Monday, 5 May 2014


Ok, enough complaining from me about being sick. Let's move on to more interesting things. Like this article in the Globe and Mail about how illness in women is related to an increase in divorce rate. 

"The newest study, presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America in Boston, found an increased risk of divorce in older couples when the wife – but not the husband – became seriously ill."

The article typically blames the fact that men are not 'traditionally caregivers' and that they flee at the idea of having to care for someone (I may be paraphrasing). However, a women from the Canadian Cancer society said that women shouldn't be afraid of being abandoned when they get cancer because the study just looked at people with brain cancer so it shouldn't be extended to all types of illness (not so hopeful for those with brain cancer). Also, she says that the study didn't look at who initiated the divorce so maybe the women are deciding they don't want to spend their now limited years stuck with a super annoying partner (again, paraphrasing).

The whole point of the study was to look into caregiver supports and ways that that social workers and doctors can better support a couple in the stressful time. This is important because being a caregiver is a tough thankless job. The man that they profiled (he photographed his wife's struggle with breast cancer for three years) said that he 'has never been as happy as I was during that time.' That does not always happen.

Being someone's caregiver is hard. It's exhausting and challenging and while it may bring some couples together, it can just easily drive them apart. There are countless reports of caregiver burnout; stories like how the caregiver becomes sick from the stress and refuses to seek medical treatment because they refuse to take any time for themselves.

Burn out can happen so easily if the illness is prolonged or if things don't improve as expected. Caregivers can have guilt over taking a break because 'why should they be having a good time if the other person can't.' Or have fear that no one else would be able to meet the ill person's needs as well. Or feel like it is a failure if they are unable to provide all the support. Then there is the extra guilt about venting frustrations because no one wants to be the jerk complaining about how hard it is to take care of a person with cancer. No wonder so many couples end up separated.

I think that Isaiah and I have been pretty good in avoiding caregiver burnout. It helps that while he has been picking up more than his share of the housework, I can still help out some and have my own activities. He still has his weekly board game nights and often goes out cycling or to the market during the day. Also, my family consistently remind him that they can step in, if he wants to go back to NS for a bit. The fact that he is the most laid back person ever, helps when dealing with stressful news or when I freak out with emotions.

One of the things that isn't often discussed and that I have found the most challenging is finding the balance between being partners as well as being in a caregiver/care-y (care-ie? care-e? being the sick person?) relationship. It really changes the dynamic of the relationship and can be hard to figure out.

I've spent the last hour writing and re-writing how to best explain the struggle and I honestly can't find the right words to convey the frustration and helplessness and vulnerability and all other emotions of having your partner become your caregiver. It adds such as weird element into the relationship that was never discussed in any relationship advice guide I've ever read (not that I'm super proficient in relationship advice books). Honestly, it's still something that we are trying to figure out but at least he doesn't seem to be having caregiver burn out at the same time. 


Helen said...

I think you put that very well and if you do find out some more info about this I would be interested in reading it. Gaz and I have had to "change gears" a few times,

Helen said...

PS. A really big thank you to Isaiah, I love that he is there with you, relieves my 'non carers' guilt (that doesn't mean I don't care of course) and I know he is good for you. I hope he knows how much he is appreciated. Can he feel the love?

Alley said...

I hope he feels the love! I remind him often how much he is appreciated and am so paranoid about burn out that I encourage him to do stuff on his own as much as possible. I give him monthly reminders of 'if you want to go to NB, someone else can come stay with me' but so far he hasn't taken me up on it.

~G said...

I think you guys are doing great! (Or you're pretending quite well!) You two have seemed to work around the necessities quite well, and seem open and communicative with each other quite a lot (Which is always something with Isaiah! :)) I'm proud of you both! :) (Hugs all around)