Knowing what to say to a cancer patient is one thing. Knowing what to say to a cancer patient who is also your partner can be even more challenging. You love them and want nothing more than to see them better. But if you’re also your partner’s caregiver, you have to take on that role as well. Knowing how to encourage someone with cancer on the days when neither of you sees the light at the end of the tunnel is difficult. I’ve been there. I’ve also discovered the best way to encourage someone with cancer and show unconditional love and belief in their ability to stay strong.
What to Say to a Cancer Patient (who is also your spouse)
Words can be powerful, but what is even more powerful are the thoughts and feelings behind our words. If you want to know the “right” words to say to encourage your spouse, I encourage you to approach this a little differently. The words we say come from how we think and feel. Your partner will pick up on your thoughts and emotions, regardless of what you say. So, really, there are no “right” words to say to them. Instead, ask yourself what you want to believe about your spouse with cancer and let the words flow from there.
What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient (who is also your spouse)
Sometimes, you might want to encourage your partner or try to cheer them up, but the words you say land flat. Or worse, your partner gets upset or angry with you. This can be hard to understand. What may be happening is that your partner is in pain (emotional, physical, or both), and at that moment, they don’t want to cheer up. They want to be seen and acknowledged.
If they express their fears to you, and you try to comfort them instead of acknowledging their feelings, they’ll feel very misunderstood. We all want our pain and fear first acknowledged by those that love us. This is how we feel seen and heard. So be sure to acknowledge their pain before encouraging them. Dive into this topic more by reading: How to Support a Spouse or Partner During Cancer Treatment by “Holding Space.”
How to Encourage Someone with Cancer
Believe in them and their strength, regardless. The more you believe in your spouse–that they have what it takes to fight this–the more they will believe in themselves. Sometimes believing in them can be challenging, especially when it looks like they aren’t coping well or have a history of not responding well to stress. In those moments, try these three practical ways to encourage your partner with cancer and genuinely believe in them.
1. Decide to Believe They Are Resilient
Often, we look to the world around us to inform our thoughts and beliefs. If your partner seems upbeat and positive, it will be easy for you to think they are handling this well. But if they’re down or withdrawn, you will worry about their strength and resilience. You might start to think thoughts like, “they’re not doing well” or “they can’t handle this.” And when you think like that, your partner will pick up on your feelings of doubt.
But we get to decide how we want to think regardless of the circumstances. That is a power that each of us has. We all have agency over our own thoughts. You can simply decide that your partner is strong and resilient, no matter how they behave or what they believe about themselves.
Believing in someone, especially when they don’t believe in themselves, is one of the most beautiful gifts you can give someone. And your belief will shape how you see your partner. If you decide that they are resilient, you will start to see all the ways that is true.
2. List Their Strengths
Our beliefs are always backed up by the evidence we see in the world. The thing is, while we may believe we are objective observers of what is happening around us, we are not. We are constantly making judgments and interpreting what we see. And usually, we are only taking in evidence that supports the judgments we’ve already made. So you can use this to your advantage to help you see all the evidence for how your partner is strong. Make a list of all their strengths. How have they shown strength and resilience in the past in any situation? Put it on paper. This exercise will help you strengthen your belief in them.
I want to be clear, though: this exercise is not for you to convince your partner of their own strength. It’s so that you can believe in them and encourage them regardless of what they believe about themselves.
3. Encourage from Belief
Remember, it’s not the words you say; it’s the thoughts and feelings behind them that your partner will pick up on. If they are open to hearing your thoughts, or you feel it’s a good time to encourage them, share your belief. This could sound like: “I know this is hard, and I believe in you. You are stronger than you think.”
The careful line to walk here is you never want to be convincing them of this. This is not a sales pitch. It’s about simply sharing what you believe, regardless of whether their own belief is there or not. That is what is so powerful. Sometimes we need to borrow another’s belief in us before we can believe in ourselves. If you want to be that person for your partner, it starts with your belief about them. Do You Believe In Your Partner’s Strength?
“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.”Tony Robbins
How Do You Make Someone with Cancer Feel Better?
It’s important to remember that although you want to make your partner with cancer feel better, you don’t actually have control over how they feel. You only have control over your own emotional state. So, first, remember that believing in their strength is not about convincing them. You need to let them be where they are. Second, ask your partner how they want to be supported–it might be different than what you think. Third, oftentimes, simply being present (not in “caregiver” mode) can help someone feel loved and supported.
Encouragement for You When Your Partner Has Cancer
Knowing how to encourage someone with cancer can be extremely beneficial for your spouse and your relationship during this journey. But sometimes, you might need encouragement, support, and someone to believe in you as well. That’s one thing a cancer caregiver coach can provide–tips, advice, and support for you during your partner’s cancer journey. Schedule a free consultation, and let’s talk about how to find the support and encouragement you need to make it through this time–I believe in you!