Learning to Cope During Your Partner's Cancer Treatment

In the days following a person's cancer diagnosis, their partner will usually be fully invested in seeing their loved one through the crisis. It's not unusual for couples to attend healthcare provider appointments and chemotherapy sessions together. Partners often will take charge of medications, housework, childcare, scheduling, meal preparation, and other duties without hesitation or complaint.

A worried patient and wife talking to a doctor
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Eventually, however, even the most devoted partner can experience resentment, anger, and burnout. Fractures in the relationship can lead to doubts about whether the bond will survive the duration of the cancer ordeal.

It's important to know these emotions are completely normal. Working together and finding solutions can help reduce cancer's challenging impact on a relationship.

This article discusses triggers that can cause bitterness and overwhelm, as well as coping strategies for people going through a partner's cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.


A Cancer Survivor's Husband on Just Being There

Triggers for Resentment and Anger

When faced with something as big as a loved one's cancer diagnosis and treatment, the initial response may be to fix things by taking control. Although you may be well-intentioned, reading every book and studying every fact can lead to unattainable expectations that place undue stress on you and your partner.

Each person's cancer path has a unique timeline. Despite how well you prepare and juggle all the tasks along the way, there will be ups and downs—days filled with good news and gratitude and others when a misfortune extends recovery beyond what was anticipated. Facing the realities of life with cancer can be frustrating and exhausting, despite having a plan.

Certain events or situations that occur can trigger negative emotions. Being aware of these triggers is key to resolving them.

Some common triggers of anger and resentment are:

  • Feeling the weight of your sacrifice
  • Having more tasks than you can handle
  • Dealing with a loss of sex and intimacy
  • Being physically, mentally, and financially overwhelmed

Many cancer clinics have support services for couples tackling the emotional complexities of cancer treatment. If you and your partner is struggling, reach out to your clinic or hospital's social worker for resources.

Managing Your Emotions

Although feelings of resentment and anger toward your partner are normal, those feelings are also manageable. Below are ways to help cope with the challenging emotions that may develop during your partner's cancer journey.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Cancer may have become a part of your partner's identity, but it doesn't define them. Focus on the qualities you've always loved about your other half, such as their laugh, their smile, or a little quirk nobody else gets. Find ways to keep those traits fresh, like scheduling an impromptu date night—even if it's just watching a movie on the couch together.

Make Plans for the Future

Remind yourself that there is a future after cancer. Try to make plans with your partner. If they resist, accept it as something you can return to later. You may be surprised that the second—or third—time around, your partner may be ready to look ahead.

Communicate Your Feelings

Suppressing your emotions only leads to more resentment and anger. On the other hand, expressing your feelings, both positive and negative, allows you to move forward or find a solution. Emotions can be addressed and improved upon even if situations can't be.

Seek Support

Being the partner of a person with cancer can be stressful and draining. It's essential to find support for yourself as soon as possible. Support groups, both in person and online, are excellent ways to share your feelings freely and without guilt. Members of the clergy, counselors, and trusted friends are also good outlets.

The more support you have, the better equipped you'll be to support your loved one.

Get Help Before You Need It

Even if you're feeling strong initially, try to accept help from friends and family who offer it. Burnout can sneak up on you quickly. By accepting help early on, you may be able to prevent or minimize it. In addition, freeing up time for yourself and prioritizing self-care is vital for your quality of life.

Take Breaks

Relief from caregiving is crucial for your emotional and physical well-being. It's normal to feel guilty about saying no to obligations, but taking consistent breaks allows for much-needed rest. In some cases, home health agencies may be able to provide respite care to your partner so you can step away and recharge your batteries.


A cancer diagnosis affects a relationship in many ways. As responsibilities and duties shift away from the person with cancer, the other partner can become overwhelmed and feel stressed. It's normal for anger and resentment to occur, leaving you questioning the outcome of your relationship. Knowing what triggers these emotions is essential in identifying possible solutions.

Communicating your feelings, accepting help from others, and practicing self-care can alleviate negative feelings while your partner undergoes treatment and recovery.

A Word From Verywell

If your partner is undergoing cancer treatment and you feel overwhelmed, angry, and helpless, know that you are not alone. Millions of Americans are taking care of a loved one who's fighting cancer, which is equivalent to a full-time job.

Knowing the signs of burnout is important so you can seek support immediately. There are ways to improve your quality of life while caring for your partner during this time. It starts with taking care of yourself.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cancercare.org. Advice for Caregivers: Handling Burnout.

By Serenity Mirabito RN, OCN
Serenity Mirabito, MSN, RN, OCN, advocates for well-being, even in the midst of illness. She believes in arming her readers with the most current and trustworthy information leading to fully informed decision making.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed