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What I've Learnt About Our Relationship

If you were to ask any of our friends or family, they would tell you that Rod and I are a very strong team. Our relationship is built on love, connection and sharing whatever is going on in our lives with each other. We are a happy couple who enjoy doing things together, going on adventures and we are never afraid of changing direction or setting a new goal.

But here’s the thing I’ve learnt about our relationship through this journey and that it’s not as bulletproof as we thought. We made a vow to love, honour and cherish each other in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. Whilst we still uphold that vow, let me tell you it can be challenging.

The thing with a cancer diagnosis is that it changes both of you, it can bring out the best and the worst in each of you. One moment you are holding on for dear life to each other and the next shut down, withdrawn and deeply unhappy. What seems like a strong and healthy relationship can have you questioning everything you thought you knew about your partner and yourself.

The chemo treatment and medication to help Rod with the side effects can also make him a little grumpy and withdrawn. I often feel shut out from him emotionally and physically as he’s trying to recover. This is something he is often not aware of until I point it out, usually when I’m emotional, feeling isolated and lonely. I can find myself snapping at him, or accusing him of not loving me, tearfully trying to hold onto the relationship that we used to have.

The chemotherapy drug in his system means that we have to be careful for a few days after treatment with how we maintain physical contact and interact with each other. I am conscious that we can no longer share toothpaste or soap. His towels and clothes are washed separately to mine, I am cleaning the bathroom and toilet pretty much each time he has been due to the risk of transference of the drug. Kisses are brief and if he sweats, we have to be careful the drug isn’t transferring from his body to mine or the dogs. This was all something we weren’t aware of prior to this journey.

There are our private thoughts that we don’t share with each other for fear of upsetting the other. Fears that aren’t spoken about. Feelings of guilt when we realise that this is not who we are as a couple, and I should cut him some slack, he’s got cancer for gawds sake. There is the frustration of when I ask what he feels like eating and I get blank stares back at me. Times when I question myself how I can be a better partner for him.

Now it’s not like this all the time, but there are certainly days when we are more distant with each other. Then there are days when we are closer than ever. Our relationship like this cancer journey is one hell of a roller coaster ride.

As a former Relationship Counsellor, you would think that this would be easy for me, but I’m just as human as everyone else when it comes to relationships. However, I do have the advantage of giving myself the tools that I would use with other couples.

Some of these tools are:

• Keep the conversation going. Not necessarily in that moment. If things are heated or emotional, let them go and agree to come back to them when you have both had some time to process what happened.

• Take the time to truly understand each other’s feelings without interrupting or becoming defensive. Listen to what they are saying and what they are not saying. Approach this with love and kindness.

• Talk about the things you love most about each other, reminisce about some of the good times you’ve had or the places you have been to.

• Make plans, even if the future is uncertain right now. Planning helps to keep you moving forward.

• Have cancer free days, where you spend time together that is not cancer related or talking about cancer.

• Ask for support from others, if the cleaning is getting too much for you and you are able, then have someone else do it for you. If cooking is difficult or their appetite is affected, make a variety of dinners or soups that you can freeze and reheat for those days when you get the blank stare.

• Consider online shopping. Some days it’s hard to get out of the house and not having to think about what you need at the shops saves time and emotional energy.

• Get out of the house when you are feeling stuck, emotional or overwhelmed. I have found going for a walk or going to the shops has given me the time and space to regulate my nervous system.

• Acknowledge that your partners body may feel sore and that just holding your hand might hurt them. If you have fears of hurting your partner through physical intimacy, then it’s important to talk about how you miss the physical intimacy and explore other ways to feel connected.

• Treat your partner as your partner, not as a cancer patient. Hard to do sometimes when you want to protect them.

• Recognise and acknowledge that your relationship is different now. Find ways to create meaning and joy in every day.

• Live totally in the present. Whilst regret for the things you wish you had done can creep in and the ever-present fear of the future feels paralysing, try to remain focussed on today. Today is what you have right now.

• Be kind to yourself and each other and honour each emotion as you are experiencing it. I find journaling helps me with this, writing down how I am feeling today helps me to get it out of my head, and I'm less likely to react with Rod.

• Create a calm environment on those stormy days. Creating calm for me is always priority. I have soft lighting, scented candles, play relaxing music or watch a romantic or funny movie together. When life is overwhelming, take the stress level down a notch or two. Slow down your breathing, quieten your voice and slow down your speech. You will be surprised how effective this can be at creating calm amongst the chaos.

• Create new rituals. I was always used to Rod heading off to work at 6.30 each morning and not returning until early evening while I would head out for a walk with the dogs and then get on with my day working. Now we sit together in the morning with our coffee, often sharing what we’ve read or talking about the day or sometimes just sitting in silence. Those moments of connection matter.

• Finally, remember to say thank you. Thank you for making that cup of tea or cooking dinner. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for spending the time with me. Whatever it is you are doing it’s the small things that we acknowledge with gratitude.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you are struggling with your relationship. I am always happy to chat.

In my next blog I will talk about overcoming the frustration of life being on hold.

Much love ~ Christine


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