Managing the disease in the couple
Learning that the other is sick is a hard blow that cannot be defined as it hurts. But sometimes, the one with the disease, to preserve the other, prefers to hide it and end the relationship. This is the case for Mathilde and her friend who sent me this email this morning:
« My friend (whom I have known for 4 months) is suffering from a serious illness, and for this he broke up because he considers that I should not undergo this and he does not want me to be his nurse… I do not know exactly the extent of the severity of his disease but I know that it is a cancer but even if he did not want to tell me… It’s because I myself had cancer and in view of the symptoms that manifest themselves I understood what it is… What to do? It’s very hard to wear!«
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What you are experiencing is very delicate because you have to suffer both your helplessness in the face of your friend’s illness and a breakup that occurs suddenly. You haven’t been together for long and that’s certainly why he acts this way: he wants to preserve you, he doesn’t want to falter in front of you, he wants you to keep a beautiful image of strength of him.
For information, in 2007 a Norwegian team, at the congress of the European Cancer Organization, presented the results of a study conducted over twenty years and which compared the rate of divorces in a population of cancer survivors to that observed in an ordinary population. Results: more divorces in the first group, but with different scores depending on the type of cancer (40% more for uterine cancers, 20% more for testicular cancers).
Most of the time the disease wears out the couple in the long run: pain, constant annoyances, depression … The romantic relationship no longer finds its place. In your case Mathilde, it is different since your friend hides his illness from you, it proves how much he does not want to involve you in this personal difficulty.
What to do? (Managing the disease in the couple)
What I propose you to do is to accept the breakup and offer him your friendly support. Tell him that you give him time to take a step back from both of you but that you really want to help him overcome this. Especially since you yourself have experienced it before.
The quality of the accompaniment of a patient also depends on the quality of the relationship previously experienced. You haven’t known each other for a long time, so you have to give your friend time to accept that you fully return to his most intimate life. You know that cancer will induce a series of successive mournings for your friend: loss of his physical integrity, perhaps the loss of his job, aggressiveness, decrease in his autonomy…
This is a real narcissistic wound that some struggle to show. It is therefore essential to always consider your friend as a person capable of making decisions even if his condition does not allow it. You must be able to support him without infantilizing him and always letting him know that you like him, that he is attractive, that he is strong. (Managing the disease in the couple)
Even if you help him, maintain a distance with him because it is she who keeps his feet on the ground and remains useful and effective for the other. Letting yourself enter into your illness means opening a parenthesis without knowing when it will close and that’s what your friend wants to protect you from.
Offer your help but respect the distance he imposes on you.