Any expert in the field of marriage and relationship counseling would more than likely agree that the physical relationship is an important aspect for a healthy marriage. Sexual intimacy provides a closeness that transcends the boundaries of other relationships. It provides both fulfillment and enjoyment, but what happens when that relationship is drastically changed by unexpected health problems? How do the marriage partners cope?
There have been many articles written about sexual intimacy and breast cancer. Most of these speak in generalities and provide statistics but, while these articles are informative and well written, they don’t necessarily address real-life scenarios. I’d like to change that today by providing a glimpse into my world.
Not long after I’d had surgery for breast cancer, I noticed a change in my husband. Once very attentive and affectionate, he became distant and aloof. At first, I attributed the change to his acceptance of my new physical appearance, which was drastically different. He’d always been very playful and loved to touch me. I gave him space and waited patiently for things to change, but they didn’t. Weeks and months went by without any physical contact and I began to become concerned.
Thinking I was the problem, I began paying more attention to my physical appearance. Every morning, I’d look through my wardrobe to find something frilly and feminine. I’d spend extra time on my hair and makeup, making sure I’d look my best when he came home from work. But he didn’t seem to notice. Soon, it began to feel like we were two ships passing in the night. Our marriage had changed. We were living as roommates.
I’d try to make physical advances toward him, but my attempts were unfruitful. He would always shun my advances and change the subject by saying he was too tired, or he had to get up early the next morning for a project at work. The rejection hurt. I began to wonder if he was being unfaithful, but I knew him well and trusted him completely.
As the problem grew more prevalent, I knew it was important that we discuss the situation. Neither of us seemed happy. Each time I brought up the subject of sexual intimacy, he’d invent some excuse and tell me we were fine, but I knew we weren’t.
Taking it upon myself, I began to pay more attention. I’d find more ways to physically touch him during the day. If I’d pass his chair, I’d make sure my hand would brush his shoulder as I walked by. I didn’t want him to forget what my touch felt like, even though I’d forgotten his.
I began marking off days on the calendar and before I knew it, two years had passed. I talked to close friends and asked for advice. Most of them recommended we seek counseling.
When I mentioned counseling to my husband, he immediately refused. He said, “We’re OK.” I disagreed.
Every day, I was an emotional wreck. I cried countless tears. I didn’t want to live this way.
Finally, I was able to approach my husband with the truth of how I was feeling. I showed him the calendar I’d been keeping and when I pointed out the last time we’d been intimate, he couldn’t believe it’d been two years ago.
Needing to hear his side, I begged him to share how he was feeling and why we weren’t being intimate. Reluctantly, he said he just wasn’t attracted to me any longer. He explained that he did still love me, but there were no physical feelings. He was unable to become aroused. Without my breasts, he explained it was just difficult, and that’s when I realized we’d never be the same again.
I’ve resigned myself to accept that my marriage will never be the way it once had been. Of course, we still love each other dearly, but the physical aspect of our relationship is gone.
It’s hard to understand exactly what happened and when things changed, but I know breast cancer had a lot to do with it.
When I stand in front of the mirror, I see a very sad, lonely and broken woman. It’s understandable that he no longer finds me physically attractive, but I can’t help but wish he did.
When we said our marriage vows, we promised to love each other in sickness and in health until death do us part. He has done that in every way except one.
How many other women who’ve been through breast cancer have experienced difficulty in their marriages? I’m sure there are many although most won’t share because it’s too hard. Losing one, or as in my case, both breasts, has been a dramatic, life-altering change in my own life and in the life of my marriage.
There’s still time. I could still seek counseling, and even if he won’t go with me, I can go alone; but I choose not to. Talking about intimacy is too much. I can’t afford to be that vulnerable. Perhaps you’re wondering if that’s the case, why I am sharing this post, but if you’ll notice, I’m sharing anonymously.
So where do we go from here? I’m not sure. All I can do is take one day at a time and keep holding on to hope. I love my husband and I know he loves me, but I need the physical intimacy we once had.
Speaking about the “unspoken broken” has been extremely difficult but maybe it will help someone else realize it’s okay to talk about their own issues with intimacy and the physical aspect of marriage.