3 Tips to Keep a Strong Relationship During Cancer

By Nancy Christie

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Given the many stressors related to a cancer diagnosis, it’s not surprising that problems can arise, affecting the stability of a relationship. The following recommendations provide helpful insight into ensuring relationships remain strong in the face of these challenges.

1. Keep the lines of communication open and draw on past experience.

“Any time there’s a crisis, you need to increase communication, with the goal of mutual understanding, not necessarily an agreement. It may hurt to share feelings but unshared feelings are what really diminishes relationships,” says Mike Uhl, MA, MDiv, LMFT, Mind-Body Therapist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Newnan, Georgia. He tells couples to “fight the cancer, not each other.” And while the unique challenges that arise for couples in the wake of a diagnosis are no doubt significant, Uhl encourages partners to remember how they have united to overcome other difficult situations, and to employ those same strategies now. “I recommend that they try to reuse those skills and remind themselves of those things that helped keep them from falling apart in the past,” he says.

2. Shore up your support network.

Even if your partner is willing to do it all, bringing friends and other family members on board can provide a much-needed break from caregiving responsibilities. Not only will this help keep a sense of balance in his or her life, it will also give your partner a chance to process all the feelings your cancer diagnosis has generated.

3. Talk with a therapist with a background in cancer.

Discussing all the emotions—fear, anger or grief—either together or separately not only gets them out in the open but can provide useful coping tools. Working with a counselor experienced in the specific challenges faced by cancer patients will ensure that treatment-related symptoms aren’t mistakenly attributed to psychological or emotional causes, says Stewart Fleishman, MD, and Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine and the American Cancer Society as well as  author of Learn To Live Through Cancer.