It can be difficult watching someone you love go through cancer, its treatments and side effects. Try to look after yourself – give yourself some time out and share your worries or concerns with somebody neutral, such as a counsellor or your doctor.
If you have been your partner’s primary carer, it can sometimes be hard to switch between the roles of carer and lover. You may find that changing the setting (e.g. going away for a night or two) can help you both relax and focus on things other than cancer.
Thoughts about cancer and the way it may affect your life can interfere with your desire for sex, yet your partner may be craving physical contact. On the other hand, it may be that your partner seems to have lost interest in sex, and you may feel guilty for even bringing up the topic. All these feelings can lead to misunderstanding and conflict.
Open communication will be more important than ever. You and your partner may never have talked much about sex before, or it might be difficult to discuss your different needs without both becoming defensive. A counsellor or psychologist can suggest new ways to approach such conversations. They can help you talk about your feelings and how the physical needs in the relationship can be met.
If your partner is not ready for sexual contact, try other ways of showing you love them and find them physically attractive, such as touching, holding, hugging and massaging them. Stroking their scars may show your partner that you have accepted the changes to their body. If you are finding the changes confronting, try talking sensitively to your partner or to a counsellor. Physical contact that doesn’t lead to sex can still be comforting and often helps to take the pressure off both of you.
"I took hold of my partner’s hand ... Her response was, ‘Do you realise this is the first time that you’ve touched me in three weeks?’, and I’m a fairly tactile person." – Ian
You may have had to face the possibility that your partner could die. If they have recovered, you may expect to feel relieved but instead feel emotionally low and drained of energy. Acknowledge that you and your partner have been through a difficult and confronting experience and allow yourselves time to adjust.
Relationships are often challenged through a cancer experience. Take time to look after yourself. Although you don’t have cancer, you have also been affected. Try talking openly about changes to the relationship and how you can readjust your life around them.