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Relationships

A stroke affects not only the patient, but family and friends as well. Changes in abilities may change how you relate to those closest to you. These changes include:

Emotional reactions to a stroke

After a stroke, changes in roles and responsibilities may cause you, your spouse, or other family members to have feelings that make them uncomfortable.

This list includes some of the emotions and feelings you and your loved ones might have after the stroke. These are natural responses. Find people you are comfortable with to talk about your feelings. If any of these feelings become overwhelming, talk with a doctor or your healthcare team.

Anger: Feeling angry about the stroke. You may ask, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?”

Anxiety: Worrying about the future or how well you will recover.

Embarrassment: Feeling awkward and ashamed about your lost abilities.

Frustration: Losing patience with yourself for not being able to do things you used to do

Grief and loss: You may feel a profound sense of loss about an ability, or you may grieve for the future as you had once seen it.

Guilt: You may be feeling guilty about the changes your stroke has caused in the family and about needing more support. Sometimes, the stroke brings up guilt about events that took place in the past.

Loneliness: Feeling isolated and believing that no one understands what you are going through.

Sadness: Feeling sad for the losses and the changes.

Helpful tips

Find support
Each person finds support in different ways. That’s why you may wish to develop your own support plan, one that best suits your needs. Here are some options:

One-to-one support: Find someone to talk to about your feelings. This might be a close family member or friend, a religious leader or a professional counselor.

Support group/networking: This is a group of people who have experienced similar situations. They get together regularly to talk about their feelings and what they are going through, whether in person or online. They also share tips for coping.

Education sessions: Taking part in workshops such as the Heart&Stroke Living with StrokeTM program will increase your knowledge and help you learn practical tips to deal with everyday issues. At a workshop, you also get the chance to meet others who have had a stroke.

Who can help?
Share your feelings and experiences with members of the healthcare team. They can provide support, understanding, and encouragement. They can also guide you to the resources you need. Social workers often play a key role in this area of support.

Sexual intimacy

If you enjoyed sex before your stroke, you will likely still be interested afterward. Physical changes can interfere with your sex life though. You may have lost feeling on one side of your body. Or you may have trouble communicating with your partner. Some men have trouble getting an erection or ejaculating. Women may have less feeling in the vagina and more dryness. Drugs such as tranquillizers, high blood pressure medicine and sleeping pills may also reduce your sexual ability and desire.

Feeling nervous about having sex again?

Being anxious about intimacy after a stroke is normal. Sexuality is closely linked with the way you see yourself. If your stroke has changed the way you look, you may wonder if your partner is still attracted to you. Or you may be depressed and not interested in giving or receiving attention. All these things can lead to anxiety and may cause you to avoid intimate relations. The trouble is, delaying intimacy only increases anxiety.

You may have to make some changes so that you can return to a satisfying sex life. Both you and your partner will need to adjust to the changes in your body. Accepting these changes may take time, effort and honest communication. If you feel uncomfortable discussing your sexual feelings with each other, ask your doctor to refer you to an appropriate professional. Your social worker or mental-health professional may also be able to help.

Don’t worry about having another stroke during intercourse. Sexual activity raises your blood pressure but no more than walking up a short flight of stairs.

Tips for getting your sex life started again

Set the scene 

  • Keep feeling as attractive as you can through good grooming and personal hygiene.
  • Plan in advance for intimacy. Choose times when you are both rested and will have no interruptions. Set aside plenty of time. That way, if you have slowed sexual responses, you can allow yourself enough time for lovemaking.
  • Try relaxing together before you begin. For example, have a massage, listen to music or soak in a bath.
  • Empty your bladder before sex. Limit fluids such as water, coffee and juices for two hours before sex.

Try new things 

  • Experiment with new ways of having sexual relations if you have paralysis or loss of feeling. These adjustments are not always easy. But it’s important to make your sexual activity as easy and comfortable as possible.
  • Use a water-soluble lubricant if you have vaginal dryness. (Avoid petroleum jelly. It doesn’t dissolve in water and can cause vaginal infections.
  • Some couples enjoy sharing intimate books or movies. Talk with your partner to see if this would be helpful.

Other ways to show love

You don’t have to have sexual intercourse to show love for your partner. Hugging, kissing, caressing, massaging and touching all show love and affection. Find out different ways to please each other.

How drugs affect sex drive 

  • Some drugs prescribed to stroke patients, such as blood pressure lowering medications or antidepressants, can affect the urge or ability to have sex. Speak with your doctor. Never stop taking a drug without consulting your doctor first. 
  • If you want to use herbal remedies that claim to boost your sex drive or sexual function, talk to your doctor or pharmacist first. Many herbal remedies interact with the drugs used by stroke patients.

Who can help?

Share your feelings and concerns with members of the healthcare team. They can provide support, understanding and encouragement. They can also guide you to the resources you need. Your doctor or social worker plays a key role in this area of support.

StrokEngine provides information on stroke rehabilitation and interventions from quality articles, websites and systematic reviews. Visit StrokEngine to learn more about sexuality.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation provides practical knowledge and skills to help care for stroke survivors. Tips and Tools for Everyday Living: A Guide for Stroke Caregivers is designed for healthcare providers and is also a useful reference for family caregivers. Read more about the Guide.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has a Living with StrokeTM program for stroke survivors who have completed their active rehabilitation and are living in the community. It focuses on building skills, sharing experiences and lending support. Find a Living with StrokeTM program in your area. 

Last reviewed: November 2010.