Skip to main content
An official website of the United States government

Facing Cancer with Your Spouse or Partner

Credit: iStock

Your spouse or partner may feel just as scared by your cancer as you do. You both may feel anxious, helpless, or afraid. You may even find it hard to be taken care of by someone you love.

Some relationships get stronger during cancer treatment. Others are weakened. Nearly all couples feel more stress than usual when cancer occurs. They often feel stress about:

  • Knowing how to best support each other and how to communicate
  • Dealing with new feelings that come up
  • Making decisions
  • Juggling lots of roles (such as childcare, housekeeping, work, and caregiving)
  • Changing their social life
  • Changing their daily routine
  • Not feeling connected sexually

It helps to know that people express their emotions in different ways. Some like to talk things out or focus on other people. Others like to focus inward by doing things, such as washing the dishes or fixing things around the house. These differences can cause tension because each person may expect the other to act the way they would in their place. To reduce stress, it may help to remind yourself that everyone reacts differently. But if you don't feel like your communication needs are being met, you may want to seek help from a counselor or social worker.

I was so scared when my husband got cancer. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to help him or that he might not recover. And I was afraid to talk about my fears with him because I didn't want to upset him.


Ways to Improve Communication

Some couples find it easier to talk about serious issues than other couples. Only you and your partner know how you feel about this. The sections below may help you think about ways to communicate that work for both of you.

Share the Decisions

Including your spouse or partner in treatment decisions is important. Together you can meet with your doctor and learn about common symptoms, your treatment choices, and their side effects. This will help you plan for the upcoming weeks and months.

Help Each Other

Everyone needs to feel needed and loved. You may have always been the "strong one" in your family, but now is the time to let your loved one help you. This can be as simple as letting the other person fluff your pillow, bring you a cool drink, or read to you. And in turn, make sure you help your partner. You can simply express gratitude and let them know you understand it's a tough time for them too.

Be Open about Stress

Some things that cause stress for you and your partner can't be solved right now. And yet sometimes talking about these things can be helpful. Look at the issues that bother you such as dealing with the unknown or feeling a strain between you. You may want to say up front, "I know we can't solve this today. But I'd like to just talk about how it's going and how we're feeling." Getting things out into the open may help you both.

Be a Team

You and your partner may need to be a team now more than ever. It may help to think things through together. Talk about what decisions you should make together and which ones you should make alone. You may want to decide what tasks to share and if other people in your life could help with them.

Make Dates

Many couples find that it helps to plan special occasions. Some days may end up being better than others, depending on how your partner feels. So you may need to be okay with last-minute changes.

Your dates don't have to be fancy. It's about spending time together. That can mean renting a movie, going out to eat or for an event, or looking through old photos. It can be whatever you both like to do. You can also plan these dates to include other people, if you miss being around others.

  • Updated:

If you would like to reproduce some or all of this content, see Reuse of NCI Information for guidance about copyright and permissions. In the case of permitted digital reproduction, please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source and link to the original NCI product using the original product's title; e.g., “Facing Cancer with Your Spouse or Partner was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”