Finding New Forms of Intimacy While Living with Illness
When my husband and I first started dating we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. We were extremely affectionate, and let it be said, always ready to jump into bed. A year later all of that changed. Not because we lost the magic or because the shine had faded. In fact, our love and desire were stronger than ever. What happened was something entirely beyond our control. My (not yet) husband developed a brain tumor.
Recovering from illness in a marriage
Everything moved fast after that. He had surgery and the tumor was removed successfully and they declared that he would make a full recovery. We got engaged and moved in together. We were both already parents to children from previous marriages, and we soon had a loud and active household. We were living the life we had been waiting years to have. Except he was left in excruciating pain.
Repercussions of surgery and its effects on family life
Debilitating migraines dogged him on a daily basis. Some days he couldn’t get out of bed or open his eyes. Some days he shuffled around the house, trying his best to be the “at home” parent and make dinner or do the laundry. The simplest tasks became overwhelmingly exhausting. He could barely function, and intimacy was the last thing on his mind. Until the weeks turn into months, and the months turn into years.
Dwindling intimacy in married life
For a while I was dogged by insecurities: was he not attracted to me anymore? Did he not want me? But I learned quickly that his pain was so extreme that physical intimacy was nowhere on his radar. In a way, I went through the stages of grieving. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance (although not entirely in that order). Once I accepted the situation, I was able to create a new normal for us, with new expectations.
So for anyone out there living a life with a spouse or partner who is chronically ill or in pain, here are some tips on creating a different intimacy expectations
1. It’s not you, it’s them
It’s a cliche, but in this case, it means something different and very true. Remember that your partner loves you, and probably couldn’t go through this experience without your constant support. If they could jump you they would. In fact, they often do in their minds, their body just won’t cooperate. Sometimes, it’s the thought that counts. You just have to look for different forms of intimacy to keep your marriage going.
2. Sleep is precious, but so is sex
As a parent, sleep is a rare commodity. Sometimes we get to sleep the whole night through, sometimes we don’t. There are plenty of evenings when there is a little time after the kids get into bed, and given the choice, I usually choose going to bed earlier over having time to eat something. Occasionally, something will trump sleep. If you’re exhausted and heading to bed, or even already sleeping, let your partner know that it’s ok to wake you up. My husband, wonderful man that he is, always tries to let me get as much sleep as I can. However, if the mood strikes at two in the morning, he gives me a nudge, whispers in my ear, and when I open one eye, he gives me that smile. Take the moments that you get, treasure them. Sometimes they’re weeks apart, sometimes they’re months. Remember that as lonely as you are, your partner is equally lonely. Take advantage of the moments that you are lucky enough to have.
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