How You Can Keep Intimacy Intact When Your Wife Has Breast Cancer

Don’t let guilt get you down. Every relationship—even those not dealing with cancer treatment—can suffer from occasional drops in intimacy.

Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS
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You may look at your wife and wonder “who is this person?” because she doesn’t look or act like the same person anymore. Hair loss, body image changes from surgery, weight gain from chemo or hormonal therapy, fatigue, low libido and mood swings can sometimes add up to a person who you don’t feel like wooing into bed.

The important thing is to not let these temporary changes come between you as a couple, and learn how to work through this time as a team with love and understanding.

Some simple tips:
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. If you want to be intimate with your wife, let her know! Some men are afraid to ask while their wives undergo cancer treatments for fear that they’re being insensitive or too demanding. Yet even if your wife declines due to fatigue or other treatment side effects, she will appreciate knowing you are still attracted to her and want to be intimate!
  • Talk about your feelings. The conventional wisdom is true: communication is one of the most important aspects to a relationship. If you’ve found that some of the changes your wife has undergone during treatment have influenced your libido, try to find an understanding and constructive way of discussing them. Say, for example, your wife has been fatigued and stressed during treatment, you might say: “It’s hard for me to see you so worn out lately, let’s do something fun tonight that will give both of us a break!” It can sometimes help your partner just to know that she’s not alone on the cancer journey. And let your emotion show—there is nothing sexier than a man allowing tears to run because he wishes he was the one with the cancer instead of his wife.
  • Keep your focus off the physical. Physical changes—whether they are permanent or not—should not influence how much you love your partner. Remember, as couples age, both partners will experience physical changes whether from cancer treatment or not.
  • Intimacy doesn't always mean intercourse.  You can still have intimacy with your wife even if sex isn’t currently feasible. Hugging, kissing, snuggling together on the couch, even holding hands can help establish a physical bond with your spouse. Remember: it’s the little things that count!

Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, is the administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center. Ms. Shockney, a two-time breast cancer survivor, speaks to audiences across the country and has written books about breast cancer.

June 2013