Keeping intimacy alive is a challenge in any relationship, but when one partner has had a stroke, the challenges can multiply.
Strangely enough, after my husband had a massive stroke that left him paralyzed from the neck down, our love for each other grew stronger. This may seem odd since our relationship and our lives also were tested in ways I could never have imagined.
His frustrations were many, and there were many things I couldn’t fix. Yet, I could still find ways to bring joy to his life, and having that mission helped me feel better too. Here are a few tips for nurturing love and intimacy that we discovered along the way.
1) Anticipating the Future
With our whole lives dramatically shifted, things were bleak. Yet, we were still us, and one thing we always enjoyed was planning and looking forward to the future. The stroke didn’t change this. For example, Don wanted to take a trip to Mexico for Valentine’s Day, but his first Valentine’s was only a couple of months after his stroke. Mexico just wasn’t a possibility then.
However, by the following year, it was. I strategized and planned and found a way to make it happen. Most of the time though I was working on much littler events. Instead of getting lost in the challenges of our daily lives, I focused on things we had enjoyed pre-stroke and found ways to bring them into our lives again.
2) Retaining our interests
Before his stroke, we loved eating at restaurants, dancing, going to the movies and getting together with our friends. I realized that the stroke couldn’t take these things away from us. We could find ways to do all of them with sometimes extensive planning.
For example, Don had a large wheelchair that couldn’t be accommodated everywhere. So I would pre-check a restaurant before going out to eat to see whether it would be a good fit, and when I found one, we would have a date night.
Movie theaters also could be tricky, but with planning, we could go out and enjoy a movie together. Dancing was different. We couldn’t cuddle close, and he couldn’t leave his chair. But I would invite friends over, turn on some music, and spin him around in the wheelchair. It was fun for both of us, and knowing that at the end of the week our friends would be visiting for a party made the whole week so much more fun.
3) Creating physical intimacy
Because Don was paralyzed, physical contact was a challenge for us. To retain our physical closeness, I put a second bed next to his special hospital-style bed in our home. That way, when we were sleeping, we could still be close to one other.
Also, because he could still feel my touch, we were still able to experience physical affection and closeness.
4) Nurturing love (even during conflicts)
In good times and bad, we both frequently told each other, “I love you,” which felt so warm, appreciative and life affirming to both of us. Saying “I love you” was even the way we ended difficult times when his frustrations would boil over and spill out. First, we would usually take some time apart to let our emotions have time to cool, then I would return to him and say, “I love you.” He would smile his glorious smile, and mouth “I love you too.” Just as before his stroke, he wasn’t one to hang onto anger, and the problem would slide into the past.
Post-stroke, our love was different, but it wasn’t less. In many ways, it was more, because we both admired how we rose to handle the many stresses of our new life together. Now, six years after his passing, most of the stresses and pains of those times have slid to the recesses of my mind, but our love surprised us in its strength and grew throughout this challenging time. Now when I remember those time, our loving connection remains a wonderful and cherished memory.
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