Valentine’s Day advice for couples facing cancer: Ignore expectations

February 13, 2015 | by Nicole White

Valentine’s Day is synonymous with dinner reservations, red roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and — more often than not — unrealistically high expectations.

Valentine's Day On Valentine's Day, couples coping with cancer should drop the expectations that come with the holiday, and focus on what's important to them as a couple.

Managing those expectations is great advice for all couples on Feb. 14 — and is especially important for couples confronting a cancer diagnosis. Focus on the opportunity to connect as a couple in a way that is most meaningful for you, and not what others think Valentine’s Day is about, advises Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W., head of the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program, offered through the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center.

“During Valentine’s Day, couples may feel pressure to do what they did prior to the cancer diagnosis or what everyone else is doing,” Bitz says. “I encourage couples to openly communicate about these external and internal expectations so they can work together on how they can best feel connected to one another."

Couples Coping with Cancer Together provides couples therapy to couples confronting a breast cancer diagnosis as part of their standard medical care. Bitz’s advice can be applied to all couples who are dealing with cancer. The support of a spouse or partner is especially important during cancer care, but keeping a close and intimate connection can be challenging when one or both members of a couple are feeling emotionally and physically taxed.

Bitz offers this Valentine’s Day advice:

Come back to who you are as a couple. Cancer patients work hard at getting better, often keeping a rigorous schedule of doctors’ appointments and treatments. It’s easy to be overwhelmed.

“Full lives can easily become about cancer. Integrating moments where the focus is on your relationship can help maintain a balance of who each of you are outside of the cancer experience” Bitz says. She encourages couples to participate in an activity they have always enjoyed together throughout treatment

Have reasonable expectations. While lavish gifts and a big night out are pushed hard as Valentine’s Day “traditions,” know your limits as a patient and as a caregiver. A night in with limited distractions and a focus on fun could be just what the doctor ordered.

Understand that romance and intimacy can take many forms. “When it comes to intimacy and sexuality during a cancer experience, open communication, optimism and creativity is important for couples,” Bitz says. Find ways to continue to experience intimacy with each other, even if it is in a different way.

Openly communicating about these changes can help couples maintain intimacy in spite of the stressors and physical impact of a cancer diagnosis.


Visit City of Hope's Living with Cancer website to find more tips, tools and resources to help you and your family cope with the issues that arise during and after cancer treatment.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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