As fulfilling as caring can be, its demands can sometimes place a strain on your relationships. Changes can occur gradually and your relationships, especially with loved ones, can feel very different from how they were before.
We offer guidance and tips on how to seek support and develop coping mechanisms so that your own needs are not neglected.
Common situations you may face
If you’re caring for someone with any kind of complex condition, such as autism or dementia, you might find that their moods vary greatly and this might leave with you a sense of stepping on egg shells. It's natural to find the unpredictability of someone’s temperament a real strain and hard to deal with.
You may find it helpful to talk to someone to get help to cope. Share how you're feeling with your doctor.
See if other family members or friends can help to give you a break when you need it and consider contacting social services to see about the possibility of getting a carer’s assessment if you haven’t already, so that you can get additional support.
You’re not alone if you feel this way. Caring can be especially exhausting and trying when you feel like your efforts go unnoticed or are under appreciated, especially by those you’re supporting most.
It may help to open up about how you feel, unless the person(s) you look after has a condition that affects how they can express themselves.
Try to acknowledge your own efforts consciously and reward yourself for when you have gone above and beyond or even just got through a menial task.
Don't beat yourself up if you lose patience every now again – it's only natural to feel frustrated sometimes – you're only human. If you're aware of negative feelings building up inside, make sure you talk it out with either someone you know or a professional counsellor or volunteer. See 'What other sources of support are available?' for more ideas.
Caring can feel very lonely when other family members live a long way away or are not so involved and the weight of the responsibility rests on your shoulders. This can be frustrating too.
But rather than allowing these negative feelings to take over, try to let them know how much you are being affected and that even small gestures on their part, such as a phone call, could make a difference.
Consider discussing the matter with a supportive family member or friend who might have an independent impartial perspective on the situation. It could also be useful to talk to other carers who will know what you are going through and understand how hard it can be. Our Carers UK forum might be a good place to start. (See details under ‘What sources of support are available?’)
Try to manage your expectations about how much they will be willing to help out and perhaps offer suggestions of what they could do every so often. Sometimes people want to help but don’t know how to go about it or perhaps they think you are coping fine.
Being open and honest about how you are feeling and letting them know what you need from them could help improve your relationships. It may be easier to do this by email if it's difficult to communicate face to face or over the phone. You could suggest setting up a WhatsApp group to keep everyone updated and to help share out some of the responsibilities you're undertaking.
The Carers UK Jointly app is a way of keeping connected with other members of your family or friends with this idea in mind. Find out more about the app.
It can be very difficult to deal with the change in your relationship, whether this has happened suddenly or over a long period. It may be helpful to acknowledge your feelings with your partner in a way that won’t make them feel guilty. Perhaps there are ways you can change the dynamic by, for example, having a date night once a week watching a film together.
Of course sometimes relationships change so much that it is not possible to recapture what was there before, and coming to terms with the situation can be really difficult. It could be helpful to talk to someone.
There are many different sources of support that could help. In the first instance, you could speak to your GP and see if they can recommend any local services, such as social prescribing, talking therapies or counselling groups. Relate also has a lot of useful guidance and information about local groups and offer specialist counselling services.
To connect with other carers, you could join our forum or reach out to a local carer group in your area. Many will have advice and support sessions to help you deal with some of the emotional challenges you're going through.
You could use our local directory as a starting point to explore what's available in your area. Our Listening Support Service also offers a number of sessions to enable you to talk about what is bothering you to a trained volunteer, (often a carer or former carer themselves), who will listen and offer an understanding and supportive ear over the phone. Although short term, this could provide the turning point you need to enable you to build up your emotional resilience.
When you can see someone’s needs increasing, especially a loved one’s, it can be really hard to know how to address the subject of preparing for the future.
It could be helpful to look at things from their point of view. No one likes the idea of giving up their independence and the fear of becoming a burden can create a mind-set of denial.
It's important to open up conversations around plans for the future. There are lots of ways to keep living independently for longer, such as equipping the home or arranging alternative living arrangements.
We can find ourselves gradually taking on more and more responsibility. It can start with small jobs – helping with the garden, doing their shopping – and over time it becomes more intensive. Adjusting to these changing roles can be a big emotional step for you and your parent.
Avoid putting off these conversations until there’s a crisis; if you act now, you can avoid making life-changing decisions under pressure. In addition, your relative may no longer have the ability to express their wishes if they have lost mental capacity. Find out more about this here.
If you have siblings, it’s also worth discussing together how you could share the caring responsibilities between you.
Putting in place a power of attorney could help with future health and financial decisions – unfortunately too many people only consider this option when it is too late as it is important that someone has mental capacity (the ability to make their own decisions) to arrange one. We have produced some carers' tips sheets to help.
How to broach the subject
It can be really difficult to know how and when to start the conversation, so we have put together some tips to make it a little easier:
- Try to talk one-to-one when possible so they don’t feel overwhelmed.
- Having face-to-face conversations allows you to show your support with body language and eye contact.
- If you need an ice-breaker, making a cup of tea is always a good start.
- Bring up examples of other people’s similar situations to open up the conversation.
- Share your thoughts on what your own preferences on maintaining independence would be.
- Be aware of the language you use; make suggestions rather than dictating and ensure it’s a two-way conversation so that they feel listened to.
"Communicating exactly what you want of people can be helpful – leaving nothing to chance."
"Often things that I thought were obvious and self-explanatory were far from obvious to others. If you’ve really made it crystal clear what you want, then it’s hard for someone to say they didn’t understand. Often that means facing difficult conversations head on and not beating around the bush."
More online communities now exist because of the pandemic. You could join a Carers UK Share and Learn session – these offer the opportunity to learn a new skill such as dance or crafts, experience some culture or focus on your wellbeing with sessions covering everything from seated martial arts, to theatre, to live music and salsa.
Alternatively, look for interest groups on Facebook or consider joining Carers UK’s website forum or online Care for a Cuppa chats.
Also discover carer support groups in your area, using our online directory as a starting point.
Volunteering (if you can spare the time) is another nice way to connect with and meet others to feel part of a community or social network again.
You may find your doctor can offer some useful advice and sources of support. See our section on notifying your GP for more details. They may recommend ways you can find out about local groups and activities in your area that could help you meet others and reduce your sense of isolation. They may also be able to refer you on to other sources of help such as counselling.
Sometimes, there is no set formula for what will work and resolve the problems. Many people find a combination of different sources of support can help make a difference. Here are some ideas:
Care for a Cuppa and Share and Learn sessions – hosted by Carers UK
Relate – for professional counselling guidance
Our Carers UK Forum: to share views and solicit tips from other carers
Jointly app – designed by carers for carers to help coordinate care with others
AskSara – aids and equipment to help increase independence
Online communities – ensure these are legitimate
Getting a carer’s assessment – to get time for yourself and support
Our local directory – to find carer groups in your area
Mediation is increasingly being used to resolve family problems. A mediator will act in an independent, impartial way to help all parties try to understand the other’s point of view.
They should act in a non-judgemental way and confidentiality is extremely important. They will not make any decisions but will try to get the parties to reach their own resolution and understanding of the situation.
In some areas there are community mediation services which are free of charge. Not all of them undertake family mediation so you will need to make enquiries. There are also private mediation services which make a charge for mediation.
Counselling is also worth considering. It's important not to bottle up your feelings especially if the tension or loneliness you're feeling is affecting your health. Counselling may help you understand your emotions and help you to work with other members of the family to resolve the issues.