When Your Spouse Becomes Your Caregiver

If you or a loved one have recently become a caregiver to your spouse due to physical or mental chronic illnesses, then read this post.

A friend of mine contacted me several years ago, saying that his wife had just gotten a serious chronic condition.  My heart broke for them, especially since she had just given birth to their second child a few months prior.  They are going through some radical changes in their lives to accommodate this new trial.

Phillip and I have been there; my Crohn’s disease journey has played a tremendous role in our marriage. I’ve always tried to be open about it so people who go through similar situations can know they’re not alone.

As, I was trying to think of what to say to him and what advice I could give, I began to write this post.

After all, it was a man asking, so I figured I saw safe in trying to “fix it.”  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, watch this video:

Anyway, back to my friend.  I realized that he’s not the only one who goes through this.  At some point, many spouses end up becoming the caretakers of another spouse.

We typically envision this as happening well after retirement age, but sadly there are many young couples with young children who find themselves in this situation.  Sometimes it is mental illness that affects the spouse, but many times it is a physical condition:  cancer, Crohn’s Disease, MS, and paralysis, to name a few.

This can be difficult.  It can be even a bit more difficult for the fathers and husbands who suddenly find themselves responsible for housework and childcare, in addition to having to provide for the family.

Here are some pieces of advice that I would like to share, both with those who are suffering the condition, but more particularly to those who are thrust into a role that may seem like more than their shoulders can bear.  If you have any more to share, please feel free to do so in the comments.


President Hinckley said in the June 2003 Worldwide Leadership Training:

“Each of us [priesthood holders] has a fourfold responsibility. First, we have a responsibility to our families. Second, we have a responsibility to our employers. Third, we have a responsibility to the Lord’s work. Fourth, we have a responsibility to ourselves.”

If you have a demanding calling, you might want to consider to ask to be released.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing to do that.  Circumstances change.

My father gave my husband this great piece of advice:  Your job will always take as much out of you as you will give to it.  You need to set boundaries.  It’s important to do a good enough job in order to keep your job, but don’t be afraid to let your employers know that your family comes first.  You could easily give 60-70 hours per week at your job, or you could give 40 hours and give the rest of the time to your family.

Even though the fourth on the list is yourself, you should NOT neglect yourself.  Elder Eyring gave a talk in the General Relief Society Meeting in 2012 on being a caregiver.  He said:

“Even though extended and loving service to people is richly rewarded, you have learned that there are physical, emotional, and financial limits to what is possible. The person giving care long enough can become the one who needs care. The Lord, who is the Master Nurturer of people in need, gave inspired counsel to weary caregivers in these words delivered by King Benjamin and recorded in the Book of Mormon: “For the sake of retaining a remission of your sins … I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.” But then He goes on to warn those of you who might fail to respond to the evidence that you are pushing on too far and too long in your loving service: “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man [or any caregiver] should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.””

So please make sure that you take the time to take care of yourself as well.  You are of NO USE to anyone if you burn yourself out.  We have family members, home teachers, visiting teachers, friends, the Relief Society, and so many others to call upon.

Be Patient and Understanding

Now, more than ever, you will need to try to put yourself in another person’s shoes.  I speak not only to the caregiver, but to the one being cared for.  Try to see the others’ perspective and lift their burden.

Never ever take it out on each other.

Recognize that a chronic illness diagnosis can mean the death of the person you thought you were going to be – and you’ll go through the stages of grief.

For the caregiver of the spouse

Your loved one is struggling right now.  All of a sudden, they are unable to do what they used to be able to do.  They feel helpless.  No one really wants to be dependent on others, unable to perform even the simplest of chores.  Celebrate when little things are accomplished.

For example: in a typical household, the wife makes dinner often for when the husband is home from work. However, it takes a lot of effort for me to make dinner, and Phillip has to do it more often than not. So the days that I do the things that should be “my job,” he makes sure to thank me because of the extra effort that goes into it.

Help your loved one feel like they still have value and worth, even though they can no longer do all of the things that they used to be doing.  Satan is working hard on bringing them down, making them feel like a failure.

At the same time, don’t play the martyr.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, share that with them.  Don’t wait until all of it bottles up and you explode at them, but when you start to feel that way – just simply explain how you’re feeling.

For the care receiver

Your loved one is doing the best they can.

They feel helpless right now.  They would give absolutely anything to take away your pain and suffering.  If they could, they would be at your bedside 24/7 to take care of you (and the kids and the house and everything else).  

hey can’t, however, and it tears them up inside more than you can know.

They might shut down sometimes because of this.  This is a defense mechanism for the number of times you have to say, “There’s nothing you can do to help take away this pain right now.”

Allow them breaks.  Encourage them to come to you with frustrations, and try not to take it personally.

Recognize that it’s the situation that they wish was gone, not you.

And realize that they are tired.  They are so incredibly exhausted, both physically and mentally.  Be patient with them.

Sometimes this is difficult, since men and women are different.

But talk to each other.

When you’re feeling tired or burned out, when something hurts your feelings, when you’re scared.

Don’t try to hide things from each other, like your worries or your fears or even your frustrations.  They will build up.

You’d be amazed at how much better you will feel after expressing yourself to each other.

Don’t do it at times when your tempers won’t fly or you’re too tired to talk rationally, but when you can have an open, honest discussion.

(If you are a returned missionary, this may sound a bit like companionship inventory!)

Make the Lord a “Third Partner” in Your Marriage

When you were married, you made a covenant with your spouse AND with the Lord.  So often we leave Him out.  But don’t – His help is invaluable during this time.

Sometimes you aren’t going to be perfect in this situation.  Your spouse will get tired and inevitably one of you will hurt the other’s feelings.

When this happens, turn to the Lord.  Make Him the third partner in your marriage.

When it feels like your spouse isn’t appreciating your situation, go to the Lord and ask Him to help you feel His approval and love in how you’re completing your role.  He will answer that prayer.

Consider Counseling

Phillip and I had only been married a month or so when I became very sick.  As a result, him taking care of me became a natural part of our marriage.  In some ways, this has been a blessing because we have not had to make many of the radical adjustments that happen in most marriages when a loved one suddenly becomes ill.

When this happens, the entire relationship dynamic is tremendously altered.

Counseling can so helpful during this time.  It does not need to become a regular occurrence.  Instead, a few sessions can be used to learn coping mechanisms.  You’d be amazed at what a few simple tricks can do to help.

Make Plans as a Spouse Caregiver

It is so easy when you are in this situation to get into survival mode.  While that’s okay for a time, eventually you have to get out of it, even if just for a little while.

So make plans!  Even if they are simple ones.

Put the kids to bed, and then have a “date night” at home – get some sparkling cider, cuddle up on the couch, and watch a movie or play a game or read a book.

Plan little things like that that you can look forward to all week, and then just enjoy them.

Get Back to Basics

President Uchtdorf gave this excellent talk a few years ago about getting back to the basics when life gets challenging.

“When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be…..Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.”

Please read this entire talk.  It has so many excellent points of how to simplify.  When we reach the trials, we feel as though we need to put our heads down and run through them, that it will help us get through them quicker.

All we will do, though, is tire ourselves out.  Just like when you reach a hill when you run a marathon, you don’t try to sprint up it to get it over with more quickly. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

You need to conserve your spoons.

Keep Perspective

What do you have?

What’s really important?

How could it be worse?

Put it all into perspective.

Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed with things, I go onto the Crohn’s forum that I belong to and read others’ stories.  It makes me grateful for what I don’t have to pass through.

“This Too Shall Pass”

When things become overwhelming, go back to the basics.  Remember the love that you have for each other.  Know that this will end, and at the Resurrection you will both be perfectly healthy and free to live together without pain and burden.  It WILL end.  Maybe not in this life, but it WILL end – it won’t go on for eternity (no matter how much it may seem).

Remember these verses:

Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;  And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-9

And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.  The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?  Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.

Being a Spouse Caregiver is Hard

When a spouse becomes a caregiver for their partner, it marks a profound commitment and a testament to the strength of their love. The role of a supporting spouse is essential in creating a nurturing and sustainable caregiving environment.

By acknowledging the emotional toll, practicing self-care, promoting open communication, and sharing responsibilities, the supporting spouse plays an instrumental role in helping the caregiver fulfill their role effectively.

Remember, the journey of caregiving is a shared one, and both partners can draw strength from each other as they navigate the challenges and joys of caring for a loved one with compassion and dedication.

Are you a caregiver of a spouse? What would you add to this?

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