Marital Counseling

A cancer diagnosis may produce changes in a marital relationship. Some people feel that their marriages are strengthened because they have worked together to deal with the crisis of cancer. For some, marriages can become strained and problems will develop. This can happen because a new diagnosis often leaves people more worried and upset than they were before the illness. You may be unsure about how much to share with your spouse, or you may think your spouse doesn't understand your feelings. Communication sometimes is difficult, since people with cancer and their spouses often aren't sure what to say. Others try to protect each other from their worries or fears. Sometimes when a marriage has been troubled before a cancer diagnosis, the diagnosis may make those problems seem worse. For whatever reasons, if you are having marital problems, they need attention or they will hamper the task of coping with cancer.


  1. Offer help with communication problems, such as how to talk with your spouse about your worries, what to do if talking seems to make things worse, and how you and your spouse can meet each other's needs for support.

  2. Offer help with sexual problems that result from the diagnosis or treatment or with problems that existed before the diagnosis.

  3. Provide guidance about any financial problems that arise.

  4. Offer help with decisions about changes in family routines, such as child care if a parent is hospitalized and management of family finances.


  1. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or social worker if you are having marital problems that are interfering with your ability to cope. Marital problems may be temporary, or they may have existed for a long time. If your spouse is reluctant to get help, go alone and ask a counselor for suggestions to help you improve your relationship.

  2. Hospitals often provide cancer counselors to help with problems related to illness. Sometimes hospital counselors are unable to help with marital problems because of inadequate staffing or because they lack specific training in that area. In this situation, consider a private counselor or a community agency.

  3. If you are interested in a private counselor, ask for a referral from a professional at the hospital where you are being treated. Examples of community agencies that provide marital counseling are Family Service of America, Jewish Family Service, and Catholic Social Service.


  • Sometimes marital problems are temporary and will gradually improve without professional help. Some couples can resolve issues by themselves, and that certainly should be the first effort. If talking with your spouse isn't helping and the problems remain or get worse, a marriage counselor may be able to help you change things faster than going it alone.

  • Going to a marriage counselor doesn't mean that your marriage is over (or that you have to remain in a marriage that you are convinced will never work). It does mean that you want to try to work on your problems and make decisions that may bring you more happiness than you are enjoying right now.

  • Marriage counselors don't tell people what to do; their job is to help you decide what you want for yourself and your marriage and how to achieve that.

  • Children are always affected by a troubled marriage. They often think they are the cause of their parents' troubles. Sometimes their worries show up in behavior changes, school problems, or experimentation with drugs or alcohol. Your children will most likely be relieved if they see that you are seeking help for your problems.


OncoLink Poll: Do you have a healthcare advocate?
by OncoLink Editorial Team
December 26, 2013