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Struggling with my partner pushing me away after diagnosis


Hi everyone

I'm not too sure where to start really.  I'm just hoping that there are some people on here going through the same situations who can offer some advice?

My partner was diagnosed last year with cancer.  It was caught early and needed mild treatment.  He got the all clear for it near the end of last year.  But now it has come back and stronger this time.

He's told me he feels very angry with everything and scared.  That there's a big part of him that just wants to be left alone by me but then a smaller part that wants me around.  He's now not really enjoying nights out with friends either and wants to be alone.  He's also said that he doesn't want to take his anger or frustration out on me. 

But then he will say something like not knowing what he wants or feels, which is making me question how he feels about our relationship and why his diagnosis would change that or make him question that?  We have been together 2 and a half years with plans of marriage/family etc so this is really hard to hear and why he now has these doubts.  Or is this his way of saying that's he's scared that future is being taken away from him/us?  I've reassured him that I love him, that I'm not going anywhere and will support him.  I don't want him to think he is alone in this but I'm scared he feels he has to do it all alone.

I know he means well with not wanting to hurt me, with an angry outburst for example, but from going from pretty much living together to him not really wanting to see me and cancelling plans, is really hurting me and I'm struggling to understand.  He doesn't want people to change how they act around him but he is distancing himself from family and friends.  This must sound selfish of me to be upset about this, when he is the one having to go through this.  I cannot imagine how he must be feeling because I haven't been in his position but I just wish he would let me in to share his problems/fears so we can work through this together.


Posted by

Hi, you are not alone.  You are not being selfish.  My partner of 3 years is the same.  He was diagnosed with bowel cancer and lesions on his liver.  They took part of his bowel away and now has a colostomy bag.  He has been having chemo since January 2019 which causes lots of side effects, he is likely going to have chemo an indefinite period.  He was diagnosed 6 months into our relationship, before we had a good relationship now it’s not so good.  He can be bad tempered, depressed, vile man.  Sometimes he wants to be left alone due to him being tired, this is worse since returning to work. He started back on 3 days then 4 days against advice. He can be very nasty verbally (has never been physically nasty). He is at his worse the week between chemo, I’m lucky in a sense as we have our own homes so I just leave him to it and wait for him to contact me. 

The problem is he puts on a ‘brave face’ in front of friends / family so they still think he is the nice guy he always has been.  This changed a few weeks ago when he was verbally nasty to his daughter (from a previous marriage).  She was shocked and upset as no one knew what he was like.

the only advice I can give you is to take care of yourself first, if possible put a little bit of a space between you both when he he has these dark thoughts.  Ask him to make an appointment with the GP it may be suffering from depression as well especially as he seems to see no future.

its easy to say but try not to argue back with him, keep reassuring him that you love him and will be there throughout his treatment to support him.  It may be good if you can offload to someone as well.

im not sure if this has helped but I wish you all the best

Posted by

Hello , I hope you don’t mind me popping in for hobnob! And you don’t sound selfish at all. I read your post and thought about how I was when I had my incurable cancer diagnosis back in 2015. I wrote a list of worries I kept it in my medical folder, here’s my list about my husband of 33 years, it included 

that he would hate looking after me

that he might move on with someone else before I’m gone

that he might become lonely and reclusive

that he will have car difficulties (the car insurance has always had me as the main driver and the cars in my name)

Why am I telling you this ? Perhaps to show you that a diagnosis is a big shock and although we don’t all have the same thoughts,  I had many emotions, some of which were protective of the other person and others about what I’d dread dread and not all anxious thoughts are very logical. I also found that this was the first time when I didn’t always sleep in the same bed with him as I had difficulty sleeping and as my husband was still working I needed him to get some rest, and I half thought it would be good if he got used to being without me. 

I think your post seemed very encouraging that you have been able to talk some things through with him, and I hope you can persevere with that. You say you want him to let you in to what he’s thinking, and men are sometimes bad at that. I had to instigate a talk with my husband he seemed to have put up a protective barrier, but I needed to know that he cared, I needed to see that he had emotions about the situation and that he could talk to me about them. It’s hard to start that talk though you might have to open up first and tell him your fears and hopes, and it’s easier having written them down first, but I think you’ve pretty much done that in this post. Stress can either break a relationship or make it really strong so I hope things work out for you. 

In this section the champs usually pop in to suggest the best places on the community to post, I’m not currently a champ but can I suggest if you haven’t already done so look at the friends and family group, I will put a link in below for you, I think it the most likely place to find people who might have already been through a similar situation.

I think it likely that he is either feeling down, or is feeling unsure and trying to be either protective of you or protecting his own emotions from loosing you. I find it was easier for my husband to talk to me after I told him what I was thinking. There’s also a section in info and support on talking that I read, there is also the Macmillan support line that could help just talk things out perhaps for a practise run? 

I hope it works out for you and him, if you have any questions of me just go ahead. 


Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or contact them by email.



Thank you for your reply and sorry for my delayed response.  I'm sorry to hear about your diagnosis too.

The list of worries sounds like a good thing to do so perhaps he could make that at some point, but I think it's too early for him to share those with me.  Since my post he still doesn't particularly like talking about it but he has raised the 'chat' with me at times.  He starts treatment this week and has spoken to me about potentially losing his hair and not being able to do things soon.  I've tried to keep him positive by saying that we just need to wait and see how it effects him because the doctors said everyone is different.

It's the same sleeping situation here.  He doesn't like to be with each other overnight because he's not sleeping (can't switch off and worries etc) and then he's told me he doesn't feel well in the mornings so doesn't want me around.  And he has said 'oh well I need to get used to it' which makes me wonder why he thinks he needs to get used to sleeping alone.  It sounds like you have been through this bit with your husband.  Is there anything I can say to try to help him with this?  I was wondering once treatment starts, it might help because at the moment it's been the waiting period of being diagnosed and starting treatment.

He has put up a barrier and doesn't seem to want to share any feelings.  Perhaps this is a man thing where guys think they have to be a man and be strong all the time?  He wants to go alone for his treatment which I have obviously offered to take him to and stay, or even act as taxi, but he won't let me.

Saying this, we started off with having a 'bad' couple of weeks where he didn't want to see me/anyone.  But then we had a really 'good' week last week where we saw each other 3 days, which is a lot compared to when I posted originally.  He's seen friends a few days this week which must be a good thing for him?  But then he's gone quiet with me... is this just having some ups and downs or something?  He definitely has a lot on his mind as his first session is Friday.  I just feel like I'm not supporting him enough if I'm not physically there to help him.  Are there any other ways I can help without being there?



Hi charlie1964

Thank you for your reply and sorry for my delayed response.  I'm sorry to hear about your partner too.  Sounds like we are in a similar situation.

He has put up a barrier and doesn't seem to want to share any feelings.  Perhaps this is a man thing where guys think they have to be a man and be strong all the time?  He can be happy some days and then really moody towards me the next.  He's much better with more people/family around, so like you said, I don't think his family know the true extent to how he's feeling/acting.  The other week he wouldn't let me spend the day with his family but then this weekend just gone he did let me.

I think I'm giving him enough space.  We've gone from practically living together to me being back at home so I'm not sure what else I can do to help him.  We did see each other 3 days last week which he offered so I think he must have been feeling 'good' last week and this week he has been out with his friends a few evening so that must be a good thing?

He definitely has a lot on his mind as his first session is Friday.  I'm still telling him I love him and I'm not going anywhere, and all those sorts of things, but most of the time he thanks me.  I'm not sure why he thinks he needs to thank me for saying these things


Posted by

Hi , I wanted to say I’m thinking of you today with the start of your partners treatment. I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier, my internet at home has been out for a few days. 

You are right that he will have ups and downs, and everyone reacts differently emotionally to awaiting and then starting treatment, it’s a lot to take in for patient and carers alike. I’m wondering if you can gauge yourself if he needs some space to feel he is gaining some control or headspace, or may need to know you’re there when he needs you.

To help without being there, a good question, I have never gone without my husband, but see many who do. Often there are volunteers in there if people want to have a chat, but often people are happy to have a read or rest on their own. For my treatment I’m only there for 90 mins then we go out for lunch, for others treatment last for hours. One thought I’d heard of was making him a packed lunch to take to his treatment with a brief I’m thinking of you note of support inside, but equally at my hospital free sandwiches are available at lunch time. Just asking him is he taking anything with him to keep occupied while he’s there, and ask him if there is anything he needs. My hospital has a library of books available in the waiting area and a sign saying they have tablets to borrow. Just offering to be there for a chat afterwards if he feels up to it or just letting him rest when he gets back, not being offended (if that’s the right word) if he wants some alone time and letting him have what he wants for a while. It can’t be easy if you’re feeling you’re on the wrong side of a barrier that’s being built up.

You might need support both to cope yourself and to be able to support him , the Macmillan support line 0808 808 0000 is there to help 8am to 8pm 7 days a week. I hope you get some support in the group you’ve joined also, and have completed your profile to help people help you. 


Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or contact them by email.


Hi KTatHome

Thank you for your message of support.

I think it went ok. We had a chat on the phone last night but he didn't want to discuss any of it. I was meant to see him today but he messaged me that he wasn't feeling well and so tired. Obviously that's to be expected but it upsets me that he can't be 'unwell' in front of me. I don't want him to feel embarrassed or something. 

I wish I could make him lunch/dinner, but now that I'm back living at home I feel there is very little I can do for him:( He won't let me come over so our 'good' week has gone and now we're in a 'bad' week.

He says he wants to be left alone but keeps getting texts/calls from everyone. I said that's because you have a lot of people around you who love and care for you. His response was 'well it doesn't feel like it'. Why would this make him feel this way? 

I really don't know what to do anymore. I'm getting no support from his family anymore either. Should I just stop contact and wait for him to contact me? Or is that just going to make him think I don't care.

I called the helpline a few weeks ago and they couldn't help. They told me it's him going through it so I need to respect his wishes but they couldn't give any advice in case it's wrong and makes things worse.


Posted by

Hi , I’m sorry this is being so hard on you. You know I being a patient would also agree that it’s him that’s having to go through things and that you do need to respect his wishes. The best support that you can get is allowing you to talk out how you feel, and how you think he is feeling and when you see his point of viewing making your own decision about what to do. You know yourself and him the best so no one else can really tell you what you should do only you can tell yourself that but others hopefully can help you reach that point. 

If you were your partner/boyfriend and feeling emotional about your diagnosis and treatment and wanting some space what would you feel you’d want your partner to do?

And how could you do that, without adding any more pressure onto the patient. How could you give space but leave the door open for more communication later.

Not all relationships survive cancer unfortunately so I think it’s lovely that you are trying to deal with how best to help him, you just have to at this time make sure you are putting him first and not what you want, until the time comes when you both can do what’s best for you both. I’m not sure if what I’m is helping as I can’t give the answers that your seeking but I’m hoping you will find those answers yourself and grow from the experience of doing so. 


Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or contact them by email.

Posted by

Hi custardcreambiscuits 

your partner is probably terrified, anxious, depressed and feels everything is out of his control, and maybe this is his way of gaining some sort of control.

When my husband was diagnosed with advanced, terminal cancer, he had very little time to process what was happening, but his initial response was anger and with me in particular.

You need to keep letting him know you are there and that you want to be there for him and that he can rely on you. Even if that is with a simple text message every single day (if he's not letting you visit).

He is probably working through a huge amount of anguish and is finding it hard to deal with anyone else's emotions, especially if he isn't a great talker. But just keep letting him know you are there without pushing him for anything back. He will hopefully be able to let you back in eventually.

Cancer is vile, it is beyond stressful for everyone involved and it messes with your head. If he needs that space to process it all, let him have it but please make sure he knows you are there the second he's ready. I know it's  hurtful but It is probably his only way of coping now. And I know it seems unreasonable and it doesn't make sense but the fear and uncertainty of what is ahead just takes over and leaves room for little else. But he will need your support. 

Hang in there and make sure you have support of your own where you can offload your fears and worries. When my head is working overtime and I can't sleep is when I usually end up here and the support on this site is so reassuring and helpful.

best wishes