How to Talk to Your Partner About Vulvodynia
Vulvodynia is a painful condition that affects the vulva, or the external part of the vagina. To be diagnosed with this chronic condition means you have likely been through every test imaginable. Now that your doctor is sure you have it, you need to tell your partner. While this might be a difficult task, talking to your partner about your vulvodynia can help them understand how to support you as you find the right treatment.
First, process your diagnosis
When you receive a diagnosis for a chronic condition, you may feel a mixture of validation, apprehension, depression and excitement. It might seem strange to be happy about finally finding a cause for your chronic pain, but the reality is that women are often told their chronic pain is all in their head.
Your first inclination may be to rush home and tell your partner, but it’s important to take some time to process your diagnosis because your vulvodynia may never go away. This reality brings with it the possibility that you may never have pain-free sex.
As you process this possibility, you will likely have many questions you need answered. Instead of falling into the Google wormhole where there is a plethora of scary information, contact your doctor and set up a phone conference where you get real answers based on your specific circumstances.
Telling your partner
Once you process your diagnosis, it’s time to tell your partner. Sit them down and talk to them about your last appointment. Explain what you learned from your doctor, and ask your partner for their questions.
The most important part of this conversation is to realize your partner is in the dark. They don’t have your symptoms and daily pain, so they can’t fully understand what you are feeling, but this doesn’t mean they don’t want to.
Try to describe the pain by connecting it to pain they have experienced. Instead of describing it as a number between one and ten, describe it like bee stings or pins and needles. This will help your partner visualize the same pain in their body and better understand what you are feeling.
Talk openly about sex and lay it all on the table. Your partner may not understand your pain or worse, they may think you were making it up as an excuse not to have sex. Explain the prognosis and how your doctor plans to treat your condition. Your partner needs reassurance, and they likely are unsure how to comfort you, so help them understand as best you can.
Be clear about what you need
One of the biggest mistakes we can make in a relationship is assuming our partner understands our perspective or knows what we need. This is a one-way ticket to disappointment and conflict. If you need your partner to hold you and reassure you this won’t end your relationship, then tell them that’s what you need.
If your partner doesn’t understand, it’s no one’s fault. Instead of being disappointed, remember your partner isn’t an expert and neither are you. Don’t make your partner feel inadequate, but don’t take on the burden and think it’s your responsibility to fix either.
Focus on the issues you can fix such as strengthening your bond with your partner. Seek the help of a licensed sex therapist who can help you and your partner work through the conflicts this diagnosis can cause. Your therapist can refer you for physical therapy to address your pelvic and vulva pain while helping your partner to understand your pain and frustration.
As your treatment progresses, invite your partner to your appointments, give your partner the benefit of receiving the same information you do, and over time, your partner can become your greatest ally. As you work to manage your symptoms, you and your partner can use this time to strengthen your bond and learn how affirming working through a difficult situation together can be for your relationship.