7 Ways Caregivers Can Increase Intimacy with a Spouse

Losing the intimate aspect of a relationship can be very sad. We all crave closeness, especially during periods of stress—when we are unsure of the future or scared of losing our independence. But as caregiving changes your role and how you interact with your spouse or partner, the emotional connection that once sparked intimacy and romance may suffer.

  • If you are exhausted and overburdened, it’s hard to feel sexually attractive.
  • Perhaps your partner takes medication or has an illness that affects sexual function.
  • You may worry that a partner with dementia cannot properly consent to a sexual relationship.
  • Ironically, the more physical care your partner needs, the less intimacy you may feel. Contact becomes performing chores—grooming, toileting, moving around—with little left for hugging, hand-holding, and sitting close together.

As a spousal caregiver, you may find that less intimacy with your partner is a major cause of sadness. Yet physical intimacy is a way for a couple to affirm their feelings, strengthen their bond, and enjoy the time they have together.

Ways to Increase Intimacy

  1. Realize you may have to modify your expectations, calling on the patience and open communication you both used in the early days of your courtship.
  2. Talk with your health care professionals. It may seem embarrassing at first, but sex is a very real and important part of life. Your health care team is familiar with your spouse’s condition. Brainstorm with them to come up with some realistic ways to rekindle your relationship.
  3. If your spouse can go out, an old-fashioned date may be the best medicine. Go to a show, a favorite restaurant, or your local watering hole to revive memories of past dates.
  4. If your spouse cannot leave the house, bring in a friend or professional to care for them so you can get a break. Use that time to improve how you feel, such as by going to the gym, taking a bath, or engaging in a hobby.
  5. Or use this time away to do something for your loved one. Buy a favorite dessert, borrow a book for them from the library, or rent a movie you know they’ll like.
  6. Try tender gestures such hugging, holding hands, giving back rubs, or just making eye contact and smiling. Emotional support can be further extended simply by being polite and sensitive to each other’s needs, and talking about things other than caregiving. Sometimes we’re so busy we don’t do even these simple things.
  7. Connect in non-physical ways. Sing or listen to songs you both love, look at old pictures, or watch a comedy on TV—anything that gets a positive reaction and reminds the two of you of the fun you used to have together.

Remember that there are myriad ways couples share closeness, and your goal is to find what works best for you and your spouse. Don’t succumb to pressure that your intimate life should be anything other than what you both want.