Keeping Physical Intimacy Alive, Even With PH

How this couple works around the limitations of chronic illness

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by Jen Cueva |

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“Intimacy doesn’t have all that much to do with backseats of cars. Real intimacy is brushing your teeth together.” ― author and screenwriter Gabrielle Zevin

Feelings of intimacy can help us feel more connected to the people we love. Intimacy is a decision. It’s often a risk, too, because it demands vulnerability and authenticity.

When you’re intimate with someone, you feel safe enough to let your guard down and let them see the real you. You may even discover parts of yourself that you haven’t met before.

Being seen and accepted on this deeper level is healing and freeing. It can help us remember — or even discover — who we are.

Everyone needs companionship and physical intimacy, but living with a rare disease like pulmonary hypertension (PH) can hinder this. Intimacy isn’t a priority when I’m incredibly exhausted, in pain, or experiencing increased shortness of breath, all symptoms of PH.

But when I say no, I feel I’m letting my husband, Manny, down. He needs intimacy, too. Thankfully, he’s exceptionally patient and realizes there are times when touching me anywhere adds to my chronic pain. It breaks my heart for him and for us.

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Think outside the box

Our marriage requires physical connection, so we must find creative ways to remain intimate despite PH.

Manny knows how comforting his touch can be. (And if he didn’t before, he knows now!) I can’t count the number of times he’s put his hand on mine or rubbed my leg while driving. These little “love touches” make me feel connected to him and reassure me that he’s near and I’m safe.

A dark black-and-white photo shows a man's hand resting on top of a woman's. They're sitting in a car, and their hands are both resting on the woman's left leg. The man is wearing a flannel long-sleeve shirt, and the woman has on dark pants with silver detail.

Manny puts his hand over Jen’s, which she says makes her feel secure. (Photo by Jen Cueva)

Manny often uses his touch during hospitalizations or routine follow-up appointments to console me. Something about his warm hand on mine soothes me.

When we go to bed, my leg has to touch his at night. When we cuddle on the couch with our blankets, you’ll often find me lying on him or vice versa.

‘You talk too much/ You never shut up’

Talking can be intimate because relationships are built on communication. This is one area where I’m not lacking. Manny would agree — I talk a lot! Couples can feel disconnected when communication is neglected or broken. If you’re courageous and curious, sex might be a great topic.

You can build foundations for physical intimacy when you talk about sex, as it allows you and your partner to get on the same page. In this way, conversations can help create closeness and allow space for experimentation.

Gratitude grows

Things grow when they’re nourished; therefore, expressing appreciation can help couples grow their relationship and build intimacy. I find it so cute when Manny does simple things that he knows I’ll appreciate. Show your gratitude for each other.

Carving out one-on-one time is crucial. We are empty nesters, but our quality alone time is minimal as we balance life and work and manage my PH and coexisting conditions.

Spending intentional time together is crucial in a relationship. This may mean putting phones away and eliminating distractions. Make it a habit. Plan regular coffee dates or visit your local farmers market, which we did this past Saturday.

Need a boost?

Sex can benefit a relationship in many ways, even boosting self-esteem and confidence. Still, it’s not uncommon for couples to experience challenges in the bedroom, especially when one or both partners have health complications.

Despite PH, physical intimacy can be a part of your life, helping you break down walls and build relationships. Experiment to see what works best for you and your partner.

And yes, on some days, real intimacy means brushing your teeth together.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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