Relationships are hard even under the most optimal conditions. When you add a diagnosis of cancer into the marital mix, everything changes and suddenly your vow to remain â€œin sickness and in healthâ€ takes on a whole new meaning. Our greatest fear as human beings is to be abandoned by the other, and this vulnerability becomes exposed when we are faced with a life threatening illness like cancer. The ultimate question for anyone in a love relationship is â€œwill you be there for me?â€ We want to know that we are not alone, that someone is there to share the hope and the fear, and to feel loved even in our darkest moments. When cancer is brought into the equation, it can ultimately be received as a test. Itâ€™s a test of your own resilience, strength and courage, and a test of your present relationship. Whether you have been married for 30 years or 6 months, a cancer diagnosis will push your relationship skills to the limit, and will force you to truly learn how you show up for each other in the hardest of times. If your relationship is strong, cancer gives you the opportunity to reinforce that foundation. If your relationship is shaky and unbalanced, cancer provides a reason to re-evaluate what is truly important in light of a life or death situation. Cancer is all consuming, but the insidiousness of the disease does not have to infiltrate your love life.
What can you do to ensure that your relationship thrives through this harrowing time?
As the diagnosed partner, reflect on the following questions:
Have I let my partner know how to be there for me with regard to my illness?
Is asking for support and help easy for me, or do I tend to rely on myself for what I need?
Am I sharing my feelings with my partner, or am I protecting him or her from my pain?
What are my expectations of my partner as we traverse this challenging time?
As the supporting partner, reflect on the following questions:
How am I showing up for my partner through this time?
What am I doing to support myself as I support my partner?
Am I denying my own overwhelming feelings to stay strong for my partner?
What are my expectations of myself as we traverse this challenging time?
Here are 3 things you can do right now to maintain the health of your relationship:
- Make sure that you are both seeking emotional support from an outside professional to process the depth of your feelings. Getting emotional support is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of strength. Witholding feelings out of protection of the other, or overburdening the relationship with too much emotion will eventually deplete both partners.
- Have a conversation about expectations of each other. Unspoken expectations often lead to disappointment, so be realistic and clear about what you each can expect of each other through this period of your life. Everyone has needs and desires. This is what makes us all human. If meeting those needs and desires is unrealistic at this time, alternate solutions can often be found.
- Incorporate as much joy and pleasure into your life as possible. This may seem counter-intuitive right now, but every relationship needs to be nurtured and fed to survive. Doing pleasurable things, and being together within the context of passion and joy will deepen your connection to each other. This connection is the foundation of a strong relationship, and this is particularly true through such a challenging time of your life together.
Dr. Andra Brosh September 11th, 2012
Posted In: Cancer, Marriage, Relationships