How relationships can change
Taking on a caring role often changes relationships. For many carers, a cancer diagnosis affects the established roles they have with their partner, parent, friend, dependent or adult child, or sibling. This can be challenging and hard to adjust to.
Learn more about:
- How cancer might change your relationship
- Ways to manage changes in your relationship
- Support for LGBTI carers
- Changes in sexuality and intimacy
The impact of cancer on a relationship often depends on what your relationship was like before the cancer diagnosis. You may find caring for someone strengthens your relationship with them.
For others, particularly those who had a strained relationship before the diagnosis, the pressure of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, financial worries and the demands of caring add further tension. In this case, you may find it best to share the caring role with other people so you are not the full-time carer.
It can be helpful to understand the potential changes that cancer can bring. Being open and honest can help you and the person you are caring for through the anxieties, sadness and uncertainty. This chapter discusses ways a relationship may change, and how to manage these changes.
I think sometimes trying to be his carer, his partner, his lover, his companion – just swapping between roles can sometimes be a bit tricky. It can be a bit tiring but I’m happy to do it. It’s more an issue of making sure I don’t lose myself and my own life in all of this.Susan
- I might need to take on new responsibilities that will reverse our roles.
- If I’m doing all the caring, they may feel like they’ve lost their independence.
- My concern might come across as being overprotective or controlling.
- I may feel like it would be selfish to talk about my needs when they are having to go through cancer treatment.
- I may avoid sharing how I’m feeling because I’m scared of overwhelming the other person when they have enough to worry about.
- The intimacy we shared might be replaced by the caring role.
- We might need to re-evaluate our priorities and set new goals or put them on hold.
- Talk about the changes to avoid misunderstandings. Discuss ways to meet each other’s needs.
- Allow time to get used to the changes, particularly if roles have reversed.
- Set boundaries to maintain independence and allow both of you to feel in control.
- Arrange home help if you or the person you are caring for feel uncomfortable doing the bathing and dressing.
- Give the person you’re caring for the chance to do things for themselves.
- Use touch to show you care.
- If you and the person you’re caring for find it difficult to discuss your different needs without both becoming defensive, consider seeing a counsellor or psychologist. They can suggest ways to approach such conversations.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anne Booms, Nurse Practitioner – Supportive and Palliative Care, Icon Cancer Centre Midland, WA; Dr Erica Cameron-Taylor, Staff Specialist, Department of Palliative Care, Mercy Hospice, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Louise Good, Cancer Nurse Consultant, WA; Verity Jausnik, Senior Policy Officer, Carers Australia; David Larkin, Cancer Supportive Care Manager, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital and Health Service, ACT; Kate Martin, Consumer; John McMath, Consumer; Simone Noelker, Physiotherapist and Wellness Centre Coordinator, Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre, VIC; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer Care, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dean Rowe, Consumer; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland.
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