When your partner is battling cancer, it impacts both of you, but in very different ways. You may notice changes in your partner’s behavior and emotional state as they cope with the disease and treatment. They may act in ways that are difficult to understand. And as their partner and caregiver, this can be confusing and worrisome.
You might want your partner to care for their health a certain way, always keep you informed of what’s happening, tell you how they are feeling, etc. When these unspoken expectations aren’t met, you feel frustrated, confused, and even more worried. You may try to control their behavior, which can impact the relationship and drive you further apart. If you can relate to this, keep reading to learn about setting realistic expectations by identifying your “manual” for your partner with cancer and learning how to let it go.
How to Identify Your “Manual” for Your Partner with Cancer
When you buy a new kitchen appliance or the latest iPhone, it comes with a set of instructions for how it should perform: a manual. We also have “manuals” in relationships; we have ideas and beliefs about how someone “should” behave. For example, they should remember your birthday, or they should text if they’re going to be late.
If your partner is battling cancer, you’ve probably added certain things to their “manual” regarding how they should be. For example, they should tell you how they feel and not overwork themselves. Or, they should stay positive and not get so angry.
You have a manual for your partner because you love and want what’s best for them. And while it would be much easier on you if they followed it, that’s not how people work, which is why setting realistic expectations is essential.
A “Manual” Makes You Emotionally Disempowered
The problem with having a manual for your partner is that it ties your emotions to their behavior. Your emotional life becomes dependent on what your partner is or is not doing. You feel calm or reassured when they behave how you think they should. But when they don’t, you feel anxious, worried, or frustrated.
You end up stuck in the trap of trying to control their behavior so you can feel better. You may lecture them, caution them, or even tell them how to behave. As a result, they will either shut down, ignore you, or get mad and frustrated. Instead of connecting, it causes a disconnect.
So what do you do, especially if you feel like your spouse is a cancer patient who is giving up? The key to letting your manual go and truly connecting is first identifying all the ways you’d like your partner to behave, then setting realistic expectations.
“My Partner Should…”
Complete the sentence. Do you expect your partner to keep you informed of calls with the doctor or share their feelings with you? Maybe you want them to exercise more or eat better. Think about all the ways you’d like them to behave and make a list.
“My Partner Shouldn’t…”
Complete the sentence. Do you expect your spouse to stop eating junk food or always stay positive and never fall into a negative mindset about their health? Maybe you wish they didn’t get so angry or withdraw. Write down all the things you don’t want them to do anymore.
How to Let Your “Manual” Go by Setting Realistic Expectations
Even with the best intentions at heart, no one likes to be told what to do or how to be. When you want your partner to behave differently, you will end up feeling frustrated, confused, or even worried and scared when they don’t. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “If they just did this… it would be so much better.” But the reality is, the more you want them to be different, the more distance you will create between you.
So look at your manual–your list of everything you wish they did differently. Think about why you want these things. Is it for their own good? Is it so that you don’t worry? Is it because it’s what the doctor said? How do you feel when they don’t do these things? Frightened? Worried? Anxious?
How you think and feel does not need to depend on what your partner with cancer does or doesn’t do. You can decide to feel hopeful and optimistic even if they are angry and depressed. You are in charge of your emotional state and never want to give that power away. So, be willing to look at your manual and let it go. Decide you can be OK, no matter how they behave.
Connect with Love and Curiosity Instead
Letting go of your manual doesn’t mean you stop making suggestions or expressing your concerns. It means your emotional well-being isn’t tied to whether or not they do what you think is best.
So how do you express concern over certain behaviors? With love and curiosity. Ask yourself: Why are they so angry? Why does it look like they have given up? What really is going on for them? With love, you can be curious. When you approach a conversation with your partner from a place of love and curiosity, there is a much greater chance they will hear. They may even be able to share how they feel if they sense you aren’t trying to control them. Be willing to listen, no matter how hard it may be to hear. This is how you connect and support your partner with cancer during this difficult time.
Setting Realistic Expectations When Your Spouse is a Cancer Patient Giving Up
Letting go of your “manual” and setting realistic expectations is challenging when you feel like your spouse is a cancer patient who is giving up. But you can still be there with love and compassion when they feel like giving up the battle.
This is a great time to practice having the strength for two. You can believe in them and their strength even when they’re struggling. If you feel they need encouragement, remind them of when they’ve persevered through difficult times. Their current struggle is just one more moment when they can draw the strength to keep going. Encourage them to talk about what they are experiencing and how it makes them feel while creating a non-judgmental space.
You can also show your love through physical touch–holding hands or soothing embraces can make someone feel like they’re not alone, even in the darkest hour. Although it may be hard to comprehend times of hopelessness for those we love, reaching out with unconditional love and understanding is among the most powerful gifts we can give.
Support for You to Stay Strong and Not Give Up
While we just broke down your “manual” and setting realistic expectations for your spouse with cancer, it’s important to consider some of the expectations you have of yourself that may not be serving you. Do you expect yourself to always be hopeful or never break down? Putting pressure like that on yourself is unhelpful. And I want to help you learn how to best support yourself while supporting your spouse with cancer. Schedule a free consultation, and let’s talk about how to support yourself when you feel like giving up!