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How We Can Support Spousal Caregivers

Terri A. Corcoran

Board Secretary, “Mainstay” Newsletter Editor, Well Spouse® Association

The spousal relationship is unique, and special challenges arise when one partner suffers from long-term illness. In a relationship based on mutual love and sharing, married couples often struggle with maintaining a proper balance between them even in times of health. But when one partner becomes chronically ill, everything becomes unbalanced as the “well spouse” gradually needs to take on more and more responsibilities. 

Depending on the extent of the ill partner’s disabilities, the well partner takes on a range of extra tasks that may include managing the medical care of the ill partner and more, if not all, of the household chores, shopping, home maintenance, and financial management. If there are children in the household, the well parent may become a virtual single parent. 

The pressures on the caregiver can mount relentlessly to the point where the well spouse can feel like a married widow or widower: still married, but with a partner who can no longer contribute to the marriage in a significant way.

Naturally, this puts much stress on the marital relationship, and sadly, an overwhelming number of these marriages end in divorce. It is imperative that the well spouse practice self-care to the extent possible: sleep, have a proper diet, set aside time for hobbies, and keep in touch with friends.  

A lifeline

Speaking to a sympathetic listener can be a lifeline to caregivers. Spousal caregivers need to be able to express their frustrations and profound sense of loss as they watch their partners become more debilitated over a long period of time. They suffer so many kinds of loss in addition to the arduous demands of living daily life for two people. 

At the Well Spouse® Association (WSA), we say, “If one is sick, two need help.”

No one understands a well spouse as thoroughly as another well spouse. WSA provides a secure online discussion forum, which is friendly and non-judgmental, face-to-face support groups in many areas of the United States (which are now meeting by Zoom during the pandemic), online webinars about issues caregivers deal with, a yearly national conference with workshops and social events, one-on-one mentoring between members, telephone support groups, and the bimonthly newsletter “Mainstay,” which comprises stories and poetry written by our members.

Members can openly share their concerns and fears with each other, as they also share solutions to practical problems, such as finding medical equipment and dealing with the healthcare system. Speaking with each other via Zoom during the pandemic allows caregivers to meet with others even if they could not ordinarily leave home for face-to-face meetings because of their caregiving responsibilities.

There are members in all age groups, from younger well spouses (many with small children) to those in their 70s and 80s. WSA also provides ongoing support for those caregivers who become widowed after years of caregiving. 
For more information, visit or call (732) 577-8899.

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