Cancer & Marriage: Top Tips for Keeping your Relationship in Check 

Summary: Even the most solid marriage can be rocked and thrown off course by cancer. The immense stress and chaos, mixed with intense worry, can make even the most level-headed people feel like they are losing their minds, and lives. By ensuring you take the time to focus on your relationship, your partner can become your best and strongest supporter through the worst times of your lives. Utilize these tips in your own marriage to help keep communication lines open and everyone on the same page!

As if marriage was not complicated enough, add a cancer diagnosis into the mix, and you may be staring into the eyes of looming disaster. Marriage requires effort, dedication and commitment that is unparalleled to any other relationship. Most all married couples would tell you that it is no easy stroll through the park and takes more work than you could ever imagine. Marriage takes the abilities of two people and creates a bond which allows them to rely on and support one another through the good and bad times in life.

Marriage measures a person’s character and integrity through the act of caring for another. Just as any relationship there will be high points and low points. A cancer diagnosis tends to bring any unhandled or dealt with issues to the forefront. The diagnosis of a serious illness will bring the best and worst parts of both you and your partner to the surface. Maybe you have heard the saying, “it’s not about what happens; it’s about how you respond.” Once the diagnosis has been made, make the conscious decision to only fight the cancer disease- not your partner.

The following are the top tips for keeping your relationship and marriage on track, while doing what needs to be done to beat cancer.

  • Commit to each other. Above all else, you must make the conscious decision to commit, both to your spouse, and to the process of treatment. Commitment does not automatically happen when you speak your vows. It is a choice that must be repeated over the course of your relationship and every single day of the year. Your journey through cancer requires steadfastness and faithfulness to one another. You need to assume that life is going to get extremely bumpy and uncomfortable. Nearly everything you have encountered thus far has been butterflies, fairy dust, and roses and you are about to endure some of the most difficult moments in your life and your marriage. Both of you will be pulled in different directions and be influenced in many ways. When things get ugly, complications arise, and grief pours over you both, you need to hold tight to each other. Commit yourself to be there for one another no matter what happens.
  • Communicate openly. Continue to talk even in the moments when it seems uncomfortable. Grief is expressed in a variety of ways and for some, it shows itself through silence. Though there will be times when you need to process on your own, do not wall yourself off from your loved one. In an atmosphere of silence, assumptions are birthed and hurt will fester and grow. Communicating can bring healing to your relationship. You will both experience different emotions from the moment you hear the news of the diagnosis and being on the exact same emotional page will be a rarity. Keeping the lines of communication open will benefit your marriage by drawing you closer to one another and preventing hurt feelings in the future. It is okay to express your fears and anxieties. And equally so, it is okay to share your faith and hope. Be vulnerable and loving in your communication and understand that talking things through will only benefit the bond you have with your partner.
  • Prioritize your life. Life moves quickly generally, and even faster upon receiving a diagnosis. Medical decisions will need to be made. You will need to find a team of doctors that you feel comfortable with. Treatment will be discussed, and you will need to choose which option is best for you. Eventually you will feel in over your head as the chaos circles around you. Keeping a list of priorities will help establish balance. Be aware of what tasks are at hand and stay on the same page as your spouse. Communicate what is most important to your relationship. Is it more important to preserve your fertility before beginning harsh treatments? Do you want to establish a medical banking account to manage expenses and better track them? Put yourselves first and be okay saying “no” to those around you. Your health and your marriage are number one.
  • Be flexible with your partner and life. Plans change; that’s life. When cancer rears its ugly head in your relationship, you need to start stretching. Many of your dreams, goals, and desires for your life and family will abruptly come to a halt. Keep a tight grip on your non-negotiables and let insignificant matters go. Change is difficult but being flexible is more valuable than gold. Go with the flow. Some plans will stall, and new dreams will come to fruition. Flexibility allows room for growth and new possibilities.
  • Stay on the same team. Cancer can bring out the worst in anyone. Anger is one of the most common emotions that patients and their families deal with at various times throughout the journey. Remember that each of you process things differently, and that no way is better than the other. Allow each other space to grieve and be sympathetic towards one another. Remember that you are fighting cancer, not your loved one. Your loved on is not causing your illness, the cancer is. Direct your anger towards the root of the issue, and do not let your emotions erupt in an attack on your spouse. Though at times you may feel your partner does not understand what you are going through, do not further alienate them and turn them into the enemy. You are on the same team, and you each play a vital position. Work together at working through it.
  • Pursue and entice your partner. We have all heard that we should continue to date our spouse after our wedding day. Whether to keep things interesting or to continue to nurture the bond, pursuing each other is important to your relationship. This should not stop for a or after the diagnosis. Though it will require a deeper level of intent, consistently seeking each other out will be rewarded. Make time for one another. Go out of your way to make your spouse feel special. Pursue your partner’s heart. Ask questions about how they are doing and be a good listener when they respond. Treatments and the subsequent side effects may get in the way of your typical dinner and a movie date night, but if you are creative you can cultivate new ways to deepen your bond. Remember that dates do not have to be fancy or extravagant, and most likely will not be for a while.
  • Be grateful for each day. Have you ever met someone so full of gratitude that it made you reflect on what you are thankful for? Having an attitude of gratitude in all circumstances will change your view of the most difficult times. Though you will have a large list of things you are angry, upset, and resentful over, make an effort to think of things that you are thankful for. Thanksgiving is one of the quickest ways to heal a hardened heart. Make a list. Whether in your mind or on paper, write down specific items you are grateful for. Be thankful for the details. Be thankful for all things big and little. Be thankful for the life and love you share with one another. An attitude of gratitude will transform your perspective and will strengthen your spirit throughout your battle.
  • Remain intimate, even if this means trying new things. Intimacy is not always about sexual intercourse. Though sex is one of the fundamental ways to be intimate with your partner, there are other means to stay connected. Unfortunately, cancer robs many people of their sexual function, yet marriages continue to blossom even without intercourse. When biology is thrown off, creativity is born, and the mind is opened to new possibilities and abilities. Adapting to your current situation will benefit you both. Be gentle with one another. Discover new ways to develop a more profound connection. Hold hands. Share secrets. Kiss. Being affectionate will remind your partner that you are invested in them. If you allow it, the intimacy in your relationship can reach new heights after a diagnosis. Vulnerability will welcome intimacy and connectedness.
  • Remember your vows. Think back to the day you stood in front of your friends and family and made lifelong promises to your spouse. What did you say? Remember the words? More than likely, you vowed to stay by your partner in sickness and in health. While you probably had no idea that sickness meant cancer, you promised your partner you would not leave them when things got rough. You vowed to stand with each other no matter what. You vowed to love one another and cherish one another. There will be moments in your journey after your diagnosis that all you have left is the man or woman standing beside you. Think back to your wedding day. If you knew then what you know now, would your decision be different? True, authentic, raw love knows no bounds. You loved them then, so love them now, even with the cancer.

There are no real directions for dealing with a cancer diagnosis and marriage. The best you can do is to continue to do your best and give your best to your partner. Keep your eyes on the prize and beating your cancer.

Resources Used:



Reclaiming Intimacy

Very Well Health

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