I don’t know about you, but I need a whole lot of help these days. My partner shoulders at least 75% of our household tasks requiring physical labor, if not more. When I’m not injured, I can usually chip in by doing the dishes or straightening up after myself. When I am injured, I’m not able to do any chores at all, and often need help with basic personal tasks such as washing my hair or tying my shoes. Injured or not, Charley carries my bag, reaches things that are too low for me and handles the driving in our family. When we move, he’s the one who does the packing and unpacking. And I probably ask him to hand me something at least a few times a day.
Photo by Alexandra Gorn
In addition to being my life partner and best friend, Charley is a caregiver to me. Cultivating our caregiver/care receiver dynamic over time has certainly had its fair share of frustrations on both sides. But it’s also become an incredibly loving and intimate part of our relationship that brings us closer together as equal partners. Being in a committed relationship means that we are reliant upon one another for many emotional and physical needs. The extra 10-20% of physical needs that my disability introduces gives us a tangible practice ground to make sure we’re staying connected and communicating well.
I’d like to offer a few things we’ve learned that support our caregiving relationship. Pick and choose from this list as your needs and caregiving relationship may look very different than mine.
Always ask – and be prepared for an honest answer.
Creating a caregiver relationship that works for both people begins with communicating needs as requests rather than a demands. Each time I make a request of Charley, he gets to say yes, no, or offer an alternative. Even when it doesn’t work for him to help me out with something, we’re always able to come up with another solution for getting my specific need met.
Give advanced notice when possible.
Adding the words “when you have a chance” can turn a request from a unwelcome interruption into a no sweat situation. When I let Charley know that he doesn’t need to drop everything right away, it’s easier for him to opt into helping me at a convenient time. When I know I’ll need help the following day, I try to arrange it with Charley the night before so we can coordinate our schedules.
Offer your attention for the duration of the task.
Remaining mentally and emotionally present with a caregiver while they offer assistance creates a collaborative experience. When I ask Charley to help me with something, I make a point to be as present as possible while he he does it. Occasionally I can answer a question, offer assistance or help brainstorm a solution. Most of the time, it’s just a nice way to stay connected with him as he helps me.
Say thank you. Every time.
Neglecting these two little words is a quick way to invite entitlement and bitterness into the relationship. I probably thank Charley at least fifty times a day – no exaggeration! Each time I utter the words, not only does it let Charley know how much I appreciate him, it also reminds me how much I appreciate him. This helps to thwart the temptation to take his daily assistance for granted.
Do what you can, when you can.
Especially with a partner or family member who provides care on a daily basis, it’s easy for both parties to assume the same responsibilities day to day. I try to continually reassess what type of help I need as my symptoms fluctuate. When I feel up for doing a task that I’ve recently relied on Charley for, it’s fun to surprise him with a job complete. Besides giving him a day off, this gesture sends the message that I’m not taking his help for granted.
Check in on the arrangement from time to time.
One or both parties is bound to feel hurt, under-appreciated, misunderstood, guilt ridden or resentful throughout the course of a care giving relationship. It’s not always possible (or preferable) to discuss the situation in the moment. When the time is right, start a conversation about how the care taking relationship is going. What about the dynamic is working well, and what could be improved? Do you have any overall requests for the other person about how they are responding to your needs? Do they have any requests about how you’re asking for help? Having regular opportunities to discuss the particulars can clear the air and improve the dynamic for both people.
To any caregivers out there – THANK YOU for showing up for those of us with chronic illness. We are so grateful for your attention and assistance as we heal.
What have you learned through your relationship with a caregiver? How do you show them appreciation?