When your spouse has cancer it seems like life starts to revolve all around them. Conversations become about treatment and doctors appointments, new research and trials. Daily life is centered around how they are feeling that day, what they need help with or can’t do. The future becomes about them too. It becomes limited by what they can and can’t do, how their immune system is functioning and when treatments are scheduled.
Of course this situation is understandable. Facing cancer is a huge challenge! A life changing challenge. Still, it’s hard for us too as the spouse, supporter and often caregiver. We want to be there for them, love them and support them. Sometimes we do that to the exclusion of our own welfare. Over time, caring for them takes a toll on us as well. We can start to feel resentment for all the energy that we are focusing on their life. We may find ourselves being short with them, or touchy with others. We may be quick to anger, or complain to anyone who will listen.
My Resentment Toward Cancer
Throughout my husband’s four and a half year battle with cancer, resentment would crop up for me frequently. There were times when he was in the thick of treatments where our whole lives revolved around that. There were also a couple years where he was free of cancer, but there was always the threat of it coming back. Cancer felt like a shadow over our lives. It affected everything and was always lurking in the background.
As my partner, husband, and best friend, I wanted to support him and always be there for him. Sometimes I felt like that was at the cost of my own life and dreams. That is when I really felt resentful. I resented cancer and sometimes my husband for having it. Even though I knew it was not his choice nor his fault.
Resentment Is A Complex Emotion
Let’s take a good look at the emotion of resentment. We feel it when we perceive we have suffered a wrongdoing or injustice. We feel our life or our situation is unfair.
We didn’t choose this life, to be all about doctors, and chemotherapy, and watching the person we love suffer and be in pain! Of course we feel it’s unfair!
Effects Of Resentment
If we feel resentment toward cancer or the universe for giving our spouse cancer, we may start to focus that resentment on our spouse as the embodiment of problem. This can show up in our relationship as being short tempered with them or making snide or sarcastic comments. We may just generally be quick to anger. Sometimes we pretend to be happy to take care of all their needs and endless requests, but inside we resent that we have to do these. With resentment swirling inside, we may even start to distance ourselves from our spouse.
Arguing With Reality
The problem with resentment is it feels terrible. We are arguing with reality and thinking it should be different. We focus on the unfairness of our situation and by doing so, become a complete victim in our mind. Then, we feel guilty for even feeling this way. We love our spouse and know they didn’t choose to have cancer!
The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is.Byron Katie
Thought – Feeling Connection
As I’ve said often, our emotions are always caused by a thought. Thoughts generate feelings.
It shouldn’t be this way. I didn’t sign up for this. I don’t want to deal with this anymore.
These are the types of thoughts that generate resentment. They keep us powerless to our constance and so we suffer even more.
What To Do
The best news is that you can get out of resentment! You do have that power.
It’s four simple steps:
- Recognize it
- Allow it
- Own it
- Change it
Step 1 – Recognize
Where is resentment showing up for you? Resentment likes to lurk in the background. We are often ashamed of feeling this way so we try to deny it to ourselves. We ignore it and pretend it’s not there. Sometimes we don’t even realize what we are thinking, we just know we are feeling bitter, angry, or resentful. This is just a signal that you need to pay attention to what you are thinking.
Step 2 – Allow It
Emotions just are. We think that there are good emotions and bad ones, but it’s not the emotion we are judging, it’s the actions that come from it. The human experience is made up of all emotions and we cannot deny or ignore the ones we don’t like. Emotions don’t go away until we allow them. The resentment your feeling needs to be acknowledged without judgement. You are not a bad person for feeling this way, you are human! You have to process through it, and this can be as simple as telling yourself, “I’m feeling resentful and that’s OK.”
Step 3 – Own It
This is a really important step. When we feel resentful, we become victims to our circumstances. This makes us totally powerless. Instead, we have to own that our thought is the cause of this emotion, NOT the circumstance, not anyone else. To be an emotional adult we have to recognize that we are ALWAYS the cause of our own emotions. By doing this, it puts us back in the driver’s seat. We get back our power to change how we feel.
Step 4 – Change It
You can change how you feel by changing your primary thought. This may take some practice and repetition. You want to change the thought that is generating your resentment or feeling of unfairness to one that allows you to feel accepting. Here are some suggestions, but it’s important to make these your own and something that is believable for you:
This is so unfair! Try changing to… This is just my life right now.
This isn’t how it was supposed to be. Try changing to… This is exactly how it was always going to be.
I don’t want to do this anymore! Try changing to… I’m choosing to be there for them and for me.
Feeling resentful is very common when you are caring for a spouse with cancer. Don’t judge yourself for being human. This is a hard time for you as well as for your spouse. You may not have chosen this situation, but you can choose how you show up for it. Decide who you want to be during this time.
Resentment can be a difficult emotion to let go. If you want coaching on this, I can absolutely help!