We had people submit their questions to our Resident Sexual Health Clinician, Dr. Kathryn Ellis, OTR/L, OTD, AASECT-SC, an occupational therapist and American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists Certified Sexuality Counselor.
We frequently get asked the question about what to do if your boyfriend or husband is unsupportive after a surgery. We contemplated how to approach this question as we wanted to give the readers strategies they can implement themselves to alter their current situation without giving the impression “the work” needs to be done squarely by the person who is recovering and rehabilitating from surgery.
That said, we want to equip you with ways to improve your situation and ultimately get your post-surgery needs and wants met, which is of crucial importance in that post-surgery phase.
Below are 4 things to consider that can empower you with the options you have control over.
First and foremost you have post-surgery needs that must be met to enhance the effectiveness of your surgery, for example, eating, sleeping, taking medications, movement, OT & PT appointments, stress management. These needs can feel extensive to another person if they are the only ones responsible for meeting them.
Oftentimes, we can expect the world from our partners. We rely less and less on our community and more on our individual partner to get all of our needs met. This can be overwhelming in general and even more so when the caregiving needs increase post-surgery. So consider adding people to your resource list who can also provide help.
Does this feel off putting? Maybe you’re thinking, “I shouldn’t have to ask my neighbor to help me with XY&Z, my partner should be helping me with this.” Again, this gets to how we can expect our partner to meet all of our needs. Ultimately, you're responsible for getting your post-surgery needs met and you likely will have to broaden your support network to do that.
Ask and you shall (likely) receive
Something to consider is how you’re asking for help. Or are you asking at all? Especially if you are not used to needing assistance with your self-care or daily life activities, assertive communication might not be a skill you’ve practiced. You might be expecting your partner to “just know” how or when to help you.
Be very direct and phase your need as an “ask” instead of a “demand or tell.” Assertive communication doesn’t guarantee you’ll get your needs met because it still has to be received and accepted by your partner, but you certainly have a higher likelihood of having your needs met when you’ve voiced them.
Maintain some of the relationship’s identity
All relationships take on a specific identity, patterns, and routines which help people feel secure in the relationship. This might look like sharing coffee every morning together or a kiss goodnight by the person who goes to bed first.
The post surgery phase can rupture some of those patterns and routines that remind couples why they’re loved in the first place. While you might not be able to keep up with all of the patterns, get creative about how you can keep up with aspects of the patterns you and your partner hold most dear. For example, sharing decaffeinated tea together in the evenings once you both have more down time.
Evaluate the relationship
The post-surgery time can be a very stressful time for a couple. If you feel your partner is finding it difficult to center your needs despite implementing some of these strategies and being direct with them about how you feel, then you might consider this isn’t the right partner for you. You deserve to have your wants and needs met at any point in your life and not everyone is going to be able to do that for you.
These are strategies you can consider to help nurture the relationship while also making sure you’re getting your post-surgery needs met. Remember to center yourself and your health especially during this phase.