A cancer diagnosis may produce changes in a marital relationship. Some
people feel that their marriages are strengthened because they have
worked together to deal with the crisis of cancer. For some, marriages
can become strained and problems will develop. This can happen because
a new diagnosis often leaves people more worried and upset than they
were before the illness. You may be unsure about how much to share
with your spouse, or you may think your spouse doesn't understand your
feelings. Communication sometimes is difficult, since people with
cancer and their spouses often aren't sure what to say. Others try to
protect each other from their worries or fears. Sometimes when a
marriage has been troubled before a cancer diagnosis, the diagnosis
may make those problems seem worse. For whatever reasons, if you are
having marital problems, they need attention or they will hamper the
task of coping with cancer.
HOW MARITAL COUNSELING SERVICES CAN HELP
- Offer help with communication problems, such as how to talk with
your spouse about your worries, what to do if talking seems to make
things worse, and how you and your spouse can meet each other's needs
- Offer help with sexual problems that result from the diagnosis or
treatment or with problems that existed before the diagnosis.
- Provide guidance about any financial problems that arise.
- Offer help with decisions about changes in family routines, such
as child care if a parent is hospitalized and management of family
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE SERVICES?
- Talk with your doctor, nurse, or social worker if you are having
marital problems that are interfering with your ability to cope.
Marital problems may be temporary, or they may have existed for a long
time. If your spouse is reluctant to get help, go alone and ask a
counselor for suggestions to help you improve your relationship.
- Hospitals often provide cancer counselors to help with problems
related to illness. Sometimes hospital counselors are unable to help
with marital problems because of inadequate staffing or because they
lack specific training in that area. In this situation, consider a
private counselor or a community agency.
- If you are interested in a private counselor, ask for a referral
from a professional at the hospital where you are being treated.
Examples of community agencies that provide marital counseling are
Family Service of America, Jewish Family Service, and Catholic Social
- Sometimes marital problems are temporary and will gradually
improve without professional help. Some couples can resolve issues by
themselves, and that certainly should be the first effort. If talking
with your spouse isn't helping and the problems remain or get worse, a
marriage counselor may be able to help you change things faster than
going it alone.
- Going to a marriage counselor doesn't mean that your marriage is
over (or that you have to remain in a marriage that you are convinced
will never work). It does mean that you want to try to work on your
problems and make decisions that may bring you more happiness than you
are enjoying right now.
- Marriage counselors don't tell people what to do; their job is to
help you decide what you want for yourself and your marriage and how
to achieve that.
- Children are always affected by a troubled marriage. They often
think they are the cause of their parents' troubles. Sometimes their
worries show up in behavior changes, school problems, or
experimentation with drugs or alcohol. Your children will most likely
be relieved if they see that you are seeking help for your problems.
Frequently Asked Questions
National Cancer Institute