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In Sickness and in Health: Intimacy & Parkinson's

Article written by Karl Robb.

Parkinson's disease will probably alter some of your longstanding relationships. But you probably already know that. What you want to know is how to develop deeper intimacy with the people you care about the most. Exploring new ways to connect and communicate will help strengthen your personal relationships.

Karl Robb explains what you need to know

I met my wife, Angela, six years after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. I am very fortunate to have met a woman who could love me and accept my illness. With her love, support and encouragement, I finished my book “A Soft Voice in a Noisy World: A Guide to dealing and Healing with Parkinson’s Disease” and together we have stayed active in promoting Parkinson's awareness and advocating for those of us with this disease.  As a team, Angela and I attend events, and teach and speak on Parkinson’s disease. In many ways, Parkinson's has brought us even closer together as a couple.

So all in all, there is no doubt that Parkinson's or any chronic illness can change the dynamics of how a marriage or other personal relationship will function. But more importantly, how you interact with each other will determine if you stay close. Sometimes just sharing a laugh and a smile can lighten the moment. Here are some suggestions for creating a deeper intimacy with your loved ones.

Changing roles

As we grow older our health may change, and so may our role in our relationships. Understand that responsibilities will inevitably shift over time and care partners may find themselves making decisions on finances, healthcare or some other related life-changing decision that they never faced before. Or, sometimes the person with Parkinson's is the one caring for their spouse. Learn to embrace change.

Feeling desirable, wanted and needed

Remember, no one is perfect. We all have doubts about our appearance and insecurities about how our bodies may change over time, whether or not we have an illness. Our partner is so important in making us feel desirable. Just knowing that the one you chose still cares and needs you is of great comfort. Express your love and excitement for each other on daily basis.

Commitment

Sadly, I have seen and heard of many relationships that have ended after a spouse became ill. Divorce is over 50 percent, even without having to deal with the challenges of an illness. That’s why a strong friendship, based upon caring and communication, is vital for staying together. Sharing your thoughts, feelings and concerns will increase closeness. And if you can learn to express your frustrations with one another, you will be less likely to build up anger and resentment.

Staying close

Life and our hectic routines can get in the way of spending quality time together. Things like watching TV together on the couch or planning a romantic weekend getaway are important ways to show you still care. Taking time for one another is vital for your relationship. For example, just sharing a meal together can be a special event. Showing and expressing your appreciation for your partner— every day—is an act of intimacy.

Patience and understanding

As we grow older, our bodies may not respond or perform as well as they did in our twenties. To me, maturing is about being comfortable with who you are and staying open to self discovery. Even the healthiest people have issues that interfere with their relationship. Realize that an illness can either help bring you and your partner closer together or push you further apart, depending upon how well you are able to cope with challenges and the strength of your bond, prior to illness. Acceptance and understanding will help you both deal with any problems within your relationship.

Making dates

Parkinson's can be unpredictable. Not knowing when your medicine will work can make being spontaneous difficult. Scheduling a weekly night out is a wonderful way to enjoy each other’s company without distractions. But do not be disappointed if things do not go as expected. The most important thing is to remain flexible and sympathetic to our partner's needs, accepting that plans do change.

Not just sex

Intimacy isn’t just about sexuality. You can still reap the benefits of closeness by sharing time together, holding hands or cuddling. Communication, cooperation and understanding your partner's needs are key to maintaining a loving, satisfying relationship.

Getting help

Never be afraid to ask for help, if you feel that you need it. Sometimes it may take the assistance of a professional counselor or therapist to improve the communication that exists between a couple.

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