A diagnosis of incontinence can impact many aspects of your life. It can wipe out your self-confidence and lead to a withdrawal from both social and romantic relationships. Worst of all may be the way it impacts on your sexual relationship.
A 2011 study found that despite its prevalence (more Americans suffer from urinary incontinence than from diabetes and hypertension), the shame and embarrassment caused by urinary incontinence is significant.
You might be able to hide incontinence from friends and family and the public at large, but in an intimate relationship it is a lot more difficult.
It may be less of a challenge when the problem arises when you're already in an established relationship, but starting a new relationship when you know there is a chance that you will leak urine during your most intimate moments is a big challenge.
Involving your partner
Health24 asked Professor Edward Wolff, a clinical psychologist from Gauteng, a few questions about the psychological effects of urinary incontinence on a relationship:
Should you tell your partner about your urinary incontinence?
It mainly depends on the nature of the relationship you have with that person. If it's just a friendship, it's not necessary to divulge intimate medical details, but if the relationship is intimate (sexual), it is best to tell them.
It is so important to realise that urinary incontinence is "nothing terrible" and that it's just another "medical situation" that you need to make peace with.
Is it feasible to try to hide the situation from a potential or existing partner?
No! In a potential partner, if you end up having sex, they're going to find out eventually. In an existing relationship, your partner will have been around for long enough to see the situation develop. Trying to hide it is therefore not an option. Regarding your own reaction to the situation, always remember that "it's just another medical condition".
How should you prepare your partner for the news that you've been diagnosed with urinary incontinence?
Don't mention the fact casually or in passing. Sit your partner down and explain that you have, for example, seen a urologist and that it has been confirmed that you suffer from urinary incontinence. Make sure that you're clued up about the condition and its implications and educate your partner about your problem. Be candid and proactive, which will help them to understand and accept the situation.
Should you treat it as a serious situation, or can you use a lighter touch?
A bit of humour can help diffuse the situation. A lighter approach is a good thing – you are after all not in any mortal danger.
Will my urinary incontinence need to be an 'ongoing discussion'?
It's not something you can just mention once and then forget about it. It's an ongoing situation, and especially when you need to wear incontinence products, you're going to have to talk... You might need to involve your partner by for instance asking them to alert you if things aren't smelling as fresh "down there" as they should – you might become used to the smell and not notice it any more. It's potentially embarrassing, but remember, "it's 'just another medical condition".
Would a potential partner be put off by the news that you suffer from urinary incontinence?
That would depend on both of you. Surprisingly, the way your partner reacts will depend to a large degree on how you see your condition. If you accept the situation and have no hang-ups about it, chances are your partner will also relax and not see it as a big deal. If, on the other hand, you are ashamed, your partner will pick up on the negativity and may react in a negative way.
Remember, your success in handling your urinary incontinence depends on you.
Tips on how to prevent leakage
- In some cases medication and surgery can correct the problem. Common procedures include colposuspension, sling procedures and an artificial urinary sphincter.
- Pelvic floor exercises known as Kegel exercises are one of the best ways to prevent urinary incontinence.
- Certain foods and drinks may irritate the bladder, leading to or aggravating urinary incontinence. It is best to avoid very acidic or spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol and carbonated drinks. When thirsty, stick to water.
- Biofeedback attempts to make you aware of signals from your body and help you regain control over the muscles in your bladder and urethra.
- Timed voiding teaches you to urinate on a set schedule. It can be combined with biofeedback and pelvic muscle exercises to help control urge and overflow incontinence.
- Lifestyle changes like losing weight, quitting smoking, not lifting heavy objects and avoiding fluids before bedtime may also help with incontinence.
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