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When one spouse or partner becomes a caregiver to the other, it can change the dynamic of the relationship. Navigating a new reality of care, disease, injury, and the emotional baggage that comes with it can lead to conflict and arguments. As a result, sexual intimacy in the relationship often suffers. Couples in this situation may stop doing things that they used to enjoy together and replace intimate moments with much-needed rest. While the experience of coping with a debilitating injury or illness can be difficult and painful, it can also bring couples closer together as they face challenges together. In this article, we’ll discuss how injury, illness, and care change the dynamic of a couple’s relationship, how that affects a couple’s sex life, and tips to weather the storm together.

How Illness, Injury, and Care Change the Relationship

No matter what your individual situation may be, whether it’s temporary or permanent, it’s important to recognize the problems as they arise so you can work through them together.

Here are just a few of the potential ramifications you may have to cope with:

Uncertain Future

A debilitating injury or illness can completely change the future a couple had planned together. The couple may have to give up on their plans for a family or traveling, for example, as they adjust to their new reality.

Changing Roles

Not only does care put a physical and emotional strain on both partners, but it can also lead to some major changes in the established norms of the household. One partner may be left unable to work, forcing them to rely on the other for support. The healthy partner may need to absorb roles they hadn’t experienced or needed to take on before, which can lead to feelings of guilt, resentment, guilt about the resentment, etc. leading to tension and conflict.

Financial Strains

The couple may need to deal with financial strains if the breadwinner is unable to work or if medical bills pile up. Financial struggles put a strain on relationships at the best of times, so they can be absolutely detrimental to intimacy and closeness when placed on top of the stress of care and illness.

The Impact on Sex and Relationship

When one member of a couple is dealing with an injury or illness, it can obviously have a major impact on their sex life. Not only does the sick or injured partner often have less energy and interest in sex, but they may also be dealing with pain, medications, and other issues that can make sex difficult or even impossible. 

Meanwhile, the healthy partner may feel overwhelmed by the demands of caregiving or the new responsibilities they’ve needed to absorb, leading to feelings of resentment, guilt, and feeling as though their needs are being ignored (or somehow less important). As a result, it’s not uncommon for couples in this situation to drift apart sexually.

How to Overcome Intimacy and Relationship Challenges

While recognizing the effects care, injury, and/or illness have on your relationship is important, that’s just step one. The next step is to work through the problems together. Here are some simple ways to start:

Encourage Independence: Avoid Overly Doting Behavior

The care provider partner should encourage their loved ones to take on as many roles and responsibilities as possible/reasonable depending on their condition. 

It is important for their confidence and independence to maintain autonomy where possible. When both partners share in the load, it deepens the connection and strengthens the bond between you. Sharing responsibilities is also an essential aspect of a partnership. Caregivers should avoid any instinct to overprotect, shield, or otherwise insulate their loved one. Being too doting will harm the relationship. 

Communicate Openly and Honestly

Communication is key in any relationship, whether it’s between friends, family, or romantic partners. When we communicate effectively, we are able to express our needs and wants clearly, without feeling guilty or misunderstood. In caregiver relationships, this communication is especially crucial. 

Both parties have valid needs that should be communicated openly and honestly. Caregivers have a tendency to self-assign their needs (especially intimacy needs) as less important than their partner’s daily needs, often causing a feeling of guilt for having needs at all. This isn’t fair to you or your partner.

Guilt has no place in your conversations – caregiving is a challenging role, and receiving care is an equally challenging position to be in. Both parties need to be honest about their needs in order to maintain a healthy relationship. Only then can both parties feel heard and understood. 

Take Respite: Self Care is Critical

It’s easy for care to become all-consuming. But it’s important to not let it consume you. On average, the duration of care is four years. You can’t maintain the level and quality of care your loved one deserves for that amount of time without regular respite.

As such, self care is indispensable for a healthy life and marriage or partnership while caregiving.  

Closing Thoughts

The emotional distance can be difficult to overcome. In order to maintain a healthy relationship, it’s important to communicate openly about these issues and to make time for intimacy, even if sex is not possible. Couples need to approach conversations with an open mind and listen for ways to be more supportive of each other during these tough times.

If you’re providing care to your partner, we also hope you found some solidarity in the fact that you are not alone. To get more information about the resources we have available to you as a California caregiver, contact us at the California Caregiver Resource Center nearest to you or join CareNav for free today.

Further Reading: Getting Paid to Provide Care for a Loved One

If you are a caregiver, we recommend you check out our article about getting paid to be a caregiver in California next. Becoming a caregiver is both physically and mentally difficult, and expensive. The state of California offers several paths for least partial compensation or subsidized assistance, so click here to learn more about how to get paid to be a caregiver.

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