Author’s note: I am not a medical professional but person with fibromyalgia who is eager to spread awareness and to help others deal with this disease.
When even a kiss hurts…
Intimacy, whether physical or emotional, can be vitally important to maintaining a healthy long-term relationship. When you have a chronic pain condition like fibromyalgia it can seem impossible to maintain physical intimacy — everything from kisses and cuddles to sex — because everything hurts.
There are a lot of reasons why your physical intimacy with your partner may be impacted when you have fibromyalgia, the simplest one being that when you have fibro, being touched can hurt. Anxiety and depression often accompany living with any chronic disease, and they can cause feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem. On top of that, fibro often forces you into a sedentary lifestyle. Many people with fibro have to spend the majority of their time sitting or laying down. You can no longer run around like you once could.
When you are in such constant pain and experience hypersensitivity, your body may no longer feel like something wonderful that you are sharing with your partner but instead like an enemy causing you so much pain.
Fortunately, if you and your partner are willing to put in the time and effort, you can have physical intimacy in your life again. Notice I said, you and your partner, not just you. It is essential that your partner is willing to devote time and effort to this as well. This is certainly not a problem you can solve on your own.
Dealing with the changes
Regaining physical intimacy in your relationship starts with acceptance. It’s normal to be in denial when you are first diagnosed with fibro, but it’s important to stop fighting it. This is a chronic condition. It’s never going away. You must accept that this is your life now and be open to finding new ways to maintain the intimacy you once had.
As I said above, this is not a problem you can tackle on your own. Your partner must be by your side, and you must communicate with each other. Clearly, this may feel like a problem for you, since you’re reading this article, but have you talked to your partner about it?
Open the dialogue without pointing fingers. Talk about how you feel, and let your partner know this is something you need to work on together. “Ever since I got fibro, our intimacy hasn’t been what it once was. I really want to be intimate again, but I’m going to need your help to figure out how. We need to be slow and gentle. Will you work with me on this?” is a great way to start the conversation.
Odds are you and your partner are both missing that intimacy equally. Openly discuss any changes fibro has caused in your lifestyle that has changed the way you relate to your body and intimacy with your partner.
Has your physical appearance changed? Are you more tired? For me, I have flare-ups so bad that I can’t stand the touch of clothing on my skin. As a result, in my worst flares, I spend much of my time in bed naked with a space heater to keep me warm. I no longer associated my naked form with anything even mildly attractive. Being naked meant being defeated and powerless against my pain. This severely impacted my ability to share my body with my husband.
Your partner should also discuss how they are feeling. Are they afraid to hurt you? Do they feel like you’re not interested in intimacy with them specifically? Are they aware of how much you want that intimacy back? These are all important questions to ask and answer. Now that you and your partner are on the same page, it’s time to take steps to regain that physical closeness you’ve lost and along with it, the linked emotional and spiritual intimacy.
Feeling good about your body again
Stay physically active
If you’ve been reading up on fibro, you’ll probably notice many articles on the subject encourage physical activity. For people with fibro, moderate physical activity can relieve symptoms considerably, especially when done on a regular basis. It naturally follows that the better you feel, the easier it can be to enjoy physical intimacy and the better it may feel to be in your body.
Having fibro can affect your self-esteem. I know it did mine. Simple grooming can make a huge difference in how you feel. Figure out which grooming techniques have the most effect on your self-esteem. For me, when my legs are shaved and my eyebrows are shaped I feel great. For you, it may be having silky hair and a little makeup. These things may be worth it, even if they do cause a little bit of pain because they make you feel so much better mentally and emotionally. And, believe it or not, just feeling better about the way you look can have a positive effect on your pain.
When you have fibro, you can’t always wear the clothes you used to feel beautiful in. Those jeans that made your bum look great may no longer be an option, ditto to anything tailored, belted or stiff in any way. Walking around the house all day in sweats may not be doing anything for your self-esteem. Luckily, beautiful loungewear exists. Before I got sick buying clothes specifically purposed for doing nothing in seemed like the silliest idea in the world to me. But afterward, it makes a huge difference in the way I feel if I’m wearing a cute camisole PJ set.
Intimacy is not only for when you’re feeling good.
When you are in a flare-up period you’re feeling the worst physically, but it has a huge impact on how you feel inside as well. You may be feeling defeated, useless, frustrated and unattractive. It’s times like these when you feel like you just need a hug, but you know it will hurt too much.
On your worst days, it can feel great to have your spouse just lay in bed next to you, either holding your hand (if that doesn’t hurt too much) or just staying close and talking.
It’s important to maintain that intimate connection even when you’re in a high pain period. Letting it peter out during these periods may carry over into the times when your feeling physically good but emotionally not close to your partner.
How to get physical intimacy back
Try not to set goals for your physical intimacy
When you were healthy you probably thought nothing of initiating sex or responding when your partner did. You may have had a plan in mind, such as who was going to receive what, etc. When you have chronic pain you need to throw all those plans and expectations to go out the window. Physical intimacy needs to be about one thing: intimacy. Sometimes you will be able to enjoy sex the way you used to but oftentimes you may find that you become physically uncomfortable partway through or that something may hurt where you didn’t expect it too. It needs to be OK to stop then. You don’t have to necessarily discontinue the intimacy. If you can’t have sex, cuddle. If cuddling becomes to painful, lay hand in hand and talk. If your hand hurts, just talk. The important thing is maintaining that connection with your spouse so you both feel loved, appreciated and affectionate.
Relaxing together <
Odds are, if you have fibro, you’ve been working on relieving stress to keep your pain down. But have you tried trying to relax with your partner?
Try sharing baths, foot rubs, going to a café and having a cup of tea together. You can lay next to each other in bed and read your own books, light a candle and talk about your future or your past, talk about dreams or your retirement together. Just share your time and your thoughts with each other in a relaxing and intimate environment.
Fostering physical intimacy is not just the responsibility of one person in a relationship. Both partners need to work together to find opportunities for physical intimacy that won’t aggravate fibro symptoms. As I said above, communication is key, so what are the things the healthy spouse and the sick spouse can do to make it work?
For the person with fibro:
Figure out at what time in the day your pain is lowest and “functioning” is highest and plan to spend that time being physically close to each other. For me, that time is in the morning but my husband works during the day. So, we make sure that on the weekends, when he’s home with me, we’re not making plans to get up and go right away. We can schedule most things so in the morning we can have time to be together and foster that intimacy that just isn’t possible when he gets home from work and my symptoms are acting up.
Take the time to explore what positions and activities are easiest on your body. You may find that certain things are easier and more enjoyable than others, therefore you’ll be able to spend more time doing them without dealing with your body’s repercussions.
Join a forum for people with fibro. Remember that you and your partner are not the only ones dealing with this. The struggles of physical intimacy when you have fibro are not often broached in books or on websites, but when people feel safe behind a screenname they will talk about this aspect of our condition and how it affects every one of us.
For the healthy spouse:
The best thing you can do when trying to retain that physical intimacy you may have lost when your spouse got sick is to be patient. There are a lot of things you once enjoyed that may be uncomfortable for him/her now. You are going to need to take the time to learn what has changed and how you can still give each other pleasure and enjoy each other’s closeness.
Never rush, and try not to harbor too many expectations. It can be frustrating, but odds are it’s harder for your partner than it is for you. They know this is affecting your relationship, and yet they don’t know how to fix it without causing themselves pain. So take it slow, really slow.
Remember, your spouse can’t control their symptoms, and if they get stressed out from feelings of guilt or pressure, their pain is likely to get worse.
Join a forum for the spouses of people with fibro. There are plenty of them out there. It can be difficult to realize that when your spouse gets sick you may need support too. Learn from others, and share your own experiences. Just knowing you’re not alone can help.
Fibro has changed your lives and the dynamics of your relationship, but with communication and determination, you can get back that all-important intimacy and keep your relationship strong despite your illness.
The article is written by Carol M. Hudson, writer of scientific articles for DoMyWriting. She loves her job because it gives her the opportunity to inspire others and share your thoughts with like-minded people.