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Sexual Wellness, Navigating Emotions

Strengthening Connection Through Cancer: 9 Practical Tips for Your Romantic Relationship

Nurturing and sustaining emotional connections in romantic relationships requires dedication, energy, and intentional effort. When confronted with cancer, preserving the emotional connection that existed with your partner prior to your diagnosis can be demanding. Here are valuable suggestions on strengthening emotional connections, along with practical examples to apply within your own relationship.

  1. Regular Communication Time: Set aside dedicated moments to check in and reflect on how you’re both doing emotionally and highlight the positive aspects of your relationship. Choose relaxed and receptive moments for these conversations.

    • Try this: Initiate a conversation by expressing, “Staying close to you is really important to me... Can we set a time each week to check in for half an hour?”

  2. Avoid Mindreading: Be aware of making assumptions about your partner's thoughts or feelings based on non-verbal cues. Acknowledge the tendency to jump to conclusions and strive to understand their perspective.

    • Try this: Whenever you find yourself engaging in mindreading, try using phrases like "I realize it's easy for me to jump to conclusions..." or "Understanding how you feel is important to me, so..." 

  3. Emotion Awareness: Notice changes in voice, tone, irritability, fatigue, or a desire to withdraw during communication. Recognize these signs as potential expressions of underlying emotions and allow each other to openly explore and address them. 

    • Try this: Encourage each other to openly discuss emotions expressed during communication, provide permission for checking in, offer compassion, and explore underlying feelings together.

  4. Manage Fight, Flight, or Freeze Responses: In stressful discussions, emotions can escalate, leading to a temporary inability to listen and receive information.

    • Try this: When you notice a “fight, flight, or freeze response,” you may want to consider taking time to cool down and return to the conversation once your emotions are better regulated.

  5. Respect Changing Needs: Cancer can bring about evolving emotional and practical needs. While it may not always be possible to fulfill every need, acknowledging and validating them is crucial. Sometimes, simply acknowledging your partner's needs without trying to fix them can be enough.

    • Try this: There are instances when we instinctively rush to solve or fulfill the needs of our loved ones. Nevertheless, simply acknowledging your partner's needs can often be enough. 

  6. Discuss Privacy Preferences: Have open conversations about individual comfort levels regarding sharing cancer-related information with others. Consider designating a trusted person for each of you to confide in. Respect each other's privacy settings and be mindful that preferences may change over time.

    • Try this: You can consider a playful approach to a conversation about what can be shared based on each partner’s privacy preferences. “Always, Sometimes, Never” lists can help organize scenarios and help each person know which cancer-related matters can be shared with others and which should remain confidential. It's possible that some partners will be taken aback by what appears on their partner's lists, while for others, it might be quite predictable.

  7. Cultivate Curiosity over Judgment: Instead of rushing to judge your partner's reactions during their cancer diagnosis, approach with curiosity and a willingness to learn. Ask questions and explore new aspects of yourselves and each other. Highlight newfound strengths and the evolving understanding of one another. 

    • Try this: When you sense judgment arising, imagine yourself as a detective. Detectives approach situations with curiosity and ask questions, rather than arriving at a preconceived conclusion. 

  8. Make Space for Emotions: Differentiate between "feel it" and "fix it" moments. Ask your partner if they need you to listen or if they seek problem-solving assistance. Sometimes, the best support is allowing them to experience and process their emotions while providing a compassionate presence. 

    • Try this: The next time you observe your partner experiencing intense emotions, you might consider reflecting on whether it's a "feel it" or a "fix it" moment for them and explore your own approach to asking them. 

  9. Maintain Rituals of Connection: Identify and preserve relationship-based rituals that serve as reminders of your bond and mutual support. These can be simple gestures like morning kisses or shared moments over coffee. Adapt and adjust these rituals as needed to accommodate the demands of cancer on your time and energy. 

    • Try this: Have a conversation with your partner about your unique rituals of connection. Which of these can you maintain, and which require some adjustments or adaptations? 

By implementing these tips, you can actively build and sustain emotional connections, fostering resilience in your relationship while navigating the challenges posed by cancer.


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Additional Resources

  • Shapiro, D. (2013) And in Health: A Guide for Couples Facing Cancer Together. Trumpeter Books.  

  • Finacannon, J. & Bruss, K. (2012) Couples Confronting Cancer: Keeping Your Relationships Strong. American Cancer Society. 

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.