Communicating with each other

Coping with cancer is stressful for you and your partner. You may be unsure how to support each other. But just taking the time to talk and listen to each other can help you understand each other and feel closer.

You may worry that talking about feelings may upset you or your partner. But feeling sad and upset are natural reactions. Talking can help put your feelings into perspective and may make it easier for your partner to do the same. If you find talking too difficult, try writing your feelings down.

Listening to your partner when they want to talk can make a real difference. Feeling listened to and being heard can be very comforting. You don’t need to have all the answers – listening can be enough.

Here are some tips for communicating:

  • Try to acknowledge each other’s feelings.
  • Don’t assume you know what your partner thinks or wants – ask them.
  • Listen to your partner and let them talk about how they feel.
  • If you can’t agree on an issue, agree to disagree.

Communicating with your partner

You are both dealing with a stressful situation and may be unsure how to support each other. Make time to talk and share your feelings with each other. This can help you understand each other better and feel closer.

People have their own ways of coping when faced with a stressful situation. You may see changes in your partner’s personality. Try to tackle any issues with your relationship rather than ignoring them.


Talking

Sometimes people don’t want to talk about their feelings in case it upsets their partner. But it’s alright to allow yourselves to be sad and upset. This is a natural reaction when you are coping with cancer in your lives.

Discussing your fears or concerns can help put your feelings into perspective. Talking about your feelings may make it easier for your partner to do the same. There may be times when you or your partner may want to be left alone to sort out your thoughts and feelings. Be open with your partner about when it’s hard to talk. There are suggestions for other ways you can share your feelings with each other below.

It’s also important for you as a couple to have conversations about things other than cancer. There will be times when you prefer to talk about everyday subjects such as friends, sport or TV.


Listening

Listening is just as important as talking. We all like to feel we’ve been heard, especially when talking about a serious issue.

You may feel helpless and unsure how to comfort your partner. But just listening to them when they want to talk can make a real difference. You don’t need to have all the answers – listening can be enough.

Listening and talking can help you both understand what the other person is feeling.

Tips for talking and listening

  • Give yourselves time and space. Don’t try to talk when one of you is busy or tired. Choose a time and place when you will be able to talk without being interrupted.
  • Talking about feelings and serious issues can be tiring. Set a limit on how long you will talk together. Perhaps plan to do something nice together afterwards.
  • When your partner is talking, pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t get caught up in thinking about what you’re going to say next.
  • Encourage your partner to keep talking. Make encouraging noises such as, ‘Mmm’, or, ‘Uh huh’. And say things like, ‘What happened next?’.
  • You can also repeat back what you’ve heard. This helps you check you’ve got it right and shows you’re listening. You might say things like, ‘So you mean that…?’.

We have more information about how to talk about your feelings and get the support you need if you have cancer. We also have more advice on how to support someone through cancer.

There may be times when you want to talk but your partner doesn’t. When this happens, talking to family or friends may help you feel supported. It is good for both of you to have support from other people as well as from each other. You can also call the Macmillan Support Line free on 0808 808 00 00 to speak to one of our cancer support specialists. We are here Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm.


Different ways of showing feelings

You and your partner may have different ways of expressing your feelings. Sometimes this may lead to misunderstandings. It may help to remind yourself that everyone reacts differently.

Some people find it easy to talk about their feelings. But not everyone is comfortable with this. Some people show their feelings in other ways. They may show their love by:

  • hugs, touch and cuddles
  • doing practical things like cooking a meal or looking after the house
  • buying you thoughtful gifts.


Write down how you feel

Some people find it easier to express their feelings in writing. If talking is difficult for you, you could write your feelings down for your partner to read. This may help them to understand you better.

You and your partner may want to try using one of the tools on the Think about your life website. It can help you to explain your needs to each other.


Dealing with difficulties

When you are both under stress, misunderstandings and disagreements are not unusual.

Here are some practical tips to help you manage any disagreements:

  • Try to acknowledge each other’s feelings.
  • Don’t assume you know what your partner thinks or wants – ask them.
  • Allow your partner to talk about how they feel, even if you disagree.
  • If you can’t agree on an issue, you can agree to disagree.
  • Avoid ‘all or nothing’ words such as ‘always’ and ‘never’. For example, ‘You never listen to me,’ or, ‘I always call you’. These words can make the other person defensive. Try talking about how you feel using ‘I statements’ like ‘I feel’.
  • Avoid criticising your partner’s character. Say how their actions made you feel instead. Instead of saying, ‘You are thoughtless – I have to remember everything’, try saying, ‘I feel stressed when I have a lot to remember’.
  • Try to see your partner’s side of the argument.
  • Write down your feelings. This can help you put things into perspective.


If the cancer can’t be cured

If the cancer is not curable, this is incredibly difficult for both of you. But try not to withdraw from your partner or stop communicating with them. You will need one another now more than ever.

Sometimes talking to someone else can help – perhaps a relative, friend or someone completely outside your situation, like a counsellor.

Going through this is incredibly bonding. We’ve sat up in the middle of the night with pots of tea and tears, and we’ve laughed and cried together. It’s made us value each other in a way we didn’t know was possible.

Betsy

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