Relationship with your partner when your child has cancer

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It can be very common for parents to experience increased difficulties in their relationships with partners or spouses when their child has cancer. Read about how you and your partner can cope separately and together.

Key points

  • While it is normal for you and your partner to cope with your child's diagnosis and treatment in different ways, it is important to avoid negative coping methods.
  • Maintaining communication, self-care and making time for each other are important for strengthening a relationship.
  • For divorced parents, it is important to find a way to work together and communicate in a positive way so that your child gets the best care possible.

    Up until this point, you and your partner have likely divided certain household roles and responsibilities in a way that works for you and your family. Now that your teenager has been diagnosed with cancer, however, you may need to define new roles and responsibilities. You will need to explore how you’re going to cope separately and together.

    Everyone copes differently

    How you cope depends on your personality and the ways in which you’ve learned to cope with difficult situations in the past. If each partner has a different coping style, this can lead to tension and misunderstanding. Try to learn about your partner’s coping style and identify their way of handling stress. Showing that you understand each other’s ways of coping can help you communicate and feel closer. Remember, coping differently doesn’t necessarily mean you are less committed to the relationship or that you don’t love your child as much.

    It can be especially challenging when one partner engages in negative coping to handle the stress of your teenager’s cancer. Although it can be difficult, try to remain non-judgmental, and talk to them supportively about it. Let your partner know about how it affects you and your family, and encourage them to seek support. Tell them that you understand that change is difficult, but you believe they can get through it.

    Share your thoughts

    Communication is key to maintaining a relationship, especially at such a stressful time. It can help to talk about your fears and feelings and share information. Communicating will also help you manage and make decisions as a family. Remember to also take time to appreciate your partner’s strengths and contributions.

    Don’t forget self-care

    Another important way to strengthen your relationship with your partner is to take care of yourself. This investment, allowing yourself to be healthy emotionally and physically, will help you to engage in your relationship in a healthy way. It can feel selfish or hard to find time to do this. A few minutes a day to move, meditate or relax, or take part in an enjoyable activity can be surprisingly helpful to many people.

    Find time for each other

    During your child’s treatment, it can be very difficult for you to find time together. You may also have different needs for comfort. You may even be too busy or too tired to discuss this together, especially while your teenager is in the hospital. Try to find a time each day where it can just be the two of you, even for five minutes. Go for a meal in the hospital cafeteria or walk your partner to the car. Talk about the good parts of the day as well as the bad. Be silent together. Being alone together can help you remember your connection to one another.

    Dealing with a crisis can ultimately help bring you together and strengthen your relationship. On the other hand, it can severely stress a relationship that was already having difficulties. If you need help with your relationship, it is also OK to ask for it. If your relationship is stronger, you are more likely to be able to help your child. Do your best to share information honestly, openly and frequently.

    Working together after a divorce

    When a child has cancer, problems can arise for many divorced parents. Sometimes a teenager may try to use the situation to bring parents back together or manipulate their parents to try and gain some control. No matter what, you will need to communicate and work together to make sure your child gets the best possible care.

    Here are some suggestions to help you work together.

    • Include a copy of any legal documents regarding custody of your teenager or your visitation rights in your child’s medical record. This can help avoid confusion.
    • Either meet the health-care team together or share notes (or a recording of the meeting) so that both of you can help make decisions about care. Make sure that both of you attend meetings where major decisions need to be made.
    • Work out care roles and schedules early.
    • Ask for two copies of documents and information.
    • Talk to a member of your teenager’s health-care team if you are concerned about your child’s behaviour.
    Last updated: September 3rd 2019