When You are the Spouse or Partner
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2017 | Last updated: June 2020
Whether your partner or husband has previously been treated for prostate cancer or is currently battling the condition, there can be many changes to your relationship and life. Some partners or spouses may not feel comfortable asking for support, while others may be very open about their needs and feelings. The way your partner or spouse chooses to handle his prostate cancer and the emotions and side effects that accompany his diagnosis is completely up to him. However, regardless of how your partner is navigating his journey, there are some things you can do as a supporter to aid him during this time.
Listen, learn, and ask
Knowledge can be powerful, and your partner may be too overwhelmed at times to research treatment options, medications, and other aspects of their care. Spending some time on your own to learn more about prostate cancer, the treatment options available to your partner, or how to manage post-treatment side effects may help you better support your partner, and relieve some of their stress. It is important to note that information overload is possible, and less-than-reputable resources exist. For these reasons, taking breaks during your search and using only verified or professional outlets for information are critical.
You can also join your partner during their medical appointments if they are comfortable with you there. If you do accompany your partner to these visits, lending a listening ear or taking notes can be helpful. Your partner may feel overwhelmed by the news he is receiving or different options presented to him. In these cases, having an additional, attentive listener (or note-taker) may help with remembering small details of the appointment. It may also be helpful to keep a list of your questions or any questions your partner has had to help guide the conversation during visits.
Be your partner’s advocate when appropriate
Your partner may need an extra voice when dealing with friends, family, healthcare professionals, insurance companies, and any others who may have questions or concerns about his prostate cancer battle. It is important to let your partner advocate for himself, but to also be ready in the event that they need extra support.
This support could come in the form of answering embarrassing questions, explaining new lifestyle changes for treatment-related side effects (such as needing to avoid a specific event due to the lack of accessible bathrooms if your partner is struggling with urinary incontinence), or just lending your voice when your partner is weary. Always make sure your partner has given permission to share these personal details with others. Giving him the space to be his own advocate, while being at the ready in times of need, can make a big difference.
Discuss sex and intimacy
Especially post-treatment, you and your partner will need to establish a new normal. This may include helping your partner manage treatment-related side effects that could impact your intimacy. Many of these side effects not only directly impact your sex life, but can also indirectly impact your partner’s desire to be intimate. For example, men struggling with sexual dysfunction or urinary incontinence may physically have problems being intimate, while also experiencing self-esteem and self-image issues.
These self-perception issues can further decrease a man’s desire or ability to be intimate. It may be a difficult balance to let him know you are there to talk to him about this without adding to his embarrassment or self-doubt. It may be hard for him to talk about sex and intimacy with you at first, but with your reassurance he will likely become more comfortable over time. Prostate cancer survivors may battle issues like these even after their cancer is removed. As a caring partner, you can help him establish new routines and expectations to foster a healthy relationship.
Keep open lines of communication
A major issue with several of side effects of prostate cancer treatment is that they may be embarrassing or hard to talk about for the man experiencing them. For these reasons, it is important to keep open lines of communication with your partner and let him know that he can confide in you without judgment. This same idea is true for non-sexual-related side effects. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and social isolation, along with other physical symptoms, may be just as hard to discuss as intimacy-related issues and can cause just as much damage to a man’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Regularly checking in with your partner and maintaining a warm and safe communicative space will encourage them to confide in you and help you get a better understanding of what they need.
It is important to remember that open lines of communication run both ways, and you should feel able to confide in your partner when appropriate as well. Caring for an individual with prostate cancer, as well as learning to establish your own new normal can be overwhelming at times. Discussing concerns, frustrations, or a need for support with your partner can be just as important as your partner sharing their concerns with you. This will help you both maintain a healthy relationship throughout this journey. Seeking counseling, either alone or with your partner, can help if you are becoming overwhelmed or need someone else to talk with.
Be mindful of warning signs
Your partner’s healthcare team may provide a list of physical symptoms to watch for including serious side effects of treatment, possible indications that the cancer has recurred, or that a second cancer has developed. It is important to help your partner monitor for these symptoms and encourage him to contact his doctor if they occur.
Also, you can be mindful of other warning signs, such as signs of depression, anxiety, or emotional distress. These emotions can build up, and lead to serious consequences if not handled properly. Encourage your partner to seek additional emotional support, including counseling or support groups if needed. You can also encourage them to seek immediate medical attention if you notice they are showing signs of suicidal thoughts or actions, or other serious mental health concerns. Your partner may have a hard time recognizing or handling these kinds of issues and may need you to guide them towards seeking the help they need.1
If you are a partner or spouse supporting someone living with prostate cancer and would like to share your story, you can by going to ProstateCancer.net's share your story submission page. Tell us how you support your partner through diagnosis and treatment and what advice you would give to others facing prostate cancer.