Reconnecting With Your Partner After Cancer

Published on: 06/2/15

During cancer treatment I observed how important it was for me to connect with my medical team. I understood the importance of connections and relationships in my life before cancer, but during cancer treatment the importance of those connections and relationships was magnified. I wanted to connect at a deeper level. Throughout treatment when fear and concern are primary emotions, cancer patients want more than proficient physicians and medical team members who care for us physically, we want to be cared for emotionally as well. The journey cancer takes us on is far more than physical.

Cancer changes us in all sorts of ways. And one notable change we agree on is how it magnifies the importance of meaningful relationships. Cancer changed our perspective on life, what’s important and what isn’t. Without relationships life isn’t as important. Relationships, with medical teams and significant others, are the foundation of a quality life during and after cancer.

Before I share my advice on mending and nurturing intimate relationships after cancer, consider the following questions:
How has your relationship changed since cancer?
What do you need to change in your relationship to have it work for you?
How can you be a better partner to your partner?
What works curently, and what just doesn’t anymore?

For cancer survivors with a solid intimate relationship prior to cancer, it won’t take much guidance to mend or strengthen the bond and connection. But for some of us, our relationships have changed over time. Partners grow apart, feel less curious about each other, or fall into the “doldrums of marriage”. It’s easy to grow apart, find separate interests, separate friends, and eventually separate lives. For many, partners live unconnected, in the same house, coming together for dinner, routine sex, and obligatory family functions.

This style of relationship may have been acceptable before cancer, but doesn’t need to be acceptable after cancer.

I’ve noticed at family functions or gatherings in general, women congregate in one area, and the men another area. They migrate toward others who have the same interests, similar views of life, and enjoy discussing the same kind of things. Everyone wants to be accepted, feel a sense of belonging, and associate with others who “get us”. It’s the emotional intimacy we seek in our personal relationships, and should expect nothing less from our intimate, partnered relationships.

If you are struggling to feel close and connected with your spouse or partner, consider the following suggestions to help create, develop, and maintain a healthy relationship, all leading toward finding emotional intimacy again.
1. Be curious about your partner, as you were in the beginning of your relationship. Get to know the other person all over again. Just like you, your partner has changed over time, grown as an individual, and has different fears, concerns, dreams and goals.

2. Take an interest in topics your partner is interested in or find common interests together. For example, take up golf, gardening, learn to play tennis, join a card club, exercise, camp, or volunteer together. Any activity you do together, discuss together, and look forward to will help keep you connected emotionally. The time you spend together will be valuable, even if it’s part of a larger group. Taking an interest in your partner, with your partner, makes you more interesting as well.

3. Be honest and ask for what you need and want in life. Find your voice.

4. Listen with your ears, mind, and heart when your partner asks for what he wants and needs.

5. Don’t assume you know everything your partner thinks and feels. Don’t put words in his mouth because of those assumptions.

The suggestions above are designed to help you show respect, honor and love for your relationship. This is so important as relationships are the heartbeat of our lives, and we need them to keep going, to give us energy, and to feel emotionally healthy. The most important relationship is our intimate relationship, where we spend the most time, are able to be the most vulnerable, and where we have opportunity to grow and thrive as a person. Creating emotional intimacy in your relationship is part of the cancer journey, and it holds the same importance as taking care of yourself physically.

If you’ve struggled maintaining an intimate relationship after cancer, I’d love to hear your story and connect with you. Try following my suggestions and share your experience or successes with me. As a fellow cancer survivor, I’ve experienced firsthand the toll cancer can have on intimacy in a relationship. You are not alone in this journey, and you can find intimacy again. Comment below or visit to connect with me personally. I’d love to hear from you.

    Craig Regan

    Hi Erin, My name is Craig. I am 60 years old. I live with my wife Janine and three of our four kids (all over 18) in Melbourne, Australia. I completed surgery and treatment for gastro-esophageal cancer about 6 months ago. During treatment, the relationship between Janine and I was closer than it had been in our 27 years of marriage. Due to reactions to immunotherapy and Sepsis from a leak in my sewn up stomach, I got close to death a few times. I know I would not have gotten through without Janine's support. Seeing her walk through the door of my hospital room occasionally sent me into tears of happiness. When I was in intensive care and the tubes and wires stopped us from kissing goodbye, I would ask her to just rest her forehead on mine for a few seconds. It was an intense time. We have both noticed that we've drifted apart since my treatment ended. We're not sure why. We're close to just being friends in the same house. We're not arguing, just not connecting. Perhaps a "let down" was bound to happen as we came through that intense period but we're both troubled by what seems a significant loss of closeness and intimacy, and we're frightened that we may be an example of a couple on "divergent paths in life", even though that seems strange so soon after feeling so close. I read somewhere that someone coming out of cancer has changed, even if they think they haven't. I don't think I've changed much, in fact I get frustrated by the feeling that I am not the shining example of someone with "a new lease on life, a second chance". I am back at work and feeling the same stresses etc that I always did. If I have changed I don't know what the changes might be. I'd be grateful for any advice you can offer. Thank you

    John Doe

    This is so cool.

    Rosemary Guehrn

    Great article Erin. You shed light on an important and often neglected aspect of cancer recovery . Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *