Talking to your partner

Cancer can affect your relationships and sexuality, whether you have a partner or are single. But there are things you can do to cope.

If you have a partner, let them know how they can support you. Try to work together as a team. Share your feelings with each other. Try not to protect each other from bad news or strong emotions. If you find talking difficult, try writing down your feelings for your partner.

If you are single, you may be unsure what to tell a new partner about the cancer in future. It is usually best to be honest with the other person.

Cancer and its treatment may affect your sexuality. For example, you might find your sex life is not as active because of physical or emotional effects of the cancer. If you feel distant from your partner, try talking to them about it. Sensuality and touch can tell someone how you feel, so you may want to focus on this more than sex for a time.

Relationships and sexuality

Cancer can have a big impact on relationships and sexuality whether you have a partner or are single.

There are many things you can do to help you cope with your situation.


If you have a partner

How cancer affects your relationship with your partner may depend on how long you have been together, how long you have had cancer, how it affects your day-to-day life and how well you understand the changes you and your partner are going through.

If you live with your partner, their life is likely to be affected the most by the cancer.

For any couple, talking is important to work through issues such as money, work and, if you have children together, childcare. This is even more important after a cancer diagnosis.

We have more information that may help you with issues you and your partner may face.

Practical tips for talking to your partner

  • Let your partner know how they can support you. We have tips on asking for support from your family and friends
  • Ask your partner to come with you to hospital appointments. You will feel supported and your partner will feel valued as they have the chance to ask questions. This can make later conversations easier.
  • Remember that your partner will be greatly affected by your illness too. A cancer diagnosis affects both partners, so let them talk to you about how they feel as well. If your relationship is strong, it can be a great source of strength for both of you.
  • Talk together as a team. Trying to protect each other from bad news or difficult feelings will create distance in the relationship. If one partner feels they have to always be strong for the other one, anger and resentment can build.
  • Talking is only one way to communicate. Facial expressions, body language, gestures and tone all contribute to how we express our thoughts, feelings and ideas.
  • Write down your feelings. Share these with your partner. We have a tool that may help with this. You can download a PDF of it.
  • Nurture your relationship. Spend time together and plan fun activities. It’s important to maintain a normal routine for your relationship.
  • Find support outside of the relationship. It may also be helpful for you or your partner to talk to others in a similar situation. You can do this on Macmillan’s online community. You may also want to speak to a counsellor or go to a support group, either on your own or with your partner.

Strong emotions can often make talking difficult. We have some tips on dealing with them and resolving conflict in your relationship.

Organisations such as Relate and Relationships Scotland may be able to offer you relationship counselling.

Your partner may also be your carer. A carer is anyone who provides unpaid support to a family member or friend who could not manage without this help. If your partner is your carer, this can also have a big impact on your relationship.

You and your partner may find our information about looking after someone with cancer helpful.


If you are single

If you are single, you may or may not feel like this is the right time to start a new relationship. If you do want to start a new relationship, it may be difficult to decide what to tell a new partner about the cancer, and also when to tell them. It’s best to be open with the other person and make time to discuss your situation.

If you think that you need some help, you can find support from family, friends or a support organisation like Relate.

You can also call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.


Sexuality

Cancer and its treatment can have a big impact on your sexuality. If you’re in a relationship or starting a new relationship, it’s best not to ignore talking about this. If you had an active sex life before the illness, it will probably be affected by the diagnosis or its treatment. This can be caused by many factors, such as the physical effects of the cancer or its treatment, and the emotional impact of living with cancer.

If you have a partner and feel they are distant from you, try telling them this as gently as you can. You may need to focus more on sensuality than sexuality at this time. Using touch can be an important way of telling someone how you feel and help you communicate emotions that are not easily expressed in words. Try to explain your needs and discuss what can be done by either or both of you. A simple discussion can make a big difference and will help both of you to understand how the other is feeling. Remember to pick a time to talk when you will not be interrupted.

We have more information about sexuality and cancer for women and for men. It discusses how cancer and its treatments can affect your sexuality, sex life and relationships.

Back to If you have cancer

Managing your feelings

When you are diagnosed with cancer you may have many different emotions. Some of them can make talking difficult.