Get help. Give help.


Good communication is the cornerstone for all positive relationships, whether with your spouse, healthcare provider, children, or respite provider. A situation may be made better or worse depending on how your needs are communicated.

Asking for Help

Many caregivers wait until they have encountered a major hurdle to ask for help. They may suffer from an adverse health event, an emotional breakdown, or find themselves physically unable to provide care before seeking help from friends or family. Some of the reasons for not seeking support may include:

  • I don’t want to be a burden
  • They already have so much on their plate
  • I’m embarrassed
  • I don’t want them to think I can’t handle it
  • What will they think of me?
  • No one can take care of them like I can

Be Clear About What You Need

It is important to remember that other people can’t read your mind. Assuming that others know what you need only leads to more frustration and resentment. Consider writing down a list of the key points you need to make to ensure that you don’t get sidetracked.

How You Say It Is As Important As What You Say

When we are frustrated, disappointed, angry or resentful, we often use words and body language that put those we are communicating with on the defense. Although our feelings of frustration with a family member who is not stepping up in the way we need them to may be justified, coming at them in attack mode will most likely mean that your message is not received, creating a widening rift between you.

One way to make sure that your message is received is to use “I” messages instead of “you” messages. As noted in the Caregiver Helpbook(Marilyn Cleland and Vicki L. Schmall), “you” messages tend to feel like an accusation or attack to the person on the receiving end. Reframing statements using the format “I feel _______ when __________,” allows for your message to be heard without putting the other person on the defensive. Our natural inclination is to feel defensive when we perceive ourselves to be under attack. When statements are rephrased in such a way we might feel empathy for the person who is sharing their feelings and be more receptive to offering our support. Some examples of “you” messages are:

“You always make me late.” “You never help with the dishes.” “You aren’t pulling your share of the weight.”

Some ways of re-framing those same sentences are:

“I feel frustrated when I’m late.” “I feel overwhelmed when the dishes are piling up.” “I feel overwhelmed by all of the things on my plate right now.

Communicating the Need for Respite to Your Loved One

Communication is a two-way street. Perhaps as important as what YOU have to say is listening well to the person you are communicating with. Before having a potentially difficult conversation, be sure to eliminate distractions by turning off the TV or radio and closing windows if there are outside noises. Plan out what you would like to say beforehand and try to imagine how your words may be interpreted by your loved one. Prepare yourself as well as you can to respond to their worries, concerns, or resistance, so that you will not be overcome with emotion during your conversation. Create an atmosphere of trust by assuring them that you hear their concerns and that you are working to come up with a solution that will meet everyone’s needs.