Coping with grief after prostate cancer treatment

It’s normal to have feelings of grief, especially when your sex life changes. Both men and partners can feel upset.

Grief is part of recovery

Research has shown that feeling grief about sexual changes is a part of the recovery process. The first step in coping with your grief? Acknowledging the sexual changes you’ve experienced and your feelings about them.

Grief looks different for everyone, but you may feel:

  • shocked

  • sad

  • angry

  • frustrated

  • hopeless

  • depressed

  • scared

Grief can show up in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Your temper may be shorter than usual, things that normally don’t bother you suddenly seem annoying. You may be bickering with your partner or others more than usual.

Find yourself getting irritated by your partner’s shoes by the door or something else that never used to bother you? You may not realize it’s grief that’s behind this.

You may find you have:

  • mood swings

  • crying spells

  • a shorter fuse

You may also have times when you keep thinking about your sexual problem and can’t seem to stop yourself. This grief can even shake your sense of self. Some men say that they feel less manly and confident when they can’t have erections.

If you’re feeling any of this, you’re not alone.

Partners feel grief, too

Partners can also feel grief, but may experience it differently from the man with prostate cancer.

Partners may feel:

  • worried about how the sexual changes will affect them and their pleasure during sex

  • worried that their partner is not attracted to them if he can’t have erections

  • unsure about how they should help with the sexual recovery

  • unsure whether they have a right to feel upset about how this affects them

How does grief impact couples?

You and your partner may feel grief as a couple because suddenly, your whole sex life feels different.

You may not be able to have sex in the same ways you always have. You may be worried about whether you can still give each other pleasure.

If there were relationship or sexual problems before, coping with sexual changes after prostate cancer treatment can be even more challenging. The day-to-day squabbles about dishes in the sink or whose turn it is to take out the trash may feel bigger than usual because you’re not connecting as a couple in the same ways you did before.

And both of you might grieve with different timing.

This is all normal.

Even if you’re not always ‘on the same page’, you can still support one another through the grieving process.

How do you work through grief?

Be kind to each other

Recognize that you have both experienced a trauma. Being diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer is a traumatizing experience. So is seeing someone you love go through it.

Work together as a team. Remember that the sexual side effects are the challenge you’re battling, not one another. Don’t let the trauma find its way between you.

Talk

This may sound ‘easier said than done’ for many couples.

Sex is a very sensitive topic for most people. When sexual problems come up, men and partners often don’t want to stress the other with their feelings; they don’t want to make each other more insecure.

Couples also sometimes avoid talking about their feelings because they’re overwhelmed or trying not to burden one another.

This can actually hurt their relationship and lead to:

  • avoiding sex

  • starting to feel distant from each other

  • losing emotional closeness

  • decrease in confidence

  • depression

  • isolation

What can you do?

For couples that don’t currently talk about their sex life, this will be a new skill to develop.

When couples have to cope with sexual changes after prostate cancer treatment, it’s important to talk about how you feel, reassure each other about still wanting to have a sex life and plan how you’ll manage the changes.

Talking openly about your feelings about the sexual changes will mean that you’ll share the grieving process. Many couples have said that sharing the feelings of grief brought them closer.

Get support

Maybe you and your partner are already comfortable talking about sex or your emotions, or maybe you’re not sure where to start. Either way, getting support can help you feel less alone.

Remember, many men and their partners are on this same journey with you.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a doctor, counselor, nurse or social worker. If the person you contact can’t help, ask them to refer you to someone who can.

Give it time

Patience is key when it comes to sexual recovery. You may feel more in control when you understand what to expect and accept that it’s a process and will take time.

With time, your feelings of grief may get less intense because:

  • You’ve talked about these feelings and are not holding them in

  • You’ll know how your body works and reacts.

  • You’ll know what to do to get the most pleasure.

  • You and your partner will have a better sense of how you work together.

  • You’ll feel more competent as a lover and partner.

Is it normal to feel grief during sex?

Yes, this is absolutely normal.

Some couples are surprised to feel grief during sex. Crying during sex happens, and there’s no need to feel embarrassed.

Both partners may feel:

  • distracted by thoughts about how sex used to be

  • sad about the changes

  • worried about whether their partner is enjoying sex

  • disappointed if they don't feel as much pleasure

Those thoughts and feelings are a normal part of grief and will get better with time and as you adjust.

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