6 mins. read

How to support a spouse whose parent has cancer

Supporting a spouse whose parent has cancer

Key Takeaways

  • Be patient: Everyone processes emotions differently so try not to place expectations on your spouse as to how they should behave after finding out their parent has cancer.
  • Encourage your spouse to take care of themselves: If your partner is focusing on their parent, they are less likely to recognise their own needs or look after their wellbeing. Gently encourage them to eat regularly, get enough sleep and take time to rest.
  • Offer support to your spouse and their parent: You can help reduce their feelings of stress and overwhelm by helping your partner where you can. This could include taking on more responsibilities at home or assisting with their parent’s care.

If your partner’s parent has been diagnosed with cancer, seeking guidance around how you can help them come to terms with the news is a really positive step. Finding out someone you love has cancer evokes a variety of emotions and your spouse will need time to process their feelings about their parent’s illness. As well as the internal upheaval a cancer diagnosis can cause, it’s likely your spouse will experience changes to their day-to-day life, especially if they are close to their parent and are supporting them through treatment. 

While your focus might be on caring for your spouse, it’s also important to recognise how your in-law’s diagnosis impacts you and to ensure you allow yourself space to process your own feelings. This guide from Perci Health offers advice on how to support a spouse whose parent has cancer, including ways in which you can be there for them practically and emotionally.

Be understanding of their emotions

After finding out that their parent has cancer, your spouse is likely to experience a rollercoaster of emotions including fear, sadness, anger, guilt, hope and uncertainty. They may even begin a grieving process, regardless of whether their parent has received a terminal diagnosis.

Supporting your spouse with these emotions can be challenging, as they change and evolve day by day. Try not to hold on to any expectations about how they should be coping and give them time and space to explore their feelings.

Be patient. Emotions can affect a person’s behaviour, so if your spouse isn’t acting their usual self, is withdrawn or snappy, try not to take it personally; they simply have a lot on their mind.

Follow their lead

One of the most important ways that you can support your spouse is just by being there for them, but pay attention to their cues about what they need.

On the occasions that they open up to you about their feelings or they are speaking about their parent, allow them to be honest and simply listen; they will value feeling truly heard. Give your spouse your undivided focus in these instances by placing your phone out of reach, turning off the TV or pausing whatever task you are doing and allowing them to speak without interjecting.

There may also be times when your spouse is quiet and doesn’t want to talk. Respect their privacy and refrain from forcing conversation. Instead, let them know you are there for them should they want to discuss anything in the future.

Knowing what to say to someone with cancer and their loved ones isn’t easy so if you are unsure about your spouse’s boundaries around talking about their parent’s diagnosis, ask them. This will help you both to identify limits and ease tension in your relationship.

Offer support

Support for carers can help prevent burnout, reduce stress, and give your spouse more time for themselves.If it’s within your capability, consider offering them practical support to make their life more manageable. This support could relate to the home or the care they are providing to their parent. 

For example, you could do the food shop and prepare healthy, nourishing meals. Or you could offer to take their parent to their next hospital appointment so that your spouse can catch up on sleep.

Changes to your usual routine and relationship dynamics aren’t always easy but be as accommodating as you can. Keep communication with your spouse open and frequent; this will allow you to discuss any issues as they arise and help you stay connected through this difficult time.

Promote self-care

When someone is dealing with complex emotions and putting their time and energy into caring for a loved one, their welfare can fall by the wayside. However, if your spouse doesn’t look after their wellbeing, they could experience physical and mental exhaustion that could place strain on them, their parent and your relationship.

Encourage your spouse to maintain self-care habits such as getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, eating regular, well-balanced meals, and making time for rest and activities they enjoy; perhaps a morning run or seeing friends.

It’s also important that you practise self-care whilst supporting your partner and wider family. Caring for others and shouldering additional responsibilities as they navigate illness can be tough, so if there are times when you feel overwhelmed, know that you aren’t alone. Give yourself grace and make time for things that benefit your mental health and physical wellbeing, be it an hour to read a book or sitting in the garden with a cup of tea.

If at any point, you feel that you or your spouse could benefit from additional practical assistance, don’t be afraid to reach out. Speak to other family members and see if they can help care for your spouse’s parent, or contact a cancer charity to see what aid might be available to you. If they haven’t already, encourage your spouse to tell their employer that their parent has cancer as they might be able to offer flexible working arrangements or support your spouse in other ways. 

For mental health support, book an appointment with your GP to discuss how you are feeling or find a counsellor who can provide you with a safe and confidential space to talk.

At Perci Health, we offer a range of support types, including psychotherapy, life coaching and hypnotherapy. Provided by cancer specialists, our virtual support is for anyone impacted by cancer, including patients, family and friends and is available on demand. Find out more about our leading experts, book appointments and discover our latest resources by signing up for a Perci Health account.