When couples are struggling to create a new normal in the aftermath of a brain injury, sex is often the last thing on their minds.
Not surprising, is it? The crisis they’ve gone through has completely changed the way they relate one another. One partner has been suddenly put in the role to become a devoted caregiver; the other must learn to accept help, which can be surprisingly hard to do.
Amid these challenges, sexual intimacy may feel like yet another loss that couples must grieve. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With patience, caring and mutual support, partners can find ways to satisfy the physical and emotional needs that may have been neglected along the way.
Here are 7 suggestions I offer for couples looking to restore love and intimacy in the wake of a brain injury.
1. Remember that you are a sexual being. The need for emotional warmth and intimacy is a human constant. No matter what happens to us, we continue to need physical affection in our lives. Seeing yourself as a whole person who deserves love and closeness is the first step in rebuilding your sex life together.
2. Release the guilt. When we’re navigating a crisis, we have to choose what’s most important. Healing and adjusting demanded a lot from both of you. The fact that sex went out the window for a while is more than understandable. Don’t blame yourself or your partner for the pause in your love life.
3. Trust that you can heal. Erase the idea that intimacy after brain injury is impossible. As you do this, also embrace the idea that sex may be very different from now on. The good news is that you’ve become very skilled at adapting to change. The same strengths you’re using to heal the rest of your life will help you in this area too.
4. Rewrite the script. Renowned sex therapist Martha Kauppi has written extensively about how couples can enjoy good sex over a lifetime, even as their bodies and abilities change. She recommends that couples redefine sex as anything that feels good, fosters closeness and brings satisfaction. Thinking openly and creatively will free you to explore many new ways of relating without comparing your former sex life to your new one.
5. Communicate openly. Intimacy also means making room for honest conversation. Discuss how your lives have changed and how hard it may be to see each other as romantic partners after you’ve been caregiver and patient for so long. You’ll find that the fears you’ve both been harboring are easier to overcome when you tackle them together.
6. Ask for one thing you’d like to try. Maybe you’d like to begin with kissing, cuddling, or watching erotic movies together. Whatever gets you to feel your desire to be close, summon the courage to ask your partner for it – and make room for your partner’s wishes, too. It’s all about caring for each other and embracing each other’s needs.
7. Share your appreciation. Thank your partner for listening, for touching, for responding to your romantic gestures. Remember that the heart and soul inside each of you is still the same – even though the way you express your love may change over time.
If you need help dealing with the challenges of rebuilding your love life after a brain injury, I am here to help.