Nothing feels sexy about realizing you’ve been in your pajamas for two days straight. When caregiving gets rough, it’s easy for you to focus only on the caregiving tasks that need to be done. Everything else gets pushed to the side, including a shower and a change of clothes (we’ve all been there!)
At first, you don’t even worry about romantically connecting with your partner because they are physically hurting, either from treatments or surgery. It’s completely normal to fall into a funk after a new diagnosis. It’s not even a thought that comes to mind because you are so concerned about their wellbeing.
Your connection with your spouse means a lot to you and the thought of losing the ability to connect with them long-term is scary. Don’t worry, just because they have cancer doesn’t mean the romance is gone. But it might need to look a little different.
Here are five ways to keep the romance alive.
1. Be ok with things being different.
Understand they may feel self-conscious after a surgery and they can be scared you won’t be attracted to them anymore. There is a certain way people instinctively pull back from scars, but that might give a subtle message that you don’t accept them as they are. Ask them about their scars and let them know how much you love them the way they are. Worries and fears are fueled by secrecy, so try to communicate how you feel, along with any concerns you have about touch. Letting them hear that you accept them even if there have been big changes to their bodies will help them feel safe enough to have a conversation about how they feel. Sure, things might have to be different, but if the two of you talk about, it odds are you’ll set new expectations and boundaries. It's good to be able to create a new idea of what connection feels like for both of you.
2. Participate in fun activities together.
Think back and remember the things you used to do for fun together, then find a way to bring those activities back. If you enjoyed going to a comedy club, you can easily pull up a comedian on a streaming service or for free on Youtube. Was date night always dinner and a movie, but now your loved one can’t get out of bed? No problem. Order dinner from your favorite restaurant, put a fancy sheet or tablecloth on the bed and queue up that movie you both wanted to see. Fun is what you make it. It doesn’t have to be canceled because it isn’t the same as it was before cancer joined the group.
3. Redefine what intimacy is for both of you.
This has to do a lot with communication with your partner. It also means that intimacy needs to be redefined. Sitting next to each other and simply holding hands can be a great way to connect. Maybe all there's energy for is a kiss. If you both can be open to the possibility that things may need to be different, and communicate with each other about your needs, then being intimate could be better than before.You can be more connected in your relationship than before. It could also be possible that it’s hard for one or both of you to have these conversations. If that’s the case, seeking support from a therapist or support group might be just what you need.
4. Be present.
Turn off the caregiver switch and be present when you are with them. There’s nothing worse than having someone you love to sit next to you but not pay attention to you. It’s also sad to realize that you wasted time worrying about things you had no control over instead of being focused on your partner. Yes, it’s difficult to switch off from caregiver duties so you can spend time hanging out with the person you love, but you need it just as much as they need you to.
5. Remember why you love them.
Relationships can come under a great amount of strain under the weight of cancer. When things start to feel difficult or you miss your life with them before they became ill, take a moment to reminisce. Look back at pictures from the pre-cancer days. Find ways to remember why you love them. Love is why you stayed, but there’s nothing wrong with needing something to help you remember how much you love them.
Both of your lives have been turned upside down. It might take a little time to adjust to the way things are now. You are their caregiver because you love them, and just like all the other big things you both have been through together, you can get through this. It hurts to know cancer has changed your relationship. However, you can continue to love and support each other and let your relationship grow because of it and in spite of it.