreaking time.

If you have taken on the role of a caregiver in your relationship, you need support and resources to navigate the challenges.

Learn more about this demanding role and what you can do to make the experience easier for you and your spouse.

Challenges of Caring for a Spouse

It is not uncommon for marriages to falter or break when a relationship isn’t balanced. Knowing what to expect can help you better prepare for the challenges you could face if you find yourself caring for a loved one.

Being a spousal caregiver comes with unique challenges. According to studies, spouse caregivers report more depression, have greater financial stress, and experience more psychological distress.

Issues Spousal Caregivers Face

Spousal caregivers have a lot of day-to-day responsibilities. On top of their own personal needs, there are overwhelming tasks that can pile up. Eventually, this can cause a toll on the relationship as well as the caregiver’s well-being.

The following are challenges spousal caregivers may face:

Physical

It is not uncommon for spousal caregivers to neglect themselves because they are too busy taking care of their partner. Injuries and physical exhaustion are common. Self-care is not prioritized.

Medical

Spousal caregivers may have their own medical problems, but their medical needs tend to get shelved because of the demands of caregiving. If medical problems go untreated, they may worsen over time.

Social

With a hectic schedule, caregivers often lack the time for social interaction. They may be more likely to stay at home to monitor their spouse. This can result in social isolation and withdrawal of the caregiver.

Emotional

Long-term self-neglect and fatigue can result in emotional distress. Without the proper support, spousal caregivers will experience burnout. The imbalance in the relationship can also cause emotional problems for a couple. Intimacy problems are common. Spouse caregivers often find themselves longing for love and attention from their partners.

Even professional and private caregivers have to make sure to take care of themselves, and they have been trained! Don’t underestimate the side effects of providing care for a loved one.

Self Care for Caregivers

To avoid caregiver burnout and fatigue, it is crucial to practice self-care. Taking care of yourself is just as important as giving care to your partner. When your own personal and emotional needs are fulfilled, it will be less challenging to provide love and care to your spouse.

Self-care Tips for the Spouse Caregiver

Know when to rest.
Listen to your body. If you are feeling tired, irritable, or depressed, you might be physically exhausted. Take some time off to rest and give your body the break that it needs.

Exercise regularly.
Exercising regularly has been proven to improve mood and outlook. Take short walks two to three times a week. If you can’t go out, do some yoga or dance workouts in the comfort of your home.

Do things you love.
Make time to participate in the activities you enjoy. Set aside 30 minutes in a day where you can focus on doing a hobby, craft, or activity that you love. Do this as much as possible to bring joy and pleasure to your days.

Share your feelings.
It isn’t healthy to keep your feelings bottled up. Voicing your frustrations with friends or family members can help lighten the emotional load that you are carrying. Writing your thoughts in a journal can also help release your emotions.

Join a support group.
Having a community of people who understand what you are going through is beneficial. Join a caregiver support group and seek help from professionals who can guide you through your situation.

**Did you know?**
There are many resources to support caregivers both in-person and online. Check with your local senior center, Area Agency on Aging, or your physician for recommendations.

Can Spouses Get Paid To Be a Caregiver?

Yes, if you are a caregiver for your spouse, you can receive compensation through certain state assistance programs. There are several state programs that can pay spouses or other family caregivers. Eligibility will depend on factors such as your income, the state where you live, your insurance, and if you or your spouse are veterans.

Will Medicare or Social Security Pay a Spouse To Be a Caregiver?

No, Medicare doesn’t cover non-medical care costs. This means that spouses who provide personal care to their partners can’t be compensated by Medicare. Social security also typically doesn’t pay for family caregivers.

Will Medicaid Pay a Spouse To Be a Caregiver?

Yes, some state Medicaid programs have spousal caregiving payment programs. For example, Oregon’s Spousal Pay Program pays spouses for caregiving duties at an agreed-upon rate.

The purpose of this program is to prevent nursing home and other senior housing admissions which are much more costly to the state Medicaid program.

If you or your spouse has been approved for Medicaid, check with your caseworker about any similar spousal pay programs in your state.

Signs Caregiving for a Spouse Is Too Risky

There are signs that indicate caregiving for a spouse has become too risky. If any of these apply to you, it is best to step back and re-evaluate your role. It may be time to hire a professional caregiver to supplement taking care of your loved one.

The signs below may indicate it’s time for you to step back from caregiving for a spouse:

  • Feeling resentful about your situation
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Feeling anger towards your spouse
  • Ignoring your own health needs
  • Abusing substances to deal with your stress
  • Wanting to self-harm
  • Lacking interest in past hobbies and other fun activities
  • Isolating from friends and family

What Is Caregiver Resentment?

When caregiver burnout is prolonged, caregiver resentment can occur. The emotional and physical distress causes the caregiver to feel anger, resentment, and even hatred toward their loved one. The negative feelings can extend to other family members who are not as helpful and present.

Spouse Caregiver Burnout

Spouse-caregiver burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. This happens when the spouse caregiver’s personal needs have been neglected for a long time. They may feel resentment towards their spouse for not being able to reciprocate the care and love that they provide.

Signs of spouse-caregiver burnout include:

  • a change in attitude
  • irritability
  • negative language
  • being detached and unconcerned
  • loneliness
  • not wanting to talk
  • angry outbursts

What if Caring for a Spouse Becomes Too Difficult?

If your situation becomes too difficult to manage on your own, seek out help from a professional senior care provider. Start with hiring a private caregiver or work with a local home care agency to focus on being a spouse to your partner and regain time for yourself.

Taking Care of Yourself to Care for Others

Being a caregiver for your spouse is a huge challenge that can strain even the best marriages. It is important to develop a good routine, have healthy communication, and find time for yourself.

While this may be a difficult undertaking, remember that you are not alone. There are various resources, support groups, and healthcare professionals that are available to give you a helping hand.

If you are looking for caregiver support, consider the following:

  • Don’t forget to ask for help from family and friends. Even an hour or two a day can recharge your batteries.
  • There are a variety of resources available for caregivers, both in-person and online.
  • If you are feeling financially stressed by caring for your spouse, there may be help available through Medicaid, the VA, and your long-term care insurance.
  • If caregiving becomes too much for you, it may be time to bring in professionals. Home care agencies, private caregivers, and/or geriatric care managers are trained to step in when you need a break.

Caregiving for a Spouse Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get paid to care for my spouse?

Yes, you can receive compensation for being your spouse’s caregiver. There are state, VA, and insurance programs that pay for family caregivers. Eligibility will depend on factors including your state, income, and insurance.

Can I be forced to care for my spouse?

While you may be bound by your vows to each other, you are technically not legally obligated to take care of your spouse when they are sick. However, in some states, you may have shared legal responsibilities regarding medical bills.

How does caregiving affect a marital relationship?

Caregiving for a spouse has many unique challenges that can cause a strain on the marriage. The emotional toll from the unbalanced relationship often results in increased conflict and tension. Proactive measures and healthy communication are needed to keep the marriage strong.

What are tips for spousal caregivers?

If you are a spousal caregiver, it’s important to remember to not neglect your own needs. Making sure that your own personal, emotional, and physical needs are fulfilled is important to your well-being. When you are happy and well-rested, you can provide the best care for your loved one.

An expert in senior care, Amie has professional and personal experience in senior housing, caregiving, end-of-life care, and more from her 24 years of working with older adults.