For many, the word "intimacy" conjures up images of the sexual antics of young, fit, toned, and energetic youth. Many caregivers feel the exact opposite of that! They are exhausted, feel out of shape, and have mentally put sex on the back burner indefinitely. It's difficult to feel sexy when you're depleted. But, intimacy means much more than just sex and it lives well beyond the bedroom.
According to LLuminari expert Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., in her book: What I've Learned About Sex, humor and consideration are the two most important ingredients in a sexual relationship. And you can have both, even in a caregiver role.
According to Dr. Schwartz, "Our health is influenced by our feelings of connectedness. There are few things as stressful as feeling alone in the world and if intimacy dies, people can feel alone even if they are living together. Helping support healthy relationships, in both their physical and emotional connection, is helping keep alive a fundamental part of a person's well being."
The Power of Touch
If your caregiver role is with your partner, your partner's illness or disability does not mean that your sexual relationship is necessarily over. Human touch is key to being intimate. Although you may feel that you spend a lot of your time touching your partner by bathing or moving him or her, set aside time for different kinds of touch. Simply lying together in bed holding hands, or stroking each other's faces can lead to a better connection. And, making love doesn't require sexual intercourse. There are many non-traditional ways to connect with and satisfy your partner. Perhaps the best way to keep intimacy alive is with your mind. Remembering wonderful sexual moments, times when you connected as soul mates, or occasions when the two of you couldn't stop laughing-all help to reestablish intimacy.
If your partner is mentally or physically unable to meet any of your needs, learn to meet your own. Masturbation is rarely discussed but it is such a healthful, normal activity. If you are uncomfortable or don't know how to satisfy yourself, simply lie in bed and use your imagination. Remembering a sexy movie scene or an especially satisfying past sexual encounter can create arousal. If all else fails, browse the local bookstore for books on sex, intimacy, or marriage tips!
When caregiving for others interferes with you and your partner's relationship, there are many ways to keep intimacy alive. Think of yourself as a sexual being and don't let sexual fantasies or thoughts make you feel guilty. Plan date nights. Say yes when people offer to help you. Be creative in finding someone to cover for you. For example, when someone says "I'd love to help for a few hours but have to do this or that errand," tell them you'll trade places and do the errand for them!
If you've lost your sexual self through exhaustion or depression, try some things that could reignite your sexual feelings. Be silly with your partner. Have a picnic on the living room floor. Dance to the music from your dating days. Look at pictures of you together during your courtship. Touching doesn't necessarily have to be in a sexual way, but in a caring and loving way. Try hugs, holding hands, giving and receiving backrubs, and making eye contact.
Just as you may have to work to find time for other basic needs in life, you may have to work to reclaim or rediscover your sexual self and your connection to your partner. Don't lose your sexual side. Intimacy is a vital part of your well-being.