Friday, August 5, 2016

When Illness Changes Intimacy

I wrote a post about this topic a while ago, and readers are still offering comments.  I think this is the case because illness and sex is a common but often closeted aspect of living with a serious health condition.  When illness becomes the third partner in the relationship, it infiltrates into the living room, the check book, the social calendar, and the bedroom.  If the couple is older, or younger, the intimacy-illness equation gets even more complicated.

I am linking to the original post.  But more important than the post itself are the comments.  I thank all those who shared their situations and heartaches, and solutions.  I hope other readers find community and some comfort in knowing that we are not alone.  Here goes:

"What do you do when your partner is no longer interested in or capable of sexual intimacy with you?

Illness takes many tolls, on both partners.  One of them is too often sexual intimacy.  Medications, pain, and exhaustion can not only turn a libido off, but can make intercourse painful for the ill partner.  The well partner may be just too drained after a long day of caregiving, working, caring for kids, and running the household to want anything more intimate than falling asleep side-by-side.  And the shift illness produces in some partner relationships -- turning a bond of equals into one of caregiver and patient -- can make sex feel like a taboo."


Coffee Stain said...

I was married nearly 20 years ago to a beautiful, wonderful woman. I married knowing my wife had congenital heart disease and the road could be difficult. In 2004, her health began to change. In 2010 it became very apparent we were in for a difficult journey, with her cardiac disease evolving into cardiac and lung disease. In 2012, fibromyalgia became a part of her diagnosis and in 2014 renal failure also evolved. She is a sick, but a wonderful woman. She lives in bed, wears oxygen full time and for obvious reasons is not interested in intimacy anymore. I would characterize myself as being very sexual, and I am dying from the lack of intimacy with my wife. We have not been intimate for about a year, and recent prior years we had been intimate 6 or 8 times a year. I find myself full of resentment and considerable angst; frequently I am angry with myself for my desire to bail or stray. I'm nearly 50 and feel life slipping away quickly. I cannot live without an intimate life, and yet I do. I am so lonely and unfulfilled...all because of sex. I've broached the subject with her, suggesting...on her good days...maybe alternatives...I need something..., But there seems to be no good answer. I'm miserable, but I suspect she is more miserable. She is a warrior, and I suspect she will soldier-on, battling her illness; more pain for me. Why does this issue need to be so damn important to men???

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Thank you Coffee Stain for your so articulate description of your situation -- and you are not alone in this. Illness has so many casualties, and intimacy, sex is too often one of them It's no small thing - for men, and for women. Your feelings about this aching loss are also shared -- anger at the ill partner, anger at oneself, and misery. I would suggest, in a gentle way, that you keep the conversation going. What might be unthinkable one day, might be possible the next. And for some, just the ability to talk about the loss of intimacy and the yearning for sexual contact can help, even to a large extent. Some couples, through communication, find a way for the well partner to seek sexual contact outside the relationship. For others, this doesn't work. Some find different forms of touching, ones that don't involve intercourse, or arousal for the ill partner if that is unfeasible. And to the extent possible, keep the other avenues of connection flowing -- sharing what you still enjoy, reading out loud, holding each other. I hope you find a path.