Your Relationship with Your Spouse after Cancer
A cancer diagnosis affects pretty much all aspects of your
life, and your relationship with your spouse is no different. In fact, cancer
might affect your relationship with your spouse more than most other
relationships—co-workers, friends, relatives and children—because it’s the most
intimate relationship of all.
Some of the common issues that cancer can cause between
- Difficulty talking about the cancer itself.
- Worry about how your partner will react to your scars or
other signs of your cancer.
- Maintaining a sense of intimacy when sexual activity is
- Shifting roles and responsibilities when recovery makes
it hard to perform normal activities.
Communicating—and listening—are key
If you don’t talk about the cancer and how it’s affecting
your relationship, chances are you both will begin to feel isolated, frustrated
and lonely. For example, if one partner is taking on more household work, he or
she may feel overwhelmed, while the other may begin to feel guilty about not
doing enough. If you’re the partner who has cancer, you may not want to show
your spouse your new scars and you may worry whether your spouse will still love
you with these imperfections. If you’re the spouse of the person with cancer,
you may feel uncomfortable about the scars, but also guilty about feeling that
With so many emotions bubbling up all the time, it’s
important to address them. If you don’t, it’s like steam that can’t escape.
Eventually, there’s going to be some kind of eruption.
► Look for solutions to your problems together.
Don’t decide on your own how best to handle a situation, whether you’re the
person with cancer or the spouse without it. For example, it might seem like the
best thing to take on the grocery shopping and cooking if your partner usually
does that but now doesn’t feel well. And it may well be. On the other hand, your
spouse might feel the need to keep contributing whenever possible. So before you
make any decisions, talk about it first. Maybe your spouse wants to try to keep
on doing those things. Maybe you can do them sometimes now, but not always. The
key is to negotiate and discuss
► Share your feelings frequently. You and
your spouse need to be on the same page as much as possible, each knowing where
the other is coming from. That means that when you’re feeling anxious, angry,
scared, frustrated, helpless or any other feeling, you should share these
feelings with your partner. This can help build intimacy and trust as you face
the uncertainty that often comes with a diagnosis of cancer and cancer
► Try to begin your statements with “I feel as
if…, I think that…, I’m wondering whether…, I’m worried that…” This is a way
to show what’s going on with you without pointing blame at your partner. For
example, instead of saying, “You don’t want to be sexually intimate with me
anymore,” say instead, “I’m worried that I may not be sexually attractive to you
anymore now that I have these scars.” This makes it easier for your partner to
respond, because it’s not an attack.
► Get help from professionals if necessary.
If you can’t seem to reach a point where you’re able to communicate with your
spouse about the feelings you’re having and the things that are going on between
the two of you, consider seeing a counselor or going to a support group.
Can cancer help relationships?
Cancer brings stresses and emotional problems, but it helps
many couples as well. They realize how important they are to each other. They
learn to let the small things go and to change their priorities, focusing mainly
on what’s important to them. This new perspective often draws them closer
Couples do get through this difficult time. According to
the National Cancer Institute, the divorce rate for people who’ve had cancer is
about the same as for people who haven’t had cancer.
Society; National Cancer Institute; L. Armstrong. It Is Not About the Bike:
My Journey Back to Life. Putnam, 2000.