Caregiver Burnout is a condition that often appears with many of the same symptoms of depression and anxiety when a Caregiver of any type becomes physically, emotionally, or mentally strained or even exhausted. It's even so well known that even interabled relationship couples go through individual as well as couples counseling to try to combat it's frequency. While our relationships may not necessarily involve physical limitations, disabilities, impairments, or medical conditions it does seem that a heavy emotional, physical, and even financial dependency upon a sole Caregiver is typically desired. Even though that dependency is desired by both/all parties involved in the partnership it can still place a strain after long-term care upon the primary Caregiver.
There will be times where a Caregiver is going to feel overwhelmed and needs some type of break or reduced task list. This is normal and should be accepted by the little as okay. All littles need to be educated about this situation so that it can be dealt with as it comes, and couples should work together before this occurs so that a plan of action can be more easily followed.
The little should acknowledge their partner's need for a break or responsibilities reduction. The little should attempt to meet this need, and show appreciation toward their Caregiver for what they have done and/or continue to do for them. It's helpful if the little identifies things their Caregiver does for them that their Caregiver doesn't exactly prefer to be doing so that the little can easily remove this from the Caregiver's regular routine or show more appreciation for when the Caregiver still actions this responsibility.
Research by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter of the University of California at Berkeley and Acadia University, respectively, identifies six areas that lead to or contribute to burnout:
1. Workload. If a Caregiver has a large workload, whether that be in their caregiving or in their external obligations like the workplace, it can impact their ability to recover. When they feel overloaded, these opportunities to rest, recover, and enjoy life to doesn’t sufficiently exist. Caregivers need not take on huge burdens without great support systems in place, including the support of having breaks from workload.
2. Perceived lack of control. Feeling like they have no valued opinion or choice in daily routine can be damaging. It’s important to find a balance where a Caregiver is given opportunities to make personally valuable decisions, and has a say in the direction of tasks without placing burden on them to handle all decisions alone. They should be able to make decisions such as not participating in their partners regression without feeling guilted or as if they’ve failed their relationship.
3. Rewards. Feeling rewarded is crucial to maintaining interest in a task or even partnership. Rewards can come in various forms, from spoken words of appreciation to physical gifts or even the gift of leisure by having a temporary workload reduction. If the Caregiver is not feeling sufficiently rewarded then they’re likely to feel like the investment of the partnership is not worth the payoff.
4. Community. Being able to communicate with those who you feel are respectful, understanding, and nonjudgmental is valuable to one’s mental health. Finding a positive community to engage with is also important since negativity of the community can also co tribute to individual burnout. Caregivers should be encouraged to participate in local and online communities that support Caregiving.
5. Fairness. Fair and equitable treatment of Caregivers is important. Their time, attention, and care should be met with appropriate appreciation and recognition. Many Caregivers feel unable to speak up about feeling unrecognized and under appreciated by their partners, leading them to suffer in silence or even end the relationship.
6. Values mismatch. When it comes to being a Caregiver it’s important that the partnership shares the same common goals, interests, and values about their relationship. Talking together about shared goals and opinions can do wonders to uplift a Caregiver who is concerned about their relationship compatibility.
A little can show appreciation for a Caregiver's care through some of these methods:
- Words of encouragement and love.
- Verbally recognizing the specific care that has been exchanged and thanking their Caregiver.
- Artwork or crafts created in the thought of appreciation.
- Hugs, kisses, and physical displays of love.
- Taking on tasks on behalf of the Caregiver (such as making a meal for them or completing a chore on their behalf).
- Spending more time doing the Caregiver's favorite or preferred activities.
- Prioritizing your Caregiver by canceling other events or rearranging your own schedule to do something enjoyable with them.
- Gifts (monetary like a gift card, a service like a professional massage, time in that you arrange for them to make their own personal plans freely with no major responsibilities for a period of time, or physical like an item they've wanted).
When a Caregiver does not listen to their own occasional need for these things or a little refuses to comply with the Caregiver's need for "a break" of some type then the relationship suffers. It sounds often that this is when a Caregiver pulls back too heavily and stops doing the small, loving things they once said or did, and has little patience to offer their partner. Sometimes this is the primary demise of the relationship if this is not recognized by all relationship parties and met with acceptance.
Burn-out can happen for a multitude of reasons and it isn't just being a Caregiver to a little that contributes to that feeling. It's a combination of their own responsibilities as well as being joined with taking care of another adult-bodied individual. This means that it is not the little's fault that the Caregiver feels unhappy, stressed out, overwhelmed, or simply burned out from caring for others.
These are some contributing factors to the feelings of being burned out as a Caregiver:
- Work stress.
- Biological family stress.
- Biological parenthood stress.
- Financial concerns.
- Mental health conditions.
- Medical issues.
- Uncomfortable living arrangement.
- Loss of a close friend or loved one.
- Feelings of having no "me time" or personal time to themselves.
- Lack of hobbies or leisure activities outside of responsibilities.
- Feelings of wanting more control over situations but not being able to have more control.
- Taking on too much long-term responsibility for their partner(s).
- Being the sole or primary caretaker of too many people at once.
These can be some signs from a Caregiver that they may be feeling burned out:
- Feeling very stressed (even if for no reason).
- Feelings of inadequacy.
- Feeling like your partner is taking too much from you.
- Feeling like you have no time for your own happiness.
- Feeling like your partner is ungrateful for your care.
- Feeling underappreciated as a person.
- Feeling like too much is out of your control.
- Feeling neglected.
- Feeling unusually insecure.
- Feeling unusually jealous.
- Losing patience for your partner's regressive nature.
- Wishing your partner cared more about you.
- Pulling back from your, once very strong, relationship although nothing seriously bad has happened in it.
- Ending or wanting to end your relationship for no specific reason.
- No longer wanting to be a Caregiver to your partner.
- No longer wanting to be a Caregiver at all, ever.
- Feeling like you need a break from being your partner's Caregiver.
These can be some signs from a little that their Caregiver is feeling burned out:
- They don't say, "I love you," any more but I know they do love me.
- They stopped doing a routine we've done for a long time.
- They stopped calling me my favorite nickname by them.
- They told me I have to rely on myself more.
- They told me I need to be responsible more often.
- They said they don't have any more patience for me.
- They said they don't have time to be my Caregiver any more.
- They won't change my diapers as much now.
- They won't act like my Caregiver as much now.
- They always say they're too tired to take care of me.
- They pulled back and aren't talking to much as much any more.
- They don't want to acknowledge CGL in our relationship any more.
- They don't want to be my Caregiver any more but we're still together.
- They don't want me to call them my Caregiver but they are still acting like it.
- They want me to find someone else to take care of me, but I know that would actually hurt their feelings or make them feel bad.
Communication is important to having a successful relationship. Communication is important to resolving Caregiver burn-out so that a little can acknowledge to a Caregiver that how they feel is acceptable and that they are willing to make changes for them, and so that a Caregiver can verbally express their feelings that they're aware need to be met by the little. Work together to prepare in advance with a course of action for when burn-out strikes, and make light agreements when the Caregiver in a relationship is clearly overwhelmed, stressed, or underappreciated so that immediate action can take place when it's time. Talk with your partner if you suspect you or they are feeling burned out. Continue to talk together and find ways to resolve this temporary feeling.
These are some possible points to cover together when making a plan of action in combating Caregiver burn out:
- Identify what regular, small activities or actions makes the Caregiver feel appreciated.
- Identify if the Caregiver prefers to be verbally acknowledged for their care efforts or if they prefer thank-yous to be exchange in other ways.
- Identify if the Caregiver likes surprises for moments where a little may want to organize something special in appreciation for them.
- Identify what the little should not ever do on behalf of the Caregiver, and what may feel like the Caregiver is unneeded or undesired when feeling burned out.
- Identify how the little can still ask for small ways of being cared for without overwhelming the Caregiver further.
- Identify language the Caregiver may use when expressing feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed out.
- Identify ways the Caregiver personally relieves stress and figure out how a little could be incorporated in those methods.
- Form a small, gentle way of expressing love in moments where even saying, "I love you," may feel like too much. This can give the Caregiver the option to gently remind the little that they do care about them and reassure the little that the Caregiver just needs a break.
- Create a list of the Caregiver's "favorites" (activities, meals, movies, services) so that the little can select from this easier.
- Make a schedule of special "Caregiver days" to show extra gratitude and appreciation for the Caregiver.
- Make a schedule of periodic "break days" where the Caregiver is to focus on their own care, happiness, and relaxation, and the little is to tend to their own needs without complaint or request for the Caregiver's involvement.
- Find a therapist together that is accepting of CGL relationships and can be another listening ear for your Caregiver.
All relationships will have moments to overcome together, and CGL-based relationships are no exception. Everyone in a relationship will need to give of themselves from time to time--even when they don't want to or it's inconvenient for them. Meeting the needs of a burned out Caregiver is a time that a little needs to give more of themselves, even if that includes putting their heavier regression moments on hold or actioned privately without their Caregiver's involvement so that their Caregiver can heal and their relationship can grow more strongly together.