Why Your Spouse with Cancer Pulls Away

Your wife was just diagnosed with cancer.

From then on, you promised to be by her side and do whatever you can to help her. You went with her to every doctor’s appointment. Sat with her through chemotherapy sessions. You did the scheduling, the housework, meals, and every duty expected of you without complaining.

You have also read every book, studied everything about her condition, and tried to do everything right. But somehow, you have this feeling that she is pulling away. You begin to see the distance she has created between you. And when you tried talking about it, you’re often shot down with “I don’t have the energy” or something similar.

So why? Why your spouse with cancer pulls away?

If you are in the same situation, let us help you understand. Let’s try to answer the questions “why?” and the more important one: “what can I do?”

Why Your Spouse is Pulling Away?

Here are some of the possible reasons why your spouse is pulling away:

Your spouse needs space to cope

No one is really ready to hear the words “You have cancer”. Even the strongest person you know will cry, get angry, frustrated, sad, confused, disoriented, and hopeless. With all these emotions inside her, she may need time to process them all. So during this time, your partner may start pulling away because she needs space and time to figure out what she wants to do, how to cope, and maybe grieve alone.

This process may take days, weeks, or even a month. And this is common for cancer patients who have just been diagnosed. If your partner has been diagnosed some time ago, then maybe she didn’t get a chance to cope with her feelings before.

Your spouse is overwhelmed

Sometimes, cancer patients pull away because they are overwhelmed and may feel afraid. See, when friends and family hear about a person’s cancer diagnosis, they tend to rush in and offer to help – which you probably did too. While you may have the best intentions, the great amount of care she’s suddenly having may overwhelm her. Your spouse might start feeling pressured or feel that she is losing her independence.

Your spouse is trying to focus on more practical issues

When someone has cancer, she has to go through a lot of tests, manage her health care system, and keep up with her ever-increasing financial concerns. Now since cancer requires doing and going through a lot of things at the same time, your spouse may be overwhelmed and choose to shut down emotionally. The most likely reason behind this is that your spouse would want to focus on the issues that she needs to address the soonest.

Your spouse is losing her self-esteem and starting to doubt herself

A lot of changes can happen once your spouse’s treatment starts, some are permanent and some are not. And while you may be okay with them, she might not. Your spouse may start to feel concerned about her ability to be the same person… partner she once was.

Your spouse may feel like a burden to you

Your partner may be feeling guilty about the impact her illness is having on you. Thus, she is trying to reduce that by distancing herself from you and downplaying her needs.

Your spouse is pulling away for fear of upsetting you

Some cancer patients find that talking about their illness can end up with her comforting the other person. Thus, to avoid this situation, she may avoid having a conversation with you altogether.

It’s your spouse’s defense mechanism

Usually, when people are facing a big obstacle in front of them that they think is impossible to overcome, they start cutting themselves off from others. And they do so because they are getting ready to leave.

What Should You Do?

Depending on your situation, here are some of the things you can do:

  • Remember that your spouse is likely frustrated by how she is feeling and not because of you.
  • If she’s trying to push you away because she’s getting ready to leave you, try to remind her that her diagnosis is not a death sentence. You can help free her from her fears by understanding and learning about her cancer together.
  • To avoid making her feel conscious about the changes in her body, don’t comment on her appearance.
  • Instead of assuming what your spouse needs or wants, talk to her about it. Respect her boundaries and wishes. This may change from day to day, so ask her. Who knows, all she may need today is for you to stop hovering, or to pay attention to the words she doesn’t want to hear.
  • Step back and give her space. But assure her that you are there. Ask her: “Do you need me right now?”
  • If your spouse is ignoring her emotions to focus on more practical issues, you can try to manage the logistics of her treatment. Volunteer to take over tasks like calling for test results, shopping, picking up prescriptions, or scheduling appointments.
  • Communicate from the beginning and throughout the whole journey. If you normally just keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself, this may be the time to start sharing. Make a pact with your partner about doing your best to stay honest and open. Then ask for the same in return. If she’s not engaging in a conversation today, maybe you can try again next time.
  • Make dates just like you used to. This can be a great distraction for her and, at the same time, it will also show how much you love her. Many couples find planning dates on special occasions can help their marriage while battling cancer. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just remember, this is about spending time together.
  • Get support for yourself. Cancer is a process that involves the patient as well as the caregiver. Naturally, you are greatly affected by this illness too. You may feel scared, anxious, stressed, or helpless. So don’t forget to give yourself some care and attention.

It can help to talk to people who are in the same position as you. Here’s a caregiver support group (Spouses and Partners) that you may want to take part in. Or, you can also try looking for support programs and services in your area through Cancer.org.

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