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Sexual Wellness

Dear Iris: I’m Trying to Support My Spouse

Dear Iris,

How can I support my partner who's struggling with body image and cancer? I’ve told them I’m just as attracted to them as I ever have been, but they just shrug off my comments every time.


Dear H,

The best thing you can do is to listen and provide unconditional care and support for their body image struggles. It is not up to you to solve these problems.

Sometimes when you try to provide a lot of advice or even well-meaning comments about how “great” your loved one looks or how “strong” they are it can make them less willing to share their struggles with you. Your loved one will benefit from having a safe space to discuss their thoughts and feelings about their changed body, especially those that are negative and distressing.

They may need to grieve the loss of a body part. Remind them that it is normal and expected to have body image concerns, and to feel somewhat self-conscious about their body image. Sometimes just being there to listen and comfort them, to tell them you love them and support them is more than enough, and just what they may need.

It’s important to remember that body image is completely subjective and that it involves the way someone feels about their entire body and its physical functioning. Body image changes resulting from cancer can affect not only physical appearance but also sensory and functional aspects of the body. These changes may be temporary or long-lasting, can come about gradually or suddenly, and may or may not be visible to others. There can be a disconnect between how your loved one sees their own body image and how you see them. You are better able to support your loved one if you try to understand their perspective, even when it differs from yours.

While it’s normal for your loved one to experience some difficulties adjusting to body image changes, many individuals benefit from therapy to help them cope with their body image concerns. Body image therapy can help individuals learn new coping strategies for managing body image, set realistic expectations for body image outcomes, increase self-confidence in social situations, better prepare for upcoming body and appearance changes, and gain greater long-term body image acceptance.

Missed last week? Dear Iris: Dating Again

Michelle Fingeret, PhD

Clinical Psychologist

Fingeret Psychology Services

Dr. Michelle Fingeret has spent the last 18 years providing body image counseling to adult cancer survivors. As a psychologist specializing in body image and cancer, she’s worked extensively in both outpatient and inpatient settings providing therapy to individuals, couples, and groups.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.