We don’t tend to talk about our love lives and caregiving in the same conversation. Why? Does sex go out the “caregiving window?” Do you stop desiring your partner when you enter into the caregiving role? Many do. It’s not that we don’t still love each other. We may recommit our hearts and lives even more when our loved one needs us–but needing and wanting are two different animals and you don’t necessarily have to stop being a sexual creature just because you’ve aged, have a disease, or find yourself caring for someone.
I recently watched this AMAZING TED video titled, “The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship.” presented by Ms. Peres bas traveled the world studying erotic intelligence. Ms. Perel talks about the dilemma modern couples face–marrying for love (as opposed to a mere societal contract) and living a very long time together–all while supposedly enjoying security as well as hot sex.
There is no caretaking in desire. Wanting is desire. Neediness is not attractive. Ms. Perel reminds us that anything that reminds us of parenting i.e. (taking care of someone) is a turn-off, as it should be. We need our parents. We want (or desire) our mates.
What’s a caregiver to do?
Nothing saps your desire as much as exhaustion and worry, sleep deprivation, a counter lined with pills, a hospital bed in the middle of the living room, care assistants traipsing in and our of our houses, or a long stint in rehab. We think that sex has to take the back seat when someone is sick, aging, or has entered into the dying process.
But it’s part of who we are. Sex is mystical. It’s a binding agent in our relationships. It’s a way to express not only joy and playfulness, but it’s also a healing force–physically and emotionally.
I faced this issue (sort of) while caring for my mother who was living with us (hubby, kids, and me). She needed 24/7 care for Parkinson’s, heart disease and dementia. She was demanding (to say the least), fearful, as well as in need of real hands-on care. Not exactly the ingredients needed to get in the mood. I found myself compartmentalizing who I was at any given moment. I’d slip out of caregiving mode and into mothering mode when one of my children needed me to help them study for a big test, or to take photos of them before they went on a special date. I’d slip off that role and step into being my husband’s lover as I slid the bathroom door shut, turned on some sultry music and stepped into the shower for a few minutes of “alone time.” Twenty minutes later and I’m back in the kitchen, dressed, and cutting my mother’s pills up for the week.
I had to learn how to shut down one part of me and slip on another.
What made that challenging was stepping out of the lingering emotions–resentment (can’t I just have 30 minutes to myself?) guilt (I know she needs me, but my girls need me, too), worry (I’m so afraid they’re going to put her back in the hospital–and they’re going to push for exploratory surgery and not only will that not fix anything, but there goes my life for how many weeks!)
How do you still tap into your love life even while caregiving?
Here’s a few things I learned:
- Stop trying to be everything to everybody. It’s impossible. There will be gaping holes I can’t ever fill.
- Decide not to always be available. Shut the door. Go to my room. Shut the door. Lock it if I have to.
- Time for me–first. I learned to not bolt out of the bedroom in the morning. If my family made it through the night (or even part of the night, in my mom’s case), then they could go 30 more minutes without me. Having time to shower, dress, journal or stretch before I hit the caregiving concrete really helped me separate them–from me.
- Don’t get lazy. Kiss good morning or good bye. Say thank you. Make the effort to smile. Learn to be a good conversationalist. Sit next to each other on the couch instead your own recliners. Spritz on his favorite perfume–not because you’re going somewhere–just because he likes it.
- Create sexy moments–and a moment may be all there is. Duck into the pantry for a steamy kiss, grab his butt while he’s in the fridge, flirt by text, tousle his hair at the breakfast table. You may not have the time or energy to do any more than that–but “that” can be really good.
- Slip in and out of roles–as I mentioned above, turn off–and on–who you are. Do this for yourself. Learn to turn OFF caregiving. Go back, just for a few moments, just to be their daughter, or wife.
- Be playful. Desire is loose. It thrives on spontaneity. So if you feel yourself always clenching, always on alert, stop. Do some stretches. Visualize your favorite memories–of a perfect spot on a beach, of a time when you two felt the magic. Put on some music. Smile, even if you have to take it. Recognize when you’re being too serious for your own good–and figure out how to get back to some of that joy and ease.
- Ask for what you need. Ask him to rub your shoulders. Ask if he’d go for a five minute walk with you. Ask if he’d hold you when you’re feeling sad or vulnerable. Use your words and believe that you deserve all good things.
- Whether you have someone in your life right now or not–make the time and space to nurture your own sensuality. Figure out what that means to you, but bottom line is to make time for you, make space for just you, give yourself permission to give yourself pleasure (I’ll leave that up for interpretation) whether that’s sexual in nature or involves a few minutes alone with a Dove chocolate bar while listening to Andre Bochelli serenade you in the laundry room.
How does nurturing your love life make you a better caregiver?
It fills up the well of your soul.
It gets us in touch with our physical and soul-full selves.
It infuses us for energy, joy, and even relaxation.
It reminds us we are indeed, still alive.
I hope you’ll be brave enough to enter into this conversation–with yourself first, with your partner, and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment!
It’s time we started talking about what we long for…and a warm, fun, play-filled, healing, tender or rompous (yes, I made up that word) love life is just the beginning…