Ask the Expert: Brain Tumours and Relationship Changes

As a Social Worker I get asked a lot about the effects of being chronically ill has on a relationship. There is no easy response to this question. A lot of research has been done measuring various environmental, social, and therapeutic supports as well as the changes that come when your partner can no longer complete their “to-do lists.”

The easiest way to answer this question is to think about how the relationship was before your partner became ill. Were there any underlying issues or concerns that were never talked about pre-diagnosis?

Being in a relationship is challenging, and having a chronic illness does not make that easier. You and your partner may go through many phases until a “new normal” is established. A “New Normal” is defined as the current state of being after a dramatic change has transpired.

When a loved one suddenly becomes ill, there will likely be a dramatic change in life. Either party may not know what to do to help the other, or may fear that if they try and help they may make the person upset. There can also be feelings of resentment, loss, anger, anxiety, and sadness. So what can you do?

  • It is important to be patient with one another. Remember whatever it was that made you fall in love with your partner in the first place and start from there.

If you are going through a chronic illness but still feel valued and loved by your partner, that's an amazing place to be in!

But let’s say you are not feeling valued and you believe that you are no longer able to contribute to the relationship as you once had. Perhaps you have to limit family activities due to your health or you have trouble meeting the needs of your family and/or friends.

  • Make a "safe space" where you can each talk to one another about your feelings. It's hard to be exposed and share your innermost personal thoughts, even with the person you care about the most in life. And sometimes it's really hard to hear what others maybe thinking. If you create a "safe space" where each of you can share your feelings openly and honestly, you can address these issues before they become bigger problems.
  • It is important to keep an open mind and try not to take things personally. Your partner would not take the time to talk about these things with you if they did not care about . Listen earnestly. Sometimes it is easier to repeat what they said just to be sure you have the right information and together think about a solution.

When living life with a chronic illness, people oftentimes think about all the things they can no longer accomplish. Take time to think about the things that you are able to do; however small these tasks or activities may seem, celebrate them with those who mean the most to you.

Life is precious and it can be fragile. Every day we are granted the opportunity to create an impact. Carpe Diem—Seize the day!

A special thank-you to Todd Goold, RSW and member of Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada's Support Services team for sharing his expertise in this Information Sheet!

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