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Supporting Marriages While Children are in Treatment

Marriage relationships can suffer when a child is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer brings extra stress on a marriage at a time when the support of a spouse is more important than ever. Caregiver demands make it hard for parents to have time to devote to each other. Parents may become withdrawn when they are sad or worried. In general, issues that affected the marriage before cancer are still there and may even get worse.

However, there is no evidence that a pediatric cancer diagnosis increases the likelihood of divorce. While some couples see their marriages suffer after a child is diagnosed, many marriages become stronger by sharing the journey together.

Children Benefit from Healthy Marriages

It is understandable that parents feel they should pour all their energy into caring for their sick child. They may feel guilty or selfish spending time on anything else. However, a loving relationship between spouses or partners has a number of positive benefits:

  • Good communication enables parents to be better caregivers.
  • Children feel less guilt over how their illness is affecting the family.
  • Siblings who are supported by parents can feel more secure and adapt more easily.
  • A more welcoming environment allows friends and family to provide help and support.
Mom and dad stand while holding their son in his hospital room.

Helping a partner deal with difficult emotions can sometimes be more important than solving a problem. 

Steps to a Better Marriage

Relationships are never perfect. There will be ups and downs. Most marriages experience some strain when a child becomes ill. But, parents can take steps to maintain a strong relationship, even when their family is facing cancer.

Hear how others have supported their marriages through a child's serious illness.

For strong marriages, open and honest communication is key. Unresolved conflict and lack of intimacy (emotional or physical) cause additional stress on the family and limit the support that parents can provide one another. But something does not have to be “wrong” to seek help. Marriage and family counseling can be an important source of strength during childhood cancer. Psychologists and other mental health providers can provide practical skills and resources to help couples talk about feelings, address concerns, and cope during difficult times.


Reviewed: June 2018