A few years ago, my friend had major abdominal surgery that required a long period of recovery. During that time, she found that her partner seemingly lost interest in her sexually despite her doctors assuring them both that sexual activity was fine. What’s worse is that he wouldn’t even talk to her about it.
She was devastated. As friends do, we spent hours dissecting what was behind his withdrawal and what it was doing to her mental health. She tried everything she could think of to get him excited and aroused again. He didn’t respond to flirting, sexting, her attempts at initiating, or anything else. Within a matter of months, she went from worried about her recovery to worried about her relationship.
Her partner was a truly good man. Prior to the surgery, they had a great sex life and their relationship was solid. Something about taking on the role of caretaker during her recovery shifted how he saw her. She was no longer his partner. She was his patient and he could not sexualize someone he was taking care of in that way.
She struggled as the months went on because while the surgery helped her medically, it forever altered the way she looked. Her confidence faded. The light in her eyes dimmed because she no longer felt like a woman. I watched her withdraw into herself and put up emotional walls in an effort at self-preservation.
By the time she recovered, their relationship was permanently changed. They are still together and eventually they became sexually intimate again, but something was missing. Their inability to talk about their challenges led to a distance between them that changed their connection. The erosion of their intimacy led to barriers that did not exist before.
I wasn’t a sex coach back then. Had I been, I would have welcomed the opportunity to work with them. Part of my training is focused on helping couples reconnect after a health crisis that changes the dynamics of intimacy. I can help couples with tools and education to support them before the barriers are built.