Welcome to Relationship Rehab, news.com.au's weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred.
I'm in a difficult position with my wife — we've been together 12 years.
Approximately four years ago, I had my left testicle removed which resulted in a complication of chronic neuropathic pain due to nerve damage from the surgery. Since that injury, I've been largely housebound. Intimacy has dried up as sex results in me being in debilitating pain for 24-48 hours. My wife feels guilty as a result. As such, our sex life has dried up.
Not only sex but cuddling/general togetherness is affected. Unfortunately, when we touch/cuddle, I experience painful, visible spasms/shocks. Unfortunately, my wife feels guilt due to the pain and self-blames and physically withdraws — despite my pleas to her that I don't mind the spasms/pain as long as we're close.
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As a result, more and more distance is growing between us and, due to the challenges, I fear our relationship won't survive the lack of intimacy/closeness.
What can I do to help improve the relationship and fill the intimacy gap that my medical condition has now created?
Firstly, I'm sorry to hear you're experiencing such painful and ongoing issues here. It sounds awful.
The intimacy gap isn't solely created by your medical condition here, but the way you're able to handle the results and communicate about it together.
My general advice for couples who are unable to be sexually intimate for medical reasons is to maintain non-sexual physical touch or other forms of intimacy that are possible. Normally, this would be regulated by the person who is experiencing the pain to ensure it falls within their physical limits. You're trying to do this, but are having trouble reaching understanding with your wife.
More communication and understanding is needed between you.
It sounds like she isn't able to give you the comfort and support that you're asking for — and instead is caught in her own emotional reactions.
Guilt is the experience that we've done something wrong. It's such a strange reaction to something that, from what I hear isn't her fault at all here. I suspect guilt isn't really what's going on here or that there's more to her experience than what she's sharing. I think it would be helpful for you both to explore what "guilt" means to her and what else is going on.
Is there some kind of trauma or something else that is triggered for her by seeing you in pain? What does she feel guilty about? If you're not bothered by the pain, why is she? What are the implications of it for her?
Voice your feelings and your needs about your relationship in a positive and proactive way. Tell her the impact that the lack of physical closeness has on your emotionally and mentally. Instead of "pleas", tell her how important this kind of connection is to you and clearly voice what you want.
Do what you can to maintain your relationship connection in other ways, such as sitting down and talking each day, making time for playful and fun as much as you can and setting aside time for "date night" — even if that's just a special night you have at home together regularly.
Let me know how you go with this. I'm curious to hear more about her experience.