Suffering from incontinence is made worse by society’s taboo surrounding bodily fluids. The shame and silence accompanying this condition make it a challenging and uncomfortable topic to discuss with anyone, especially a romantic partner. Yet partners can be incredible allies, providing support and encouragement.
If you’re ready to talk to your partner about urinary incontinence, here is a step by step guide to do just that with the least amount of awkwardness or embarrassment.
Before the Talk
Do your research
Learn how incontinence will impact all aspects of your relationship. Talk to your healthcare providers, seek out blogs and research articles on the topic, and also reflect on your personal experiences. It may help to write down talking points to guide your conversation and ground you if you get in your feels.
Think about how your partner best receives information
Do they resonate more with personal experiences? Facts and figures? Figure out what will help them to best understand the information, then share it in that way.
Gather tools to help you stay present
Do you have a beloved talisman like a crystal, goddess card, stuffed animal, etc? Are there tinctures that help you feel connected? How about an essential oil blend that you can diffuse? Gather whatever it is you use to ground yourself.
Reflect on your boundaries and what you want and need
Journal, meditate, pray, or move your body on why you are telling your partner, what you’d like to happen as a result of the conversation, and how you want your partner to support you.
Some questions to consider:
- How active of a role do you want them to take in your healthcare?
- When you experience a leak, how would you like them to react? What would feel most supportive?
- In general, how do you want them to approach this issue?
Some of these answers will come through trial and error, but spending time reflecting on them in advance helps the conversation move along.
Choose a time to talk when you can both be present
Right before bed or in the midst of your busiest week probably isn’t the best time. Here are some recommended alternatives:
- After sex
- Right after you wake up on a lazy weekend morning
- In the car
- Over dinner
Assume the best
If this is an established partner, think about all the tough conversations you’ve already had with them about money, politics, sex, the state of your union, and more. This is simply another one. Someone new? Trust that this is something they can handle.
During the Talk
Start the conversation the right way
Let them know there’s something you want to talk about and that’s it’s sensitive, awkward, or whatever emotion feels alive for you.
From there, address what they know. Are they aware you’ve been having issues? Did they comment on increased trips to the bathroom? Are they completely oblivious?
Then tell them about your experience thus far and how it’s impacting your life. Use the resources you prepared to stress the impact of this on your life and the relationship.
Let them know how they can support you
Would you prefer they ignore it? Make jokes? Check-in regularly? Carry extra underwear in their bags? Do you want them to offer you suggestions or defer to you in all things or something in between?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, that’s OK! Share what feels true in this moment, and recognize it will change over time.
Encourage them to do their own research and emotional labor
Repeat after me: It is not my job to support my partner’s emotional responses to my incontinence (or any other health issues).
Often in relationships—especially heterosexual ones—the sick person ends up managing their own emotions, their health issue, and their partner’s feelings. That’s not fair to anyone, especially the person struggling.
This doesn’t mean avoid vulnerable conversations about the impacts your incontinence has on your relationship and life and both of your feelings about it.
It means your partner needs to find their emotional center of gravity around this issue, both in the moment and on a larger scale. This can take many different forms but some include: seeking out a support group, online forum, or therapist; calling timeout during a conversation if they notice themselves getting activated; and, respecting your boundaries.
Encourage them to get their own support
Dealing with health issues exhausts everyone involved. Make sure you both have supports beyond each other to lean on when one or both of you is at capacity. Digital support counts! There are thriving online communities dedicated to every type of health issue, including blogs, social media campaigns, and more.
Be honest about your feelings
Don’t shy away from being real and raw about how your incontinence makes you feel, as well as how your partner’s words and actions impact that. Understand that a lot of it is your mindset (how you feel about your incontinence and also how you feel about how you feel) but they certainly can create a better context in which to feel your feels.
After the Talk
Consider bringing them to a pelvic floor physical therapy appointment
Pelvic floor PT is an increasingly common treatment for incontinence. Bringing your partner for a visit or two can help them understand/give them new ways to support you. Sometimes it also helps to have, and/or is easier to hear information from, an objective third party—who society deems as an expert. Same goes for other healthcare appointments.
Don’t let all your conversations become about the incontinence
It’s easy for healthcare issues to consume your time together. It impacts every part of your life, after all. Agree to create intentional space for other topics that you usually talk about. If you struggle with this, try doing an all-consuming activity like a movie that gives you something to talk about.
Consider a regular relationship check-in
Whether this is weekly or monthly, this is a chance for you and your partner(s) to connect on how you both feel, what’s going well, and what you’d like to work on.
Plus, as your incontinence, and your feelings towards it, change, what you need might change too. Regular check-ins help you stay on top of your shifting needs and desires.
Urinary incontinence is one more challenge for you and your partner to solve together
These steps will help you approach it as a team, support each other in the healthiest way possible, and grow stronger as a result.
Looking for ways to manage urinary incontinence? Cora’s Bladder Liners were designed by women in the know, and made to eliminate the anxiety and fear that goes along with experiencing light bladder leaks.
Author Bio Kait Scalisi, MPH, is an advocate for the revolutionary power of pleasure inside the bedroom and out. Through her public workshops, private counselling, and online platform Passion By Kait, she harnesses her science education, social justice insight, and radical empathy to empower folx to get more in tune with their bodies, discover what brings them pleasure, and integrate it into their lives and relationships in ways that are both practical and powerful. Learn more and find #freedominpleasure at PassionbyKait.com, Instagram and Twitter @PassionbyKait, and Facebook www.facebook.com/PassionbyKait.