Broken Arrow, Oklahoma residents Cathie and Michael Nicholson have a Friday-night tradition:
“We’ve been married for 11 years, and one thing we’ve been committed to from day one is having a weekly date night,” Cathie says.
Taking time from their busy schedules to check in, laugh, and connect each week has remained a beloved ritual for the couple. “We learned early on, through experiences in our previous marriages and from our studies at church, how important it was to commit to that time together,” Michael says.
When Cathie was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2015 and began receiving weekly chemotherapy treatments at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Tulsa on Friday evenings, the couple made the conscious decision to maintain their date night. “We just decided, no matter what was going on, we were still going to have that quality time,” Cathie says.
And they did: each week during Cathie’s infusions, the couple would spend that time focused on one another—sharing a meal, watching a movie, or simply visiting and laughing. They only missed one weekly date through the five months of Cathie’s treatment.
Sharing those hours with her husband, Cathie says, transformed her treatment experience and deepened the couple’s connection. “What I expected to be an unnerving experience ended up being pleasant because my husband was there, making jokes and holding my hand,” she says. “I had the chance to see how much he truly loved me—the way he stepped up to the plate was so much more than I had expected or could have dreamed.”
Traci Owen, RN, BSN, survivorship manager at CTCA® in Tulsa, says that couples who maintain their physical and emotional connection in the face of cancer “are stronger and face the daily challenges of cancer with less anxiety.”
Prioritizing a relationship amidst the challenges of a diagnosis and treatment is important, Owen says. “Life pulls every couple in many directions all at the same time, which can be exhausting,” she notes, but “we should be giving our mate the very best of who we are.”
Here, Owen and CTCA Mind-Body Therapist Tanis Taylor, LMFT, offer insight into three simple steps toward creating a healthy habit of regular dates during cancer treatment:
Step 1: Commit to Couple Time
Owen advises couples to make a non-negotiable commitment to two dates each month, as well as to meaningful moments in each day: “I encourage every couple to build a protective wall around their relationship by scheduling regular dates, as well as 15 minutes of face-to-face time every day.”
Step 2. Prepare
“The options for date night activities are limited only by your imagination,” Owen notes. “I encourage each partner to take ownership of planning one date each month, so the ‘work’ is shared and dates reflect both partners’ interests.”
As you plan, remember that dates need not be elaborate to be meaningful: “Date night doesn’t need to be a showy or expensive affair,” Owen says. “Sit down together and make a list of things you’d like to do and start crossing them off the list.”
Taylor notes that no matter what you plan, “the point is to connect as people, to remember what you love about one another.” To ensure this remains the focus, she advises avoiding talk related to cancer—make topics like medication, diet, and test results off-limits and just enjoy being together.
Step 3: Communicate to Connect
The impact of a cancer diagnosis and treatment on physical and emotional wellbeing can be significant; the result can be a sense of disconnect between partners. Owen advises couples to communicate openly to work through any issues that may be standing in the way of emotional or physical intimacy. “Couples who can develop healthy and open communication regarding their needs and expectations will be able to work together in seeking solutions,” she says.
Taylor agrees, adding that counseling can be a valuable intervention if communication is difficult. “A mental health professional can help patients and their partners explore expectations and underlying thoughts and beliefs and help couples develop communications skills,” she says.