What can men do to help their wives/partners through vaginismus?
Men can help in many ways throughout the treatment process.
When the trial of vaginismus hits, men often feel helpless, thinking “What can I do about it? The problem is with her.” Vaginismus, however, is not just a woman’s problem—it’s a couple’s problem.
The truth is there are a number of things men can do to help. By becoming educated about the dynamics of vaginismus and being emotionally supportive of their partners, men can help their spouses to be more positive and proceed through treatment more quickly. The trial may be hard to endure, but it is not hopeless. Once the condition is diagnosed and treatment begins, success is the likely outcome.
How Men Can Help Their Partners
- Being supportive – A supportive, loving relationship based on encouragement and mutual respect provides an excellent backdrop for a woman to work through the program. It can be physically and emotionally draining for women to walk through some of the steps alone. When men encourage and support their partners, it allows them to focus on the program instead of on immediate relationship concerns. Support can be paramount to a woman’s success. Men should consider simply asking their spouses how they would like them to be involved. By participating in and helping with the treatment, spouses have the opportunity to be part of something that draws them closer as a couple. It can be an incredible opportunity and feeling to be part of another’s healing process, especially when the other person is someone deeply cared for.
- Walking the steps together – Men can help their spouses by walking together with them through each step of the program. Reading through the steps together helps men fully understand the mechanics of treatment and aids them in understanding where their partners are both emotionally and physically. Helping their partners work through areas of fear and confusion heightens bonds of trust as couples get to know each other in more intimate ways going beyond intercourse. When men become educated about vaginismus themselves, they are able to talk to their partners knowledgeably and rationally. Men can help their partners stay motivated, focused and moving forward through emotional hurdles, stress and feelings of failure. Participating willingly and knowledgeably in those exercises that involve them directly also helps smooth the transition from painful intercourse or penetration problems.
- Celebrating success – What may seem like a small step to men may actually be a huge victory to women going through treatment for vaginismus. Small gifts such as going out to dinner, buying a small present, writing a congratulation note, or giving a massage, etc. may help encourage women through the process. Celebrating and making each victory feel special will help spouses to view the process as being worth the challenge. When men are showing interest and positive excitement about progress it helps women stay motivated to continue moving forward.
- Staying positive and patient – As men often await anxiously for their spouses to progress through steps, there is a tendency to project pressure and negativity which can play on their spouse’s feelings of stress and failure. Men should try to stay positive and patient in their attitude, maintaining a hopeful, balanced outlook. Being strong and steady, during periods where spouses feel weak or vulnerable, creates an assured environment that helps women to feel more confident and hopeful.
- Continuing to be intimate – We urge couples to continue to share an intimate lifestyle even if intercourse is not possible yet (note that during early steps of the program intercourse should not attempted). Complete avoidance of sexual contact generally amplifies relational troubles and makes the problems worse. Without physical contact, feelings of fear, shame, guilt, or rejection tend to accumulate. Men can attempt to foster a continuous, viable sex life, temporarily without intercourse, by seeking alternative ways to give and accept pleasure with their spouses. One of the positive aspects of vaginismus for couples is learning to please each other in ways not previously considered. Sensual body touch and manual stimulation can reduce tension and form trust. While going through the early treatment steps, it is best to remove the pressure to perform penetrative intercourse from the sexual equation, however it is important to form intimate bonds through other sexual intimacy options.
- Join the forum – Another way to assist in the process is to join the vaginismus forum. Men can read for themselves the struggles of other couples to develop a greater understanding of the obstacles and to be encouraged reading about other’s victories.
- Not becoming overly passive – There is a tendency for men with spouses facing vaginismus to become overly passive and to “bury” their sexual nature and desires for intimacy. When attempts to consummate or develop sexual intimacy fail and cause their spouses ongoing anxiety or sadness, there is a natural tendency to bury these desires to avoid further anguish. If men become overly passive, they may not advocate for their own needs and if continued may allow their spouses to procrastinate on treatment and amplify relational problems. We recommend that men try to calmly, but firmly, encourage their spouses to move forward with treatment. Men need to advocate for themselves too, and insist for resolution of the sexual component for the relationship to function properly on a long-term basis. As vaginismus treatment is highly successful, it is unnecessary for men to take a position of lifelong suffering and sacrifice. Sexless marriages generally weigh heavily on both partners and usually result in failed relationships and/or emotional damage if nothing is done to restore the sexual component and bring healing. For these reasons, we encourage men to take responsibility and continue gently advocating for restoration.
A Positive Future
Fortunately, vaginismus is a condition that has positive treatment solutions (as opposed to other debilitating conditions with few treatment options). Couples are elated at reaching treatment completion and pain and penetration problems are no longer an issue. For previously unconsummated couples, going from impossible intercourse to having full, pain-free intercourse is a realistic, normal outcome.
Going through the trials of vaginismus can definitely test a relationship, but successfully going through treatment together can also strengthen it. Encouragement, love, patience, and communication can go a long way in helping to sustain relationships. By overcoming together, couples will be able to begin afresh in creating new and pleasurable sexual experiences and enjoy a strengthened relationship in the process.
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