Partner Support & Strategies  

Summary: Facing cancer and treatment is a complex task for the strongest of couples. Being the partner of a cancer patient can be exhausting, terrifying and stressful in ways that one could never imagine. Partners can feel over-stretched, like they are losing control of their own lives. This is why ensuring that your partner and support system person is also well cared for and stable in life. There are many strategies and ways that this support can be achieved, and this will be different for each couple. Read on and discover with methods you can use in your own relationship to reclaim and strengthen the connection you both need!

Even the strongest, longest lasting relationships face struggle and strife in the light of cancer and treatment. The diagnosis of, treatment and living with cancer will cause a major strain in your life and that of your partner’s life. You may have different feelings, thoughts and coping mechanisms as the patient than your partner is experiencing as the caregiver, or extremely worried life partner. You may also experience similar feelings like anxiety, fear, and helplessness.

Some relationships are drawn closer together, creating an unbreakable bond; and others will struggle to find common ground, face problems with both connection and communication. All couples feel the pull of the heavy stress during this time of trials. Couples often feel the most stressed about:

  • Knowing how to best support each other and how to communicate
  • Dealing with new feelings that come up
  • Making decisions
  • Juggling lots of roles like childcare, housekeeping, work, and caregiving simultaneously
  • Changing their social life
  • Changing their daily routine
  • Not feeling connected sexually

It may help you and your partner to know that everyone expresses themselves in different ways and reacts to stressors in their own way. Some people like to talk things out or focus on other issues. Others like to focus inward by spending time meditating or fixing broken things around the house. While these differences may not seem like anything major, they can cause tension within the relationship because each person may be expecting the other to react or act differently. Expectations truly can be the root of all evil. Remember that communicating is important and beneficial to regaining that common ground.

However, if both of you can understand and accept the stress-reactions of your partner, it is possible to work together and create advantages for the rough situation. If one of you likes to do research, they can take on the responsibility to learn about new treatments and possibilities. If you don’t like to research, but prefer to chat about your feelings, you can make sure that you get a few minutes in between hearing about the research to share how you are feeling. Open and honest communication, whether about the good or the bad, is vital to reclaiming your relationship and helping to ease stress for everyone.

There are numerous ways to work on improving your communication with your partner. Some couples find it easier to talk about serious issues than other couples. This is something that only you and your partner can determine. These tips may help you to open the lines of communication a bit more.

  • Share in the decision making. Include your partner in treatment decisions and keep them updated on your care plan. Together you can work with your doctors and learn about the common issues, treatment choices and the expected side effects. This will help them feel connected and part of the plan.
  • Help each other. Every human is made to need love and affection. Now is the time in your life that you need to rely on others so that your body can fight and heal. Let your loved ones and your friends help you when they can. This can be simple, like letting them fluff your pillows, or read you a story. Never allow their help and attempts at connection go unnoticed. Be thankful and grateful for each and every action. Express that gratitude in a way that is best for your partner and relationship.
  • Be open about stressors. Certain things that cause stress for you and your partner cannot be solved in this moment. Even in that case, those subject should be addressed and discussed as well. Be open about any stressful issue that is affecting your life, even if there is no immediate solution. Many people feel that ignoring problems with no solutions is easier than talking about the what-ifs. This is not always the case. Getting things out in the open will help everyone involved.
  • Be a team. You both need to be connected physically, emotionally and mentally, now, more than ever. Talk about everything. Leave no stone unturned. Talk about what decisions should be made together, and which ones you might want to make alone, if any. Discuss which tasks at home should be done by which person, or which things you will need help with.
  • Make & Keep Dates! Losing the romance and butterflies in your relationship can be dangerous, even more so when going through a rough spot with cancer and long-term illness. Many couples believe that it helps to plan special occasions like regular dates, birthday dinners out, and going to the movies together. Of course, some days may be better than others, as it is often hard to determine which side effects and symptoms will be present on whichever day. Consider keeping yourselves open for last minute dinners, even if it is only for a special ice cream treat. These dates do not have to be fancy it is just about being together and staying connected. On the rough days, this may mean renting a movie and cuddling on the couch or looking through old photos remembering the good old days. Once you’re comfortable, think about inviting others over for these memorable moments.

If you find that you cannot seem to break the communication barriers about your cancer and treatment, consider these options for helping to ease the stress and welcome discussion:

  • Try to schedule a daily time to sit down and talk.
  • Talk honestly about all your feelings, good and bad. Do not worry about upsetting your partner or feeling guilty about how you feel. Anger, fear, frustration and resentment are normal reactions to cancer.
  • Talk about any differences in feelings. Respect your partner’s point of view, even if you do not agree.
  • Talk about how each of you is coping.
  • If you have something difficult to discuss, practice what you are going to say.
  • As you deal with cancer, think about how you and your partner coped with hard times in the past. What strategies worked? How might you do things differently now? It can help to write down a list of things that you both do to make the relationship strong.
  • Think about what you need most today from your partner and ask for it. Your partner is not a mind reader and often does not realize your needs until you speak of them.
  • Give yourselves some time away from cancer. A time or place where cancer is not the topic of conversation, even if just for the day. Talk about things other than cancer and do other things together.
  • If you are feeling stressed, it may help to give yourselves short breaks from each other. You may be so worried about your partner that you forget to look after yourself. Use this time to focus on your own passions or hobbies, so you end up being refreshed, revived, and happy.
  • Sometimes talking to someone else like a friend, relative or someone completely outside your situation, like a counselor can help.
  • Be sensitive to signs that your partner is having a bad day or in a bad mood. Keep difficult or emotional discussions for another day and try to understand and empathize that moods happen and are not often permanent.
  • You can meet with the healthcare team together to learn about cancer and treatment options.
  • Try to focus on short-term goals to stay connected with each other. Often our priorities about things like travel and retirement change after a cancer diagnosis. Give yourself and your partner time to think and adjust.

Whatever support strategy you utilize, remember that working together as a team benefits you both. Intimacy, whether sexual, emotional, physical or otherwise, all help with whole-body stability, which increases our own natural healing powers. Always remember that cancer is the enemy, and you and your partner are working as a team to fight off the evil cells! Support each other in whatever way works best for your relationship.

Resources Used:

Reclaiming Intimacy



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