Cancer and Marriage
Cancer is so very hard on marriages. Couples with good communication skills, loving connections, and adequate resources generally manage to get through the tough months and even to set aside whatever their usual issues may be. Couples with less solid marriages likely endure even more stress and harder times although they, too, may find a way to pull together through the crisis. Here are some of the most common soft spots: If treatment goes on a long time, everyone wears out--physically and emotionally. If there are children, it is much harder because of the strong feelings and worries as well as the immense work and responsibilities related to caring for them. If there is not enough money or time or other helpful people, the stress is worse. Sex always suffers, and many couples generally experience intimacy as one of the things that binds them closest together. And most married women with cancer feel obligated to only praise their husbands and describe them as "my rock".
Since men frequently have fewer close friends than women (meaning: they may well have buddies to run or play baseball or drink beer with, but they often have fewer friends to whom they can open their hearts), very often they talk intimately only to their wives. When the wife is sick, and when the greatest fear is that she may die, it is pretty hard to have those convesations. Feeling instead that they have to be the number one cheerleader and always strong, men often close down emotionally and become exhausted by their feelings and all the tasks they have needed to take on while their partner is unable to do her usual share.
And then there is sex: cancer treatment is never a sexual aide, and almost everyone loses her usual interest in intimacy. When you are exhausted, bald, scarred and maybe minus a breast or two, maybe nauseated, scared and sad, sex is not high on your list of how to spend Sunday afternoon. When women are able to be really honest with each other, they say not only these things, but also that sex is imperative now and again. I hear comments like: "My husband is really loving and patient, but he is feeling deprived, and it is becoming an issue." So, most women engage in sex, probably don't have the intense and passionate responses and feelings they have previously enjoyed, and then may feel badly about themselves. Women sometimes talk about "servicing" their husbands, being well aware that is a very negative and dangerous way to feel.
I have had several conversations with women this week about these very feelings, and then came across this powerful essay from Women with Cancer. Here is the beginning and a link:
Cancer and My Marriage
Note: Ask any survivor about side-effects or working with an oncologist and youʼll receive a notebookʼs worth of helpful information. Ditto for managing cancer on the job or with children. But ask them about their relationship and youʼre apt to hear variations on this theme, “He never blinked,” or “He really showed me how strong a man he truly is.” In other words, youʼre not apt to hear what itʼs truly like for some women. While we celebrate relationships where loveʼs better nature rules, itʼs also time to honestly share the kind of stress cancer and its associated treatment brings to many two-income families where jobs, children, carpools and chemotherapy all need to be balanced in the course of a day. I was asked by a woman whom I admire to publish this essay here. It is my honor to do so.
--- Jody Schoger
I never thought I would write an anonymous blog post.
Nonetheless, here I am, writing about cancerʼs impact on my marriage after my late-night Google searches only yielded stories of marital triumph, replete with images of the devoted spouse proffering a tender kiss on his partnerʼs bald head. My hope is that the next despondent, lonely cancer patient might feel a little less crazy reading my story I love my husband and do not want to be disloyal to him. I will remain strategically vague on some details and alter others to shield my familyʼs privacy. We have had the kind of marriage people say they can bet on. Single friends confess that they hope to find a partnership like ours. Obviously, things are always messier on the inside, but we undoubtedly share a strong love for and commitment to one another.