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Breast Cancer's Relationship Toll

Any major illness can strain close relationships. But for women with breast cancer, it can be an especially difficult emotional challenge.

Breast Cancer And Your Intimate Relationships continued...

"But often the real issue is that he doesn't bring things up for fear he'll make her feel worse. And she's not bringing things up because she doesn't want him to worry. So the communication stops at a time when they both really need to share these feelings," says Murillo.

But it's not just the emotional communications that can go awry. Very often the separation starts in the bedroom as breast cancer affects a couple's intimate life.

"Women connect their breasts with their sexuality and their femininity in a way that is not typical of any other cancer," says Nelson. As a result, she says, any type of breast cancer treatment has the potential to impact intimacy.   

Indeed, Puckett tells WebMD, it can often leave a woman feeling that her sex life will never be the same, that her partner will be turned off, or that she herself won't ever feel like making love again. This in turn causes her to pull away from her partner at a time when sharing a physical connection can be life-affirming. 

To help solve -- or prevent -- any of these problems, experts say keep the lines of communication open and be as real as possible about what you are feeling in all areas of your life.

"Any catastrophic illness, but cancer especially, forces people to look at and deal with many things they didn't pay attention to before. So take advantage of that and view it as an opportunity to make your relationship stronger," says Puckett.

She also advises talking to your doctor about any intimate problems on your mind. "Women sometimes wait for their doctor to bring it up, but doctors often don't say anything until the woman brings it up. So many miss out on the wealth of helpful medical and lifestyle information that can help with some of these problems. So don't be embarrassed or ashamed to ask about it," says Puckett.

Breast Cancer: Getting The Support You Need

While sometimes a little creative communication will be all you and your partner need to get back on track, Puckett says this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, she says, a partner is simply emotionally unable to provide you with the support you need, and no amount of communication is going to change that.

But instead of being hurt and disappointed, experts say to accept those limitations and appreciate that person for what they can give you, and then allow others into your life to fill the gaps. 

"You have to be open to people. You can't expect to get everything you need from one person, even a spouse," says Nelson.

But while knowing you need help is one thing, asking for it can be quite another. What can make it easier, says Nelson, is to recognize the opportunity as a gift you give to others. 

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