top of page

Making romantic relationships work as a carer

Whether you love it or loathe it, Valentine’s Day can stir up big emotions in people. And for carers, it can be an unwanted reminder of an area of our lives that isn’t how we’d like it to be. Let’s face it, navigating a romantic life alongside a hectic schedule can feel like trying to do a puzzle with our eyes closed. 

Illustration of a couple dating

If we’re in a relationship with the person we care for, or jointly caring for a child or family member, the pressure to make a grand romantic gesture can feel not only overwhelming at this time of year, but outright impossible. And all the while, we may be experiencing the sensation of growing apart over time. 

For single carers, being bombarded with over-the-top displays of affection can be particularly grating, especially if we’ll be spending our Valentine’s Day administering a sponge bath (and not in a sexy way).

And let’s not forget too, that there are lots of carers in our community who are happily embracing the solo life, and are likely finding the whole Valentine's Day charade a waste of time and money.

Whatever our situation, Valentine's Day can shine a light on an area of our life that we find difficult. That’s why we’re taking this opportunity to delve into some of the most common romantic challenges for carers, and how people in our community are dealing with them.

While tips can be helpful, it is also important to acknowledge the heavier feelings we may be experiencing. For some of us things might have changed forever, and the first steps are to start processing that. Taking a look at our content around grief could be helpful for those of us grieving the life and the freedom, or the relationship, we used to have before caring. 

Whatever our age, sexual orientation or relationship status, we hope there are some helpful tips and advice here for making love and dating work for us while caring. 

In this blog we’ll cover:

I’m single and feel like it’s impossible to date

Whether it’s dad’s repetitive dementia stories scaring a prospective date off, or our child interrupting our ahem private time, being a single carer can throw up all kinds of new and uncomfortable dating challenges.

Illustration of dating messages

Firstly, there’s the practical stuff: feeling like we have no time, freedom or privacy to connect with new romantic partners. 

Then there can be an emotional strain, too. Many carers talk about the overwhelming amount of energy that goes into daily care work, leaving us with little motivation to look after ourselves, let alone hop on a dating app and craft sparkling, stand-out replies to strangers. 

On top of that, some of us feel like we’re carrying around invisible "carer baggage," worrying about how others will react to our situation on a first date. This can be a high anxiety topic, especially if we’ve been on the receiving end of negative reactions that have upset or embarrassed us in the past.

Let us reassure you: lots of carers feel hesitant about dating after dedicating so much time to caring for someone else. Loss of identity, feeling ‘out of the loop’ with dating technology, or worrying about our dateability… these are all completely normal worries. But with a bit of time and practice, getting into the swing of dating (if we want to and at a pace that works for us) can be possible. There is real value in holding onto, or finding the things that make us “us”, and we can find more tips on how to make this happen here

“Valentine's Day is hard for us singletons especially when you’re are a carer”

Our top tips for dating like a pro as a carer

  • Know what we want: Take some time to think about the type of the relationship we’re after. Is it a casual fling or a serious life partner? Either option being totally valid! Understanding our own needs, and what feels achievable around our caring role, is helpful as we can begin to filter out people who aren’t on the same page as us.

  • Make time for dates: If we can, set aside quality time for dating. Planning dates in advance, organising respite and asking friends and family to help out with caring can free up time in our schedule. Our guides to finding respite and widening our carer circle might be helpful to achieve some more time and mental space.. 

  • Use tech: If getting out for in-person dates isn't doable, consider virtual options like video calls. Platforms like Zoom offer a great way to have virtual dates from the comfort of our sofa. Plus, many dating apps now include built-in video call features, allowing us to connect with potential partners from anywhere in the world.

“Speaking to people on dating apps became a helpful way to ‘retain’ part of my old identity when my care role became full-time. I cherished having 20 minutes to connect with new people as myself, rather than as a carer.”

  • Prioritise ourselves: Caring roles so often revolve around the person we care for, and it can be easy to bring that mentality into dating. Remember, this is something we want to do for us. We can aim to set boundaries from the start, keep time free for ourselves, and take the time to get into the right headspace for dating by remembering who we are and why we have value. 

  • Be flexible: Caring might mean we need to change our plans sometimes. We might have to do shorter dates or meet online instead of in person. The important thing is that dating should work for us, and not be another stressful thing to add to our plate.

  • Join dating apps: Dating apps like Plenty of Fish, Bumble and Hinge can help us to connect and get to know people before meeting them in person. It's a good way to build a rapport and see if there is a connection we may want to pursue further, without needing lots of free time for ‘real life’ dating.

  • Join hobby groups: Dating apps aren’t for everyone. Getting involved in groups with shared interests can help us to meet new people and take a break from caring. It's a chance to have fun and meet potential partners at the same time.

  • Connect with other carers: Dating can have its highs and lows. Talking to other people who understand what we're going through can make the process easier to navigate. We can find support from other carers at local meetups or online communities like our Mobilise Cuppas.

  • Build confidence slowly: Dating can be nerve-wracking, but remember that every date is a learning experience (including the terrible ones!). Even if things don't go perfectly, there’s confidence gained with each new encounter… and a great story to tell our friends.

  • Stay positive: Try not to get discouraged if the right person doesn’t show up right away. Enjoy the process of meeting new people. The right match will come along in time. You have to kiss a few frogs as they say…

Tackling the daunting task of telling dates that we’re a carer

Telling the person we are dating that we care for someone can feel like trying to tell them we have an extra limb. But remember, we decide when to tell them. And, while we can feel like we are alone, a lot more people are carers than we realise. They may well have their own experience with caring for a loved one.

Here are some tips to help introduce our new relationship to our caring role.

  • Try to be honest and upfront about our responsibilities from early on. This sets the tone for transparency and avoids misunderstandings later on. While this doesn’t need to be a first date topic, unless we feel comfortable bringing it up, if things are going well it is worth sharing. 

  • Set expectations by communicating what we can and can’t offer in terms of time, availability and emotional energy due to our carer role. Setting realistic boundaries around our time and availability helps to manage expectations from the outset. This can also extend to setting boundaries around if and when we want them to meet the person we care for. 

  • Take it slow when it comes to integrating our romantic life with our caring one. If they are able to understand, explain to the person you care for that you are starting to date. Set boundaries with them around your dating time where you can and tell them why it is important to you. Work out the right timing to introduce our date to the person we care for. Rushing this step can be overwhelming, for us and for them. This may be as big a change for them as us. 

  • If a date struggles to understand or accept our carer situation, it may be a sign we’re not compatible. Know that it's OK to move on from someone who doesn't fully support or appreciate our role as a carer. After all, it is what makes us superhuman! In the long run, finding someone who respects and understands our situation will lead to a more fulfilling and better relationship in the long-run.

Of course, our age and life stage play a big role in how seriously caring can impact dating. For example, a carer in their 70s may feel totally different about dating than a single person in their 30s. Our wants, needs and desires are ever-evolving and it’s important to check in with what we actually want. 

Dating can take on more weight, stress and anxiety if we feel as though time is running out. We know that this is a common worry for many younger carers looking after parents. If this is the case, we may find it useful to speak to family, friends or a professional about all that’s going on for us. 

There’s also helpful advice in our guide to managing feelings of resentment as a carer. 

I’m caring for my partner and there’s nothing romantic about it

Caring for a partner

Be it sorting bathroom accidents, washing our partner, shared grief over a diagnosis or prognosis, or watching them slowly forget who we are. Couples who have navigated the reality of caring for a partner will know that keeping the romance alive can be a challenging journey.

Some of us will have been caring from the start, while others may have been thrown into a carer role after a life-changing diagnosis or accident.

“I try to be upbeat but sometimes I feel angry. It’s the little things that are hard like when I go to supermarkets & can't take him shopping like I used to. I found out it’s anticipatory grief. We are losing parts of a loved one that we knew, and we become sad and angry with the changes.”

No matter the situation, partner carers face some common challenges - from navigating a strange shift in roles, to dealing with personality changes, and getting to know their bodily functions very intimately. 

We discuss this topic in detail in our blog on caring for a partner. Do check this out for in-depth advice on why our feelings can change (and why that’s normal), plus tips on how to work towards improving our new relationship dynamic.

“I used to get really hung up about not getting a valentine’s card. I've never worried about this before but I imagined others were thinking he had let me down by not getting a card - so we chose a card each for each other and get it out each year (makes us giggle too!)”

Caring for our child has made our relationship less intimate

Caring for a child can bring incredible new levels of trust, partnership and teamwork to a relationship. But it can also bring a higher volume of fatigue, arguments, rifts and simmering resentments.

Illustration of worried parent and child

Maybe it’s made our relationship stronger. Maybe it's not. But when caring for a child takes up all of our time and headspace, we might be wondering how we can find the energy to be romantic and intimate with our partner.

Lots of parent couples talk about being personal assistants ‘first’, and a romantic couple ‘second’.

Combine that with the likelihood that we’re tired, lacking in personal space, and feeling like we’re living for our child's wellbeing first and foremost, and it’s easy to see how physical and emotional intimacy can take a hit. 

We know that PTSD can have a huge effect on parent carers. Aside from operations, interventions and traumatic birth experiences, simply being the carer for a vulnerable child can take a big toll emotionally, leading to higher levels of anxiety, stress and worry about the future.

Couples can diverge in how they process and deal with these stresses, leading to even bigger fractures in the relationship. Reading about recognising trauma, and starting to heal as a parent carer may help. 

When we’re busy and in the thick of caring, there’s lots that can distract us from dealing with this new sense of distance. Often, it’s easier to chuck it to the bottom of the pile and keep pushing through.

“Did I have any idea how things would pan out? Of course not. Would I have left? Of course not.”

Ideas for romantically reconnecting as parent carers

  1. Redefine date night: Schedule date nights or regular quality time together to maintain connection and intimacy. This doesn’t need to be a traditional dinner and a movie. Can we find imaginative ways to slot moments of quality time into our care schedule?

“Our trips to the hospital can involve a lot of sitting in traffic and worrying we will be late. So we decided we'll just leave extra early and enjoy a coffee date in the hospital cafe before the appointment...we've had some of the best chats on these ‘dates’.”

  • Plan spontaneous activities: If we can arrange respite, we could do something fun and spontaneous together to keep the spark alive. It could be a day out to a new area or trying a hobby that pushes us both out of our comfort zones. Getting respite isn’t easy, but there’s some solid advice on how to do this in our guide for carers.

  • Find moments of micro intimacy: Look for small windows of time for intimacy in a busy schedule, like when the kids are at an activity or with a paid carer. This doesn’t need to mean sex. We may need some time to build up to physical intimacy, so try things like going for walks together and holding hands, or cuddling on the sofa.

  • Communicate honestly: Make an effort to talk openly about how caring impacts our relationship and discuss ways to find a better balance. For example, is one of us resentful if they feel they’re doing the majority of the work?

  • Check in regularly: Have regular conversations to check in on each other's feelings and needs, particularly after arguments. This could be five minutes in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up.

  • Be soppy, if it feels right: Studies show that showing affection through cuddling, touching, and kissing helps to rebuild intimacy, even during busy or low-energy times. Put physical touch back on the agenda. Remember that hugs can boost dopamine and serotonin.

  • Express Gratitude: Let our partner know we appreciate them by expressing gratitude and paying compliments. Once we start bringing this type of language into the mix, it can set a new dynamic for communication in the relationship.

  • Surprise them with small gestures: Try making them a cup of tea in the morning or running a hot bath in the evening. It’s often the little things that mean the most.  It can be the start of small reciprocal acts of kindness - and those feel good.

  • Remove unneeded energy drains: Identify and eliminate things that drain our energy or attention unnecessarily and take their toll on our relationship. It could be excessive social media use, feeling the need to reply to messages from friends or family immediately, or regularly prioritising getting another load of laundry in over a quick chat with our partner. If they are always at the bottom of our todo list, our relationship will never be nourished.  

  • Get support when we need it: Therapy can provide support and space for couples to talk about the challenges of caring together. Check out our guide to finding support for more advice on this topic.

“When I get low, I try to think about how much we love each other and how much he makes me laugh.”

Caring for my parent or inlaw is impacting my romantic life 

For those of us caring for our own parent, or an inlaw, this can also start to take a toll on our romantic relationships. Whether the person we care for lives with us, or we regularly travel to them, it can use a lot of our physical and emotional reserves, leaving less for other areas of our life. Like our partners.

Illustration of in laws

We may be trying to date, and struggling to find the time, energy, or sense of self to fit it in around our caring role. Or we may be in a committed relationship and realising that we have less time and energy for our partner, and there is conflict arising. Not many of us consider while saying our ‘I-dos’ that we may end up cooking for and bathing that inlaw we never really got on with.

Whatever the scenario, our tips above for dating or making a partnership work while caring should hopefully make a difference. 

What if I’m a carer and I don’t want a relationship?

That's totally OK. Lots of people are single at different times in life, and being on our own has its perks. The media often overlooks these benefits, especially at times like Valentine's Day when marketing is all about the importance of being with that certain special someone.

We might enjoy having our limited free time to ourselves, or spending it with friends instead. Or perhaps we are working through trauma that makes dating difficult right now. Or, we could just be content as we are.

Whatever the reason, it’s our choice to live how we want. Nowadays, there's less pressure to follow traditional relationship rules, making it easier to carve our own path. That said, we know that in some cultures, there can be more pressure to conform to expectations.

Negative past experiences can sometimes cause us to think that love just isn’t an option for us, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be true. Talking to ourselves kindly can help us to realise all the ways we are worthy of love, from others and from within, while therapy techniques like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may be helpful for unpicking negative thought patterns. 

I don’t see myself in these scenarios

As with most things in life, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Everyone's situation is different. We may be navigating a polyamorous relationship while looking after a relative, or perhaps we're re-entering the dating scene after losing our partner. 

Whatever your situation, here are our golden rules for building healthier relationships:

  • Communication is key: Keep the lines of communication open, even when it’s tempting to shut them down.

  • Listen up: Give our partner the floor – attentive listening can work wonders.

  • Know our boundaries - Both with the one we care for and in our relationships.

  • Compromise, not collision: Find the sweet spot between our needs and theirs. 

  • Respect is everything: Treat each other as we’d want to be treated.

  • Quality time is premium: Cherish time together like it's in limited supply.

  • Laugh often: Sharing a laugh is the best mood-booster. Whether it’s a funny memory or a ridiculous new dating hurdle, we can aim to approach it with humour.

  • Celebrate victories: Whether it's big or small, celebrate the good stuff together. 

  • Stay adventurous: Keep the spark alive by trying new things together – life is an adventure best shared, after all.

The final word

Whatever our situation, it’s good to remember that there’s no ‘perfect’ relationship, and that love comes in many different shapes and forms. Whether it's the support of friends and family, our local community, or practising saying nice things to ourselves, there are so many ways to experience connection in our lives. 

Valentine’s Day can be fraught with comparison traps, so it may be helpful to disconnect from social media if that’s what we need to protect our peace.

We might have come to the end of this and realised we have no mental bandwidth to make changes to our romantic relationships right now - and that’s totally OK. There's only so much we can take on. We can always bookmark and save these tips for a later date, when we're in a better position to apply them to our lives.

To share our own tips for navigating romance while caring, head on over to our Mobilise Hub to speak to our community of carers.


bottom of page