Five Steps in Reclaiming Intimacy with Chronic Illness
I see couples daily in which one partner is experiencing a chronic illness. At any point in fighting an illness, you may find yourself oscillating between several different emotions. Some of these emotions include anger, sadness, and shame. But once you are able to tap into the world of acceptance in learning how to build a relationship with the illness, you may find yourself wanting to heal the disconnection by reclaiming the intimacy that has been lost.
Couples often tell me, “We have to be on the same page when it comes to our needs.” Well, that does not always happen. It is recommended that you learn how to differentiate in your relationship. The following steps are for all parties in the relationship. This can apply to people who are non-monogamous and polyamorous.
The first step starts with contacting the present moment. Contacting the present moment means flexibly bringing your awareness and body to the physical and psychological world around you. It means paying attention to the here-and-now experience of drifting off into your thoughts or operating on autopilot. Being flexible allows you to communicate your differences, as opposed to being more rigid in your thinking.
The second step is defusion. Defusion means learning to “step back” and separate or detach thoughts, images, and memories. Instead of getting caught up in your thoughts or being pushed around by them, let them come and go as if they were just cars driving on the road. This allows you to see your thoughts for what they are—nothing more or less than words or pictures. When you are able to do this, it allows you to look at your own defensiveness in your relationship.
The third step is opening up. Acceptance means opening up and making room for the disconnection of intimacy that has been lost with your partner. It is important to make room for painful feelings, sensations, urges, and emotions. Drop the struggle with them, give them some breathing space, and allow them to be as they are. Instead of fighting them, resisting them, running from them, or getting overwhelmed by them, open up to them and let them be. This does not mean liking them or wanting them. It simply means making room for them.
Opening up to your own feelings allows you to shift away from being enmeshed with your partner’s feelings, and it allows you to look at how both of you are different. Confront yourself and not your partner. This can be a life-changer.
The fourth step is knowing what matters. Don’t count on your partner to always agree with you. Your partner grows and heals their own way. Get curious about how they do this. This is an intimacy builder.
Focus on what reclaiming intimacy may look like. What do you want your relationship to be about? Values are desired qualities of ongoing action. In other words, they describe how you behave on an ongoing basis. Clarifying your differences is an essential step in reclaiming intimacy.
The fifth step is committing to your own sense of self. This is you taking effective action, guided by your values. It means doing what it takes to live your life (not your partner’s life), even if it brings pain and discomfort.
Stop making the relationship the cause of the conflict. Ask yourself about how you have contributed to the disconnection with intimacy. Looking at a new direction through a different lens in reclaiming intimacy is what is needed.
Be who you are and what you want to be, and be the partner you would like to have. Differentiation is a work in progress. Remember to have compassion for yourself and your partner.