I am
Love mends broken hearts on Valentine’s Day
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Love mends broken hearts on Valentine’s Day

Today, Cupid is busy slinging arrows. Perhaps, you are frantic buying flowers or chocolates, booking dinner or penning a pitter-patter inducing poem.

Key takeaways

Thousands of Australians live with the pain and discomfort of heart disease, but these conditions can’t get in the way of love. Mel, Stephen and Alicia share their stories about heart disease and its impact on relationships, love and intimacy... 

Take a moment away from watching The Bachelor re-runs or listening to Barry White to consider those Australians living with a broken heart: today, nearly 1200 people will head to the hospital with symptoms of heart disease.

Thousands of Australians live with the pain and discomfort of heart disease, but these conditions can’t get in the way of love. Mel, Stephen and Alicia share their stories about heart disease and its impact on relationships, love and intimacy... 

Alicia, 33 years old

Alicia was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fellot – more commonly known as a hole in her heart – when she was three days old.  She had open heart surgery at four years old and then again at 29. After her last surgery Alicia experienced a roller coaster of emotions and spent a lot of time finding the things that made her feel better and more in control physically and mentally.

“I don’t think I was quite prepared for the emotional toll that the surgery would have on intimacy and sex with my partner. I had certainly prepared myself from a physical perspective – I knew what I could and couldn’t do, but what I didn’t expect was to be handled with ‘kid gloves’.

When I had my full heart study prior to surgery (like an angiogram), I was left with a huge bruise just next to my groin, and as a result, my partner at the time didn’t come anywhere near me until it healed. Post-surgery, even though I communicated my physical limitations and capabilities with my partner, he still wasn’t ready to initiate anything that he thought might hurt me.

We experienced a big dip in intimacy overall, which hurt our relationship long term. I don’t think he would have ever attended a support group, but even something like a written resource, would have helped.

I’m pretty in tune with my capabilities now, almost four years post-surgery, and I’m finding that the fitter and stronger I am, the more confident my partners are in my capabilities from an intimacy/sex perspective…but it’s definitely a question I get asked a fair bit when I meet someone new.”

Stephen, 45 years old

Stephen has been with his partner Peter for 16 years. Peter now 45, has endured five open heart surgeries between the ages of 13 and 39 years.  Stephen has been Peter’s main source of support for two of those surgeries.  He explains the challenges that come with maintaining intimacy when your partner is recovering.

Stephen and his partner Peter

“The physical side of a relationship stops completely and that continues a long time after surgery as well. But we like to think we are bigger and better than that, it’s not the be-all and end-all of a relationship at the end of the day.

It does take time to reintroduce it again as half the time I am sitting there going I don’t want to touch anything that’s going to hurt or break.  From a physical point of view, even coming home and giving him a hug sometimes hurts.

So, it's important to make sure you communicate and really talk about that stuff”.

Melanie, 32 years old

Mel was 26-years-old when she started having symptoms. She was eventually diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and dilated right chamber. This came as a big shock. She had 10 months of testing and then open-heart surgery. On top of all this, Mel had just got married.

Mel and her husband Ross

“I wasn’t prepared for the effect open heart surgery would have on sex and intimacy. All the anxiety I was feeling was so focused on the surgery. I wasn’t prepared for my recovery, especially since it wasn’t a typical recovery.

I had intense pain from pleurisy for the first 18 - 24 months post-surgery. I was bed ridden for days when it got bad. To be honest, early on, sex was the last thing from my mind. I guess I was just trying to walk and get through the basic daily tasks of recovery.

After surgery, I was much more in tune with my heart and body. I had anxiety due to all the pain and fear that comes with going through that kind of trauma. I had a high heart rate that resulted from surgery, and I found that having that heightened awareness of this made it difficult to relax and be intimate. When I started to get better and felt more like myself, we resumed sex. The first few times were definitely different. I remember feeling quite anxious the first time and thinking, how was my heart going to go? And my pain? That kind of thought wasn’t just limited to sex. 

What I found helpful was communicating to my partner how I was feeling about it all. It can be quite difficult for them, adjusting to this new normal. Once I started getting stronger and feeling better, being intimate normalised. I would listen to my body and heart and go from there.

Intimacy is a funny one, I felt so close to my partner and my mum during my recovery. They were the ones caring for me around the clock. And with my slow recovery with pain, they helped me with all the basics like showering. 

I am really grateful that I had the close bonds with my partner and family and felt really supported throughout my recovery. I think that’s what really got me through - all the love I felt.” 

Read more about sex and relationships after a heart event

 

You might also be interested in

Exercising for heart and soul

Exercising for heart and soul

Exercising for heart and soul

Alicia Philipatos was three days old when her heart condition was diagnosed...

Psychological and social health action plan

Psychological and social health action plan

Key steps that can help you manage your emotional health....

Mental health and heart disease

Mental health and heart disease

Mental health and heart disease

Having a mental health condition can have a negative impact on your heart health and increase your risk of heart disease....

Heart stories

Heart stories

Heart stories

Stories of hope from Australian men and women fighting heart disease....

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

This is a guide to how you might be feeling after a heart attack. ...

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

I’d always thought of myself as fairly fit; I swam a lot, and did ‘soft running’, a combination of running and walking. ...

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Thankfully for Grant Byrne, a lifelong Led Zeppelin fan, some quick thinking helped him avoid a stairway to heaven. Read Grant’s heart attack story now. ...

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

David reflects on how his life changed when he had a heart attack at 35 and how he got back on track....

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

How a pacemaker at 34 saved my life

Kim shares the emotional and physical upheaval experienced on her journey to diagnosis and recovery....

The one that took Jan’s breath away

The one that took Jan’s breath away

The one that took Jan’s breath away

Open heart surgery to treat damaged heart valves has improved Jan's overall health....

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Research Directory

Research Directory

More Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

More Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

More Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

And the heartache lasts a lifetime. But you can help the Heart Foundation fund life-saving research to keep more families together....

Nourishing chicken soup

Nourishing chicken soup

Nourishing chicken soup

1 hour
Serves Serves 6

For professionals: Heart failure tools and resources

For professionals: Heart failure tools and resources

Resources for healthcare professionals on the management of patients with heart failure ...

Keeping a close watch on brain and kidney health during heart surgery.

Keeping a close watch on brain and kidney health during heart surgery.

Keeping a close watch on brain and kidney health during heart surgery.

Returning to work after a heart attack

Returning to work after a heart attack

Returning to work after a heart attack

Discover how to plan for your return to work....

How we work

How we work

How we work

One Heart, One Team...

Exercise boosts artery health in middle-aged and older men, not testosterone therapy

Exercise boosts artery health in middle-aged and older men, not testosterone therapy

Exercise boosts artery health in middle-aged and older men, not testosterone therapy

Media Release - 22 February 2021...

Vegetarian lasagne

Vegetarian lasagne

Vegetarian lasagne

1 hour
Serves 6

Our research stories

Our research stories

Our research stories

We fund amazing researchers who have important stories to tell...

Remember a loved one with a tribute

Remember a loved one with a tribute

Remember a loved one with a tribute

Honour the life of a loved one with a donation to the Heart Foundation. Your donation offers hope for Australian hearts....

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

With immediate help a cardiac arrest can be survived. Learn how to save a life....

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

This is a guide to how you might be feeling after a heart attack. ...

Absolute CVD risk clinical guidelines

Absolute CVD risk clinical guidelines

The Absolute Cardiovascular Disease Risk (CVD) Guidelines helps healthcare professionals identify, prevent and manage a person's risk of developing CVD. ...

Driving Best Practice CVD Prevention in a Post-COVID World

Driving Best Practice CVD Prevention in a Post-COVID World

Driving Best Practice CVD Prevention in a Post-COVID World

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Every day, 22 women lose their lives to this condition....

Taking your medicines

Taking your medicines

Taking your medicines

There are many medicines that treat heart attack, angina, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other heart conditions....

Our strategy

Our strategy

Our strategy

Connecting Hearts Strategy 2021-2023...

Apple & honey nut crumble oats

Apple & honey nut crumble oats

Apple & honey nut crumble oats

10 minutes
Serves Serves 2 (Makes 2 cups)

Pilbara Aboriginal Heart Health Program

Pilbara Aboriginal Heart Health Program

Pilbara Aboriginal Heart Health Program

The program works with local communities to help improve heart health in the Pilbara....

Blood tests for heart disease

Blood tests for heart disease

Blood tests can measure the levels of substances such as blood fat to show if, and how much of, your heart has been damaged....

2020 Strategic Grant Recipients

2020 Strategic Grant Recipients

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is a fault in the heart’s electrical system, which affects your heart’s pumping rhythm....

For professionals: Guidelines for acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

For professionals: Guidelines for acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

Australian  guidelines  for  prevention, diagnosis and  management of  acute  rheumatic  fever and  rheumatic  heart  disease ...

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Search through our vegetarian recipes...

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management resources for health professionals...

State based advocacy

State based advocacy

State based advocacy activity supporting local communities...

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is the broad term for conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle. ...

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

Clinical information and links to SCAD resources....