Becoming a caregiver for your partner is a role you likely weren’t prepared for. But regardless, you want to be strong and supportive for your partner. You want to know how to be a good caregiver. You may feel at a complete loss for how to do that at times. Other times, you may be completely overwhelmed with everything on your plate. But you can do this, and I’m sharing my best caregiving tips to help you.
How to Be a Good Caregiver
The first thing to understand is there is no “one way” to be a good caregiver for your partner. There is no instruction manual or script for what to do or how to act. Unfortunately, many caregivers lack boundaries and try to add more tasks to their plate. They try to be supportive, strong, positive, and an advocate for their spouse but often end up exhausted.
The role of a caregiver requires some adjusting. You cannot just add more without any consequences. So what do you do?
The key to being the best caregiver you can be is to take some time and think about this role. Think about what is most important to you and who you want to be for yourself and your partner during this time. The more time you spend defining this role for yourself, the more anchored you will feel when the inevitable curveballs come up. For exact steps on how to define this role for yourself, read 6 Steps to Defining Your New Role When Your Partner Has Cancer.
3 Caregiving Tips for When Your Partner Has Cancer
While learning how to be a good caregiver for your partner is something you define for yourself, I can share three universal caregiver tips that apply no matter how you define this role.
1. Give Grace
Cancer treatment can be long and exhausting for your partner and you. This time is tough on everyone but may affect you in very different ways. There is no blueprint or instructions for how to navigate this diagnosis. Your partner is doing the best they can, and so are you. That being said, none of us are equipped for this circumstance, so giving yourself and your partner lots of grace during this time is essential.
Instead of being hard on yourself and expecting perfection, remember that you are human. And you and your partner are navigating a challenging time. You will fumble, lose your temper, or feel like you’re falling apart. Your partner may be irritable, withdrawn, angry, or sad. They may even take some of their frustrations out on you. This is why it’s important to give lots of grace and remember that you are both finding your way in a messy and difficult situation. Be quick to forgive yourself and your partner.
2. Practice Intentional Listening
One of the hardest parts for a caregiver is seeing their loved one struggle. A cancer diagnosis can be accompanied by physical pain as well as emotional pain. As a partner and caregiver, seeing someone you love suffer is hard. You want to do something to help them. For me, I felt like it was my job to soothe and fix my husband’s pain–I thought that was how to be a good caregiver.
However, I learned that I had little to no control over my husband’s physical pain or even the emotional pain he was feeling. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t fix it for him. And by trying, I only ended up frustrated, and he usually ended up annoyed.
I could, however, offer my support and an open ear. I could be a loving witness to what he was going through. Sometimes that meant not saying anything at all but just listening to his frustrations. Other times, it was just holding his hand. The more I focused on love and less on trying to fix, soothe, or reassure him, the more he felt heard, loved, and supported. Learn more about how to do this by reading How to Support a Spouse or Partner During Cancer Treatment by “Holding Space.”
3. Seek Support for Yourself
Caring for a partner with cancer can be emotionally draining, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well. This is probably one of the easiest parts to ignore. You may be so focused on your partner that you feel like your own needs are not as important. You might even feel guilty about taking time for yourself. I had the same thoughts and emotions at first, too.
However, over time I became exhausted, depleted, and burnt out. I was not able to be there for my husband and family the way I wanted to. I realized then that my needs were also important. In order to be there for my husband, I needed to take care of myself.
Take care of yourself by seeking support and accepting help from family and friends. Consider joining a support group for caregivers. The stronger and more supported you are, the better support you will be able to provide for your partner. For more caregiver tips, read Why Self-Care Is So Difficult As A Caregiver.
Let’s Define How to Be a Good Caregiver for You
If you are new to your role of caregiving, it can be overwhelming to find a balance. Switching from partner to caregiver can be challenging, but you aren’t alone. Many people have been down similar paths, myself included. And I want to help you learn how to be the best caregiver you can be for your partner without losing yourself during this time. Schedule a free coaching consultation to discuss how we can work together!
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