6 Steps to Defining the Role of Caregiver When Your Partner Is Sick

The role of caregiver

When your partner gets sick, you take on a new role: the role of caregiver. Sometimes, it happens subtly and over time. They get a diagnosis, and as the weeks and months go by while they fight the disease, you gradually take on more tasks and deal with new thoughts and emotions as a result. 

Sometimes, this change happens overnight. One day, they are fine, and the next, they are in the hospital, and you have been thrust into this new caregiving role, dealing with doctors, medication, treatment instructions, insurance… the list goes on. 

Few of us are prepared to take on the role of caregiver for our partner. Many of us slip in, trying to be everywhere and do everything, while others are simply at a loss and don’t know what to do or what they should be doing. As caregivers, we often end up feeling frustrated, helpless, anxious, doubtful, overwhelmed, and exhausted

Wouldn’t it be great if someone gave you a script? Something that defined this new role and told you how to play it? Unfortunately, life doesn’t usually work that way–giving us the instructions in advance of the new challenge we are about to face. What’s more, there is no “right way” to be a caregiver for your partner. There is no playbook for how this chapter of your life and theirs will go. It’s up to you to create it.  

6 Steps to Create the Role of Caregiver for Yourself

The solution to this problem is to define the role of caregiver for yourself. When you take a little time and decide from a place of calm what you value and who you want to be, you can define what this crucial role looks like to you. By doing this, you create a guidepost to keep you centered and focused when feelings of overwhelm or anxiety threaten to overtake you. Here are six steps to help you do this.

Step 1: Understand Where You Are

First, take a look at where exactly you and your partner are. Is it a new diagnosis or something you’ve been dealing with for years? Perhaps it’s a recurrence, so you already have experience to draw on.

Our roles in life are constantly changing and evolving. Understanding and accepting where you are right now is an essential first step to defining the role you want. To gain that understanding, take a sheet of paper and answer these questions for yourself:

  • What am I struggling with most right now?
  • What do I most need right now?
  • What do I think my partner needs right now?
  • What do I think my family needs right now?

Step 2: Accept What You Can’t Control

The next step in this process is to understand and accept that there are parts of this journey you can’t control. So many of my clients try to control their partner’s emotions or take away their partner’s pain. They try to argue with reality or get stuck in worry over an uncertain future. It’s normal to try to seek control when our world feels out of control, but as you define the role of caregiver, it’s important to understand what you can and can’t affect.

For example, you can’t control anything outside of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. That means you can’t control what happens with your partner’s health. You can’t control how they deal with this disease and the treatment. You can’t take away their pain or anger or sadness or fear. You can’t protect your kids and family from this experience. In short, if it is outside of you and your own behavior, it’s not in your control. You need to accept that so your role is focused on where your power is. 

Step 3: Focus on What You Can Control

On the other hand, there are actually quite a lot of things you do have control over! You have control over how you think, how you deal with your emotions, and what actions you take. Basically, you have control over YOU and who you show up as each and every day. This is where you need to focus. When you focus on managing yourself and your mind, you will have the strength and energy to be there for the ones you love.

Step 4: Clarify Your Values

Values are the principles that give our lives meaning. When we are clear on what we value, it can help us to stay focused on what is important. Our values can shift over time as our life circumstances change. When we are facing the challenge of having a partner with a serious or life-threatening illness, it’s important to reflect and re-decide what we want to value in our relationship during this time.

Look at this list below, and choose 5-7 qualities you want to value in your relationship right now. These need to be your values, so don’t be tempted to include things you think you “should” based on some societal expectation. Remember, there is no “right” answer here; just go with your gut. 

communityfinancial stabilityhonestyoptimismsafetywarmth

Step 5: Brainstorm Your Purpose and Vision

Deciding on a purpose can guide us on what we focus on and what we let go. Our purpose may shift with our changing situation in life, but often, we don’t take the time to really reflect on what we want our purpose to be as our life changes. I often see my clients try to be everything and do too much. This only leads to overwhelm and exhaustion.

So, sit down with a piece of paper and brainstorm for 5 minutes. What do you want your purpose to be as a caregiver to your partner? What is important to you? Why is it important? Remember, you only have control over your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

When I was defining the role of caregiver for myself, here’s what my brainstorm included: 

  • I want to love him. 
  • I want to connect and be present, so I don’t miss this time by being stuck in worry.
  • I want to believe in his strength and resiliency.
  • I want to be compassionate and accepting no matter what he does or how he acts.
  • I want to take care of myself as well. This is my job, and I’m the best one for it.
  • I want to remember that he is not his disease.
  • I want to be supportive. 
  • I want to be resilient.
  • I want to listen and seek to understand.
  • I want to be compassionate to myself and him.
  • I want to be truthful and honest, which will be hard sometimes, but I value honesty.
  • I want to honor my own needs during this time so that I don’t also become a victim of his illness.

Step 6: Define the Role of Caregiver

Now it’s time to put it all together. You are going to create a role for yourself that includes your values and a few sentences about who you want to be and why. You may want to make a few versions to see what you like. To do this: 

  1. Take a look at your values and put them all into one sentence. 
  2. Review your purpose and vision brainstorm. Take a look at what you most want to include. You can combine some things together where it makes sense. Make sure this is about you and what you can control. 

Here is an example of how this can look:

  • I value acceptance, friendship, growth, honesty, respect, and communication.
  • As a partner and a caregiver,
    • I want to love him. I can’t fix his pain, but I can always offer love.
    • I want to be a champion of his inner strength, even if he doesn’t see it himself. 
    • I want to connect and be present. The present moment is all we ever have. 
    • I want to be supportive but also honest. I know this will be hard sometimes.
    • I want to show compassion for myself and honor my own needs during this time because that is how I show love for myself.
  • To be the person I want to be right now, I know I have to take care of my mental and physical health so I can be resilient. 

Putting Your Caregiver Role in Action

Once you’ve defined the role of caregiver for yourself, type it up and keep it as a reminder. You may want to hang it in several places so you see it often. This is for you, and you can add to it or change it at any time. 

Having a role YOU create will help keep you centered when times are rough. It will help you remember what you value and why. It will keep you focused on where you have control so you don’t waste your efforts trying to control what you can’t. Review this often so you can be true to yourself and be there for the ones who need you most.

While this is a great exercise to do by yourself, it’s even better when you work with a caregiver coach! As a coach for you when your partner is sick, I help my clients explore who they want to be as a caregiver and identify what’s getting in the way. That is how we take this work deeper and build resiliency. If you want to learn how else I help my clients address their fears and worries so they can build their resiliency, schedule a free consultation call today!

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