When Cancer and Resentment Affects Your Marriage

Coping with Resentment and Anger During Your Partner's Cancer Treatment

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In the early stages of your spouse or partner's cancer diagnosis, you were probably devoted and supportive of their treatment. Perhaps you went to every chemotherapy session, paced hospital floors as they were in surgery, and comforted them as the difficult side effects of treatment began to appear. But after months or even years of devoting your time and energy as a partner, caregiver, and friend, you begin to feel some resentment.

How you cope with your partner's cancer is just as important as how they deal with it. He or she may be the one battling the illness, but you and your life together is directly affected by it. Rest assured that these feelings of resentment are normal. It is how you cope with these thoughts and feelings that is important for maintaining and strengthening your marriage.

Why Do I Have Feelings of Resentment?

The simple answer is that you are human. It can be a normal reaction to feel resentful when cancer has invaded your relationship. In most cases, the resentment and anger is displaced meaning that the real object of your resentment or anger is the cancer itself, not your spouse. Your partner gives the cancer an identity -- a face and a name at which you can point a finger and direct your feelings. These are some of the most common causes of resentment when a spouse suffers from cancer, but they are not the only:

  • Your sacrifices become forced. Before cancer, you may have worked overtime to save for a new house or a vacation, but now you may be working overtime to pay for medication your insurance may not cover. You have no choice; you must work those extra hours. Before cancer, your social calendar may have been filled with events, but today you know you cannot attend because you will be caring for your spouse. When your sacrifices for your spouse are forced rather than chosen, the stress of not having control in your life can build up.
  • You have more roles than you can handle. When your spouse is ill, you are forced to take on roles and responsibilities in your relationship and family on which your spouse took the lead. You may now find yourself in charge of all domestic tasks in addition to working a full-time job. When all of these tasks have been placed on your shoulders, it's easy to stretch yourself too thin -- and eventually break.
  • Your spouse has lost interest in being intimate. A low libido can be a side effect of cancer treatment. It can also be caused by low self-esteem caused by hair loss, nausea, weight loss or gain, and the everyday stress and worries of being ill. If you had a healthy sex life before treatment, it may be difficult for you to abstain from sexual intimacy for a long period of time. Intimacy is important for you and your spouse's emotional health during treatment.
  • The stress of being a caregiver is high. Caring for your spouse daily can be stressful -- you may doubt your abilities, have trouble organizing your time, and feel like your life isn't yours anymore. Caregiving is a selfless role that very few can perform without enduring stress and frustration. When you are the primary caregiver and experiencing feelings of resentment, it is most often related to caregiver burnout.

    Tips for Coping with Resentment of Your Spouse's Cancer

    Remember that any resentment you feel toward your spouse is most likely related to the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion you are experiencing. No one wants to feel this way about someone they love, but when you are overworked and overwhelmed, resentment can be a natural response. Try taking these steps either before you begin to feel frustration or when you start feeling that your spouse's cancer is too much to handle:

    • Keep your eyes on the prize. Cancer may have become a part of who your spouse is, but it certainly doesn't define them. Focus on the qualities you love so much about them -- a contagious laugh, beautiful smile, or compassion for others. Those qualities are still there! Look through photo albums or home movies together and share memories. Make plans for the future. These are special moments that can help you to remember your spouse before cancer and also revive your spirits.
    • Communicate your feelings. Expressing your feelings, both positive and negative, is an important emotional outlet. Doing this regularly help prevent and relieve stress and frustration. You may feel uncomfortable discussing the stresses of being a cancer spouse with your partner, but there are so many other people you can turn to. Support groups, both traditional and online, are excellent ways to express your feelings in a setting where others truly understand your situation. Members of the clergy, counselors, and trusted friends are also excellent people with whom you can share your frustrations. Keeping a journal may also help.
    • Get help before you need it. Since you are probably assuming more responsibilities in your marriage, such as cooking, cleaning, childcare, accounting, and other tasks, it is important to have help lined up before these duties become too overwhelming. Asking friends and family how they can help can make a huge difference in your stress level and your ability to balance your responsibilities. Perhaps a few friends can get together to prepare meals, or a neighbor can mow your lawn when they do their own. It's when these little tasks build up that your stress levels begin to spike.
    • Take breaks. Relief from care-giving is vital for your emotional and physical health. Taking breaks to do things you enjoy is essential. Do not feel guilty about taking these breaks. Some people think that since their spouse cannot take a break from cancer, then they shouldn't either. You have to maintain your physical and mental strength to care for your partner, and taking breaks is one of the best ways to replenish your drained emotions and energy.


    American Cancer Society. Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer: Dealing With Diagnosis. 09/07/05.

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