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OAB and Your Relationships: Talking With Your Partner

If you have an overactive bladder, you’re not alone. About 25% of women over 18 have experienced urine leakage, and one in five adults over age 40 have OAB or problems with urge or frequency. But it may feel like you’re alone, because OAB is something many people are embarrassed to talk about.

OAB can be very isolating, say experts. You may find yourself only going out to places you know well, where you’re sure you can get to the bathroom in time. You may forgo things like movies and plays because of the constant need to excuse yourself in the middle of the show.

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And you may find your relationships suffering. Studies have found that women with urinary incontinence issues are more likely to avoid intimate relationships and sexual activity. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re prepared to talk about your OAB with a partner -- whether it’s someone you’re newly dating or a long-term relationship -- you might find that you are less embarrassed by it and may have set a foundation for honesty in the relationship.

When It's Time to Talk About OAB

  • If you think your OAB may interfere with a sexual relationship -- for example, if you have urine leakage during sex or worry that this might happen
  • If your OAB is significant enough that it’s interrupting your dates -- for example, if you’re excusing yourself from the table multiple times at romantic dinners
  • If your anxiety about your OAB is making it hard for you to be comfortable when spending time with your partner
  • If you find yourself turning down or canceling plans because you fear that you won’t be able to control your overactive bladder
  • If you’re planning a trip or making other plans that involve spending a lot of time together

In general, it’s better to bring up a difficult topic yourself than to wait until your partner has become uncomfortable enough to ask you about it. You may be surprised to find that your partner is relieved to learn that the problem is OAB rather than something more medically serious or an impending breakup.

How to Talk to a Partner About OAB

So you’ve decided that it’s time to have “the talk.” When and where should you do it? How should you bring it up? And how can you get over your anxiety?

  • Remind yourself: This probably bothers you a lot more than it will bother your partner. You may be surprised at how easily your partner accepts the news.
  • Choose a quiet, comfortable environment where you will have privacy. This is an important subject; you don’t want a waitress showing up to say “Will there be anything else?” just as you’ve begun explaining your situation. Make sure you have enough time.
  • Don’t have this conversation over the phone! It’s a lot easier to imagine that a short pause in the conversation is a sign of embarrassment or horror if you can’t see the person’s face.
  • Don’t initiate the conversation right before intimacy. If you’re already on your way to bed, it’s probably a bad time to start talking about your overactive bladder. Even during a romantic dinner is probably not the best idea. A picnic lunch in the park or a long walk on the beach or in the woods, on the other hand, could be great.

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