Cancer and Marriage

by GregP_WN

Life with cancer can be a pressure cooker. It dials up the stress on every aspect of your life. But it’s personal relationships that may show the strain of cancer the most – especially marriages. The question isn’t “will living with cancer change your marriage;” it will. But will “change” mean a stronger bond between you and your mate, or the end of your relationship?Terrilyn

“Marriage isn’t easy,” writes WhatNexter LiveWithCancer. “It is even more difficult, I think, when you throw in a life-threatening illness whose treatment sometimes makes you so sick you can barely stand to go on.”

But it’s more than the illness. It’s the changing roles between man and wife. Whichever spouse is the patient, the other is left to wrestle with the often huge financial burdens, taking care of children, and even managing a job – all on their own. Under the white-hot light of this kind of pressure, some patients have learned a great deal about their significant other. To paraphrase the old sports adage: cancer doesn’t build character; it reveals it.

If I Can Do Cancer I Can Do Anything

WhatNexter racherarmom writes there is bound to be some friction and awkwardness as both spouses adjust to their changing roles. “My husband is tired and stressed, but wanting to spend a lot more time with me,” she writes. “We’ve been married for 25 years, so this is just another bump in the road. I guess it depends on how grown up your husband is.”

Here are three simple tenants to follow:

Keep Talking 

Wife And Husband Talking Wide Feature
It’s easy to go into “do” mode immediately after diagnosis. There are so many arrangements to be made. You can be so busy doing that you don’t take the time to process important emotions together.

“My husband drove me to my appointments, but he was just a shell,” writes WhatNexter CAS1. “This cancer has put a real strain on our relationship.”

Keeping the lines of communication open is crucial. You need to share those strong feelings and emotions – don’t let time pass. It’s often natural for some resentment to build in a caregiver as treatment and recovery stretch from days into months, and beyond. Making assumptions about how each other feel can be a recipe for disaster. Be open. Be honest. Even sharing tough times is still sharing. It will bring you closer together.

It is not unusual for cancer to dominate every moment of life. And at stressful times like these, it’s normal to lean on the ones closest to us the most. And lean. And lean some more. Amid the swirl of treatments and the pressure of the situation, cancer patients can lose track of the extreme pressure all this leaning is actually putting on their loved ones. For the spouse who’s not battling cancer, this can become a difficult emotional strain. It’s important to recognize that your spouse needs to spend some time away from the battle to ease their state of mind, if only for a short time.

During the struggle, one of the biggest things that can help, is a broad network of support can’t be overlooked. These little breaks will help keep the pressure and tension of your fight against cancer from straining your relationship. It will also help to create space so you can still have “cancer-free” time with your loved one: precious moments when you are just behaving like the couple you’ve always been instead of the patient-caregiver relationship.
When a spouse has another outlet, this also spares the cancer patient. One WhatNexter described how she makes an effort to lean on her friends, venting her emotions with them and sharing a good cry. She says it helped her to get the support that she needs without putting pressure on her husband.


Kayaking Couple
Take a break from the disease as a couple. Schedule cancer-free time. Simply set aside a weekend, a day – even an hour – where neither of you talk about cancer or family issues. Do something fun together. Watch TV, go for a walk, play cards, go to a movie. Do something you both love and talk about the activity, the weather, the game. Talk about anything but cancer. Taking these little cancer vacations will do wonders for both of you.

We aren’t talking about sex, because, let’s face it, we aren’t 20 anymore. We are talking about the basics: a touch, a glance, a hug. Little shared moments. It can even be as small as holding hands. There are lots of ways to reconnect that have nothing to do with sex.

Intimacy can be kept alive by simply being together in quiet moments. Try taking an evening stroll as a couple. Or give one another a massage. Sit together on the couch and share a blanket – it will ensure that you stay cozied up together. Remember that intimacy isn’t about sex, it’s about an emotional connection. It’s so easy to lose intimacy in every day life – couples who aren’t battling cancer lose intimacy all the time. But if you can be sure to set time aside to be together – to keep that connection – your bond can grow even stronger.

WhatNexter Bamonto Strong got it right when she wrote that, “In our case, cancer brought us closer together. When my husband was first diagnosed, I felt the need to be in close proximity to him all the time.”

Keep reminding each other that you are both on the same team and that the disease is the enemy. When the stress level dials up – and it will – try to keep in mind that this situation is not either of your faults. Don’t let anger and frustration get focused on your spouse – whether that spouse is the patient or the caregiver. Focus all your anger on the cancer and fight together. You each have a role to play in this struggle and when you work side by side and resist the urge to butt heads in tough times, you will grow closer than you’ve ever imagined.

When cancer enters the picture, the hard work of marriage may become more of a challenge. But great challenges can yield massive rewards. WhatNexter Donnie probably summed it up best when she wrote that, “It only made us stronger … each day continues to be a challenge, but we keep going no matter what.”

What have you done with your Spouse to keep your marriage strong through cancer?

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