Even the toughest, most resilient people may find that the emotional weight of caregiving has changed their closest relationships in ways that leave them feeling frustrated and unhappy.

Reigniting the spark

According to experts, this loss of intimacy is certainly one of the hardest parts of caregiving. Caregivers and care recipients alike need the emotional support that comes from hugging, touching, holding and kissing. In the face of caregiving challenges, here are some ways to keep intimacy alive:

  1. Communicate
    Communication is the key to any good relationship. Talking about loss of intimacy is hard enough in the best of times. When illness or disability is added to the equation it can seem nearly impossible. Nonetheless, talking about your feelings will not only help you remain positive, but also reduce misunderstandings and frustration. Don't simply assume what your loved one needs or wants– ask. Be clear and unafraid to say what you need and want.

  2. Encourage independence
    It is important to encourage your loved one to still try to do as many things as possible. Beware of the tendency to overprotect them. While it seems natural, this will harm both of you, as well as your relationship, in the long run. Sharing responsibilities and activities is an essential aspect of intimacy.

  3. Be patient 
    You are both under a lot of pressure. Let intimacy happen in little ways. A quick hug, a squeeze on the arm or a reassuring soft kiss may be what is needed to establish a connection.

  4. Strive for balance
    As hard as it sounds, you can't let caregiving become all consuming. Don't let a disease dominate everything in your family's lives. You must remember to take breaks and maintain portions of your life outside the home, no matter how difficult it might be to do so. The best way to be an effective caregiver is by regularly nurturing yourself. You need to stay healthy yourself to be strong enough to provide care for your loved one.

Intimacy requires trust and hard work. It is not automatic, and it ebbs and flows over time and with changing circumstances. Caregiving certainly can cause changes in intimacy – and the effort to maintain intimacy can be more strenuous than ever before – but don’t let intimacy be a casualty of caregiving.