Talking and relationships

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. They will be affected too, so 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 communicating in different ways. For example, you could write down your feelings for your partner. You can both also find support outside the relationship.

Cancer and its treatment can affect different parts of your relationship, such as your sex life, normal routines and day-to-day life. If your partner is your carer, this can also have a big impact on your relationship. It is important to nurture your relationship by spending time together and planning things you enjoy.

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.

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 cancer affects your day-to-day life
  • how well you and your partner understand the changes you are going through
  • whether you live with your partner.

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 information to help you with any 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.

Ask your partner to come to hospital appointments

You will feel supported and your partner will feel valued, as they can ask questions too. This can make later conversations easier.

Remember your partner will be affected 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 always have to be strong for the other one, they may begin to feel angry and resentful.

Deal with strong emotions

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

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 it as a PDF from our information about talking about your diagnosis.

Nurture your relationship

Spend time together and plan fun activities. It is important to maintain a normal routine for your relationship.

Talk about whether cancer is affecting your sex life

Cancer and its treatments can affect your sexuality, sex life and relationships. We have information about the effects on your sex life and how to manage them.

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 our 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.

Some organisations offer relationship counselling, such as Relate and Relationships Scotland.

If your partner is your carer

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.

Your partner may find helpful to read our information about looking after someone with cancer. It has practical tips for carers.

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.

My relationship with my wife suffered after the diagnosis. We slowly moved further and further apart, as we buried our fears to a certain degree. Psychological support really helped bring us back together.

Ashley


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 hard to decide:

  • what to tell a new partner about the cancer
  • when to tell a new partner about the cancer.

It is 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 get support from family, friends or a support organisation.

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

Back to Who should I talk to?

Healthcare staff

There are ways to get all the information and support you need from healthcare staff.

Benefits of talking

Talking about your cancer can help you make decisions and feel less anxious.