In Sickness and in Health: Finding Support in Your Relationship

February 12, 2015
Amber Bauer, ASCO staff

Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow. – Swedish Proverb

For people in a relationship, your spouse or partner generally forms the foundation of your support system—sharing the emotional toll of a cancer diagnosis, going to doctors’ appointments, and ensuring you are taking care of yourself. But while cancer often brings couples together, the extra stress can also become a burden.

Both people in a relationship are changed by the cancer experience, sometimes in ways they may not even be aware of. That is why it is so important to continue to keep the lines of communication open and talk about how cancer is affecting you.

Sometimes this may seem easier said than done. So here are some tips from the Cancer.Net Editorial Board that may help you talk with your spouse or partner about cancer, how it makes you feel, and how it affects you and your relationship. share on twitter 

  • Choose times to talk when you are both free from distractions and not rushed. Some couples find that setting aside a certain time every day or every week to sit down and talk works well.

  • You don't always have to talk about cancer. It’s important to talk about other things too. Just having a conversation and laughing together often helps couples feel closer.

  • If you have something difficult to share, it may help to practice what you want to say or write notes for yourself. This often helps prioritize your values and identify your biggest worries.

  • Because you and your partner probably have different ways of coping with difficult situations, you may have different things you want to gain from your conversations. One person may look at cancer as a problem to be solved, while the other wants emotional support and validation. Talk about these differences, and understand that both points of view have value.

  • Talk honestly about your feelings, both positive and negative. share on twitter Emotions like anger, fear, frustration, and resentment are normal reactions to cancer. Couples often don't discuss these emotions for fear of upsetting the other person or because they feel guilty for having negative thoughts. Hiding feelings creates distance in a relationship and prevents you from supporting and comforting each other. On the other hand, hearing that your partner feels guilt or sadness may also be very difficult.

  • You and your partner won't always feel the same way. At times, one of you may be afraid while the other is hopeful. Talk about these differences and respect your partner's feelings.

  • Tell your partner what type of support you need. One day you may need to talk through a decision, while another day you may just want some quiet time alone.

If you find it hard to talk with your partner, you may want to join a support group or talk with a counseling professional, either on your own or as a couple.