How Caregiving Can Damage Romantic Relationships

By Lauren Hall
June 27, 2024

Caregiving is often viewed as a noble and selfless act, a testament to an immense strength of love and commitment. However, the emotional and physical toll it takes on romantic relationships is a reality many couples face in silence.

Whether you’re a parent caring for young children, an adult child caring for elderly parents, or a spouse caring for your partner with a disability, it’s crucial to acknowledge how caregiving can strain your relationship and what can be done to counteract these effects.

There’s an intense strain hidden in caregiving that can introduce a myriad of stressors into a relationship.

According to research by the American Psychological Association, caregivers are more likely to experience high levels of stress and depression, which can lead to emotional exhaustion.

This exhaustion often manifests as irritability, decreased sexual desire, and a lack of emotional availability.

Dr. John Gottman emphasizes the importance of emotional connection in maintaining a healthy relationship. When one partner becomes a caregiver, a role shift can disrupt this connection. The caregiver may feel isolated and unsupported, while the other partner might feel neglected or guilty for presumably adding to their stress.

Effective communication, however, is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship, becoming even more crucial in caregiving situations. Dr. Julie Gottman, co-founder of the Gottman Institute, suggests regular “stress-reducing conversations.” These are not problem-solving sessions but opportunities for each partner to express their feelings and concerns without judgment.

Scheduling these conversations can prevent resentment from building up and ensure that both partners feel heard and valued. It’s also essential to express gratitude for each other’s efforts, no matter how small. Simple acknowledgments can go a long way in maintaining a positive atmosphere.

While finding balance is difficult, consistently pursuing it is key to sustaining caregiving responsibilities and relationship health.

Here are a few strategies to keep in mind:

Set Boundaries:

Clearly define caregiving roles and responsibilities to avoid burnout. The caregiver needs to have time to themselves to recharge.

Seek Support:

Utilize respite care services and support groups, or enlist the help of family and friends. Sharing the caregiving load can alleviate stress and provide much-needed breaks.

Prioritize Intimacy:

Physical and emotional intimacy should not be neglected. Plan regular date nights or intimate moments to reconnect as a couple. It doesn’t have to be extravagant – even a quiet evening at home can reignite the spark.

Professional Help:

Couples counseling can be invaluable. Therapists trained in caregiving issues can provide strategies tailored to your specific situation. Online therapy platforms make therapy more accessible than ever.


For caregivers, this might mean taking a walk, reading, or pursuing a hobby. The supportive spouse and/or the care recipient should also engage in activities that improve their well-being.

Caregiving is indeed a profound act of love, but it doesn’t have to come at the cost of your romantic relationship. By recognizing its unique challenges and actively working to address them, couples can emerge stronger and more connected. As Dr. Sue Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), says, “Love is a continual process of tuning in, connecting, missing, and misreading cues, and, at times, disconnecting and repairing.” Embrace this process, and remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

In the end, the goal is not just to survive seasons of caregiving but to thrive together. Using these suggested tips can ensure that both partners feel loved, supported, and understood no matter how chaotic or busy life may be.

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