Going through a serious illness can affect your relationship with your partner in different ways. For some couples, it can be difficult to regain the intimacy they once had. But, there are steps you can take to build intimacy in your relationship. It starts with good communication.
Share your feelings
Open, honest communication helps build emotional intimacy. Tell your partner how you’re feeling both physically and emotionally. This can help build physical intimacy, even if you and your partner have different levels of interest in sex. A few questions to help you and your partner talk about your relationship include:
- How is your communication? Has it changed?
- Do you share the same expectations about recovery from transplant?
- Have your roles changed? How do you feel about that?
Open communication can help you work through your feelings together. Then, you can find ways to share physical intimacy with or without sexual intercourse.
Express your love and affection
There are many ways you can be intimate with your partner. To express your love and affection for each other you might:
- Give each other a massage
- Hold hands while going for a walk
- Have dinner by candlelight
- Tell each other what you love about the other
- Experiment with your partner and enjoy getting to know each other intimately again
Cope with changes in body image
Your treatment and recovery likely caused physical changes in the way your body looks. This can make some people feel embarrassed, angry or ashamed. These feelings are normal. It may help to focus on your strengths and what is beautiful about you on the inside, too.
You may find that your partner is much less concerned by your body changes than you imagine. Open communication with your partner can help you feel more relaxed and accepting of changes to your body.
Dating after transplant
If you are a single adult, you may worry or feel uncertain about dating. It’s not uncommon to be nervous about starting a new relationship after a serious illness. But worry shouldn’t keep you from dating if you’re ready to do so.
If someone rejects you because of what you’ve been through, that person is probably not the right partner for you. Someone who truly cares about you will accept you for who you are.
When the time feels right to you, tell your partner about your transplant experience. Some people are ready to talk about their experiences with a potential partner right away. Others feel more comfortable waiting until they’ve gotten to know someone a little better.
Ask for help if you need it
It’s common for people to have trouble working through intimacy difficulties on their own. Talk to your doctors and nurses about any problems you’re having. Talking about your sex life might feel embarrassing, but most doctors and nurses are used to talking about this subject. They may be able to answer your questions and provide reassurance.
“In my personal experience, doctors are comfortable talking about sex, but YOU have to bring it up,” says Wendy, transplant recipient.
You may find it helpful to write down your questions before meeting with your doctor.
If you’re comfortable doing so, you may want to see a professional sex therapist or counselor. This person can help you and your partner find ways to regain intimacy.
Resources for you
Along with talking to your doctors and nurses, there are many online resources available to help you learn more about regaining intimacy after a serious illness:
- Cancer.net provides information on dating and intimacy after cancer treatment as well as coping with changes to sexual health after cancer treatment.
- BMT InfoNet offers information and webcasts about sexuality after transplant.
- CancerCare provides information and resources on relationship and intimacy issues related to cancer.
- The National Cancer Institute offers information and resources on sexuality, body image changes and dating after cancer.