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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 Parents may become withdrawn when they are sad or worried.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.
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:
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.
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