Caregiving: Cancer, Marriage & Resentments 

Caregiving: Cancer, Marriage & Resentments

Summary: Caregiving for your spouse can be an emotionally and physically taxing time than can bring up anger and resentments in your marriage. Here you can learn why these feelings often occur, the most common triggers for these building resentments, and tips on how to curb them to focus on your marriage and taking care of your partner.

In the time around a person’s cancer diagnosis, the spouse or partner is still all-in and on board, being invested and working towards having their loved one back on their feet and helping them to work through their illness. Many times, couples go to each and every appointment together and the caregiving partner naturally steps up to take over things like housework, the children and their schedules, appointments and schedules, meals, and handling all appointment aspects without ever complaining.

But after the beginning stages end, and the illness and caregiving are still needed and required, the feelings of resentment and anger creep in, slowly eating away at the relationship. What were small fractures in the relationship now grow to be huge, which bring doubts into the marriage in regard to if it can actually survive this stressful, trying time.

While these feelings might not be the best conversation topic, it is very important to know that these feelings are normal and must be addressed. Having these feeling does not mean you no longer love your spouse or partner, either. This is just another aspect of cancer care in a marriage that requires extra work to push through.

Why these Feelings Occur

When facing your person’s diagnosis, cancer and treatment, we often want to grab hold of the entire situation, and immediately make things better. We quickly begin reading every book, studying statistics and facts, while researching the best methods and connecting with other people who have fought and won against this type of cancer. We work tirelessly to ensure your comfort and life, all the way to the end goal of recovery.

Resentment and Anger Triggers

There can be events or situations that can trigger these feelings. Some of these triggers you may be aware of, and others will remain invisible- until they are not. Many caregivers report these as the top triggers for building resentment and anger within their marriage:

  • The stress of being a caregiver has become overwhelming. Caring for your spouse’s daily needs can be stressful. You may doubt your abilities, have trouble managing your time, and feel like your life is no longer yours in any aspect. Caregiving is a demanding role that even in the best of circumstances can lead to caregiver burnout.
  • Your spouse has lost interest in sex and intimacy. A low libido can be a side effect of cancer treatment, illness, medications, and mental distress. It can also be caused by low self-esteem due to hair loss, weight loss, and the everyday stress of being ill. If you had a healthy sex life prior to treatment, it may be difficult for you to abstain from intimacy for a long period of time. The more you try to hide this feeling, the worse the feelings get. You should try to be honest and open with your partner about your feelings, and work towards finding a solution that makes both of you feel connected
  • The weight of your personal sacrifice suddenly becomes too heavy to carry. Before diagnosis, you may have worked overtime to save for a new house or a romantic vacation and now you are working to pay for medications and treatment your insurance refuses to cover. You have no choice in the matter. You need the money to support yourself, your spouse, and your family. Before long, your social and work life begin to suffer, and the sacrifices you make suddenly seem forced and overwhelming. This can result in caregiver burnout and a withdraw from the relationship with the ill spouse or partner.
  • You become overwhelmed with the number of tasks and duties to handle. When your spouse is ill, you are often forced to take on responsibilities you never had before. You may suddenly find yourself juggling domestic duties and a full-time job. In time, you may begin to doubt whether you are doing any of these jobs correctly, or to your best abilities. Insecurities start to set in, which increase the rate of self-doubt.

Coping Tips for Maintaining your Relationship when Resentment Builds

In the end, the truth is that any resentment you may be feeling towards your spouse is connected to the physical, emotional, and mental state you are in. These feelings are never the favorites and they can cause much more destruction when they are not dealt with in an appropriate fashion. If you, as a spouse and caregiver, are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and like breaking down, you are probably dealing with these feelings are more.

Here are some ideas on how to cope with these feelings to help maintain your relationship during the difficult times.

  • Make plans for the future. Try to remind yourself that there is a life and future after cancer and illness. Make plans with your spouse, even if they resist; simply accept that and return to the topic again. After the second of third talk, or a certain point in their treatment, you might find that they are suddenly open and ready to take such a step in planning.
  • Communicate your emotions and feelings. If you are holding your emotions inside, there is no way to deal with them. Expressing yourself and your feelings, positive and negative, is a vital aspect of any relationship, and allows you to share how you feel rather than focusing on the event that started those feelings to begin with. Emotions can be changed and addressed; past situations cannot.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize. While cancer or illness has become a part of who your spouse is, it does not define them. Focus your energy on the qualities you have loved about your partner from day one and remember all of those personal jokes you share that no one else could ever understand.
  • Get and utilize support. As the spouse of a patient with cancer, you will find that there are many services open for you in cancer centers, support groups, and local organizations. These are excellent ways for you to have an outlet with others who are going through similar situations and illnesses with their spouse. The more support you have, the better you will be able to handle everything that arises with your marital caregiving situation.
  • Get that support in line BEFORE you need it. While it may not be one of your main concerns right away, lining up or making a list of outreach support for yourself is very important in this process. By the time you truly need this support, you may be depressed, anxious and stressed. These feeling do not often promote the research necessary to find these groups or the support. Taking the time to do this in the beginning can help you to make the connections with other before it is too late.
  • Allow yourself breaks, whenever you need them. Giving yourself a break when you need it can help keep off caregiver burnout. This is essential for your emotional and physical health. You may feel guilty about taking time for yourself at first, but this will give you a chance to step back to gain perspective, and better manage the care of your spouse. There are many organizations, agencies, or even your family and friends that could help out for a day, a weekend, or even just a few hours in the day for you to get a break in. Consider checking in to a maid service, garden service, or even a grocery delivery service to help loosen your load and time constraints.

If you are having a difficult time caregiving for your spouse, do not hesitate to reach out to your doctors for help to ease your caregiving load. By ignoring these issues, you put further strain on your marriage and relationship, which can hinder your spouse’s treatment and care, or even has the potential to end your marriage.

Resources Used:

Reclaiming Intimacy


Caregiving USA

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