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Facing cancer as a couple

Thursday, February 08, 2024 9:05 AM
Tags: cancer

By Endeavor Health

A cancer diagnosis can test any relationship whether you’ve been dating for five years or married for 10.

Unexpected news can turn a couple's world upside down. Though every person and relationship handles conflict and stress differently, couples may charter to new territory when facing cancer together.

Woman with breast cancer and her husband supporting her

Here are some tips for how to face the challenges of cancer as a couple:

  1. Changing roles and responsibilities. If you were once the dependent in the relationship, you may soon assume the role of caregiver and head of household. This may include making dinners, shuttling the neighborhood carpool to and from activities, and helping around the house. Be flexible and expect that you may need to step up to the plate and take on additional responsibilities. Allow your inner circle to help you with some of these tasks.
  2. Communication styles. Openly discuss your feelings with your partner by confronting difficult emotions. You may feel a sense of distance with your loved one if you hold your feelings inside. Be open and honest when you talk about an issue, rather than ignoring it. Experts say couples who work together to keep lines of communication open and clearly express their needs and fears strengthen their relationship. Listen to one another without judging and talk about what each of you can to do better support each another.
  3. Lack of intimacy. Intimacy comes in all forms. While your partner is dealing with the side effects of treatment, his or her self-esteem and confidence may decrease. The American Cancer Society recommends partners help their loved ones work through these feelings and changes by offering each other love, support and understanding. In addition to communicating your feelings, there are ways to be close and show your love for one another besides sexual intimacy, such as holding hands, writing love notes, cuddling and kissing.
  4. Fear of the unknown. Often, loved ones can feel overwhelmed, anxious and nervous for what the future holds. Do not blame each other for the events that are unfolding. Instead, talk through the sense of worry together, privately or in a support group, so you are aware of each other’s feelings. Support and love your partner and let your partner support you.

A lack of communication can lead to a feeling of isolation and frustration. Talking about your needs and feelings can reduce negativity and stress on your relationship. Be on the lookout for signs of a communication breakdown. These signs may include:

  • Frequent misunderstandings or disagreements
  • Use of criticism, sarcasm or name-calling
  • Fewer expressions of love and affection
  • Not wanting to ask for needed help or support
  • Feeling hurt by things a loved one says or does
  • Physical and emotional withdrawal by you or your loved one

If you are having a difficult time connecting with your partner about your diagnosis, consider joining a support group or talk to a counselor or social worker.

Learn more about cancer support services at Endeavor Health Cancer Institute.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.