July 10, 2000
How to Talk to Partners
This is a great topic. I don't think every supporter shares my take on the subject, but I can tell you how to talk to *this* partner. Deborah and I figured out a lot of this stuff over the last ten months - most of it wasn't figured out the easy way, I guess :) I can't tell you how she feels, I have no frame of reference - but I can tell you how *I* feel.
If I ask how you feel, please don't tell me you're fine. Maybe you're sick from chemo, tired from radiation, maybe you're having intestinal issues from treatment (that's the most delicate way I can think of to put it), or maybe you're anxious or afraid. I'm anxious and afraid too and maybe I used asking how you were as a way to open dialog. The point is that *something* prompted me to ask how you feel. I'm trying to communicate with you so please don't dismiss the attempt. It took us awhile to figure it out, but when someone asks how you feel, "fine" is not an acceptable answer - even if you feel really good. "I feel really good" is much more honest and not nearly as dismissive. I know you don't want to complain - but what's happening here is that I'm requesting information and not receiving it. I'm not a child, don't need to be protected, and *I* should be the one who decides what I should or shouldn't hear. A straight question deserves an honest answer.
If I ask you what I can do to be a better supporter, please don't insult me by telling me that I do everything just fine or that I shouldn't change anything. I'm trying to be the best partner I can be and all of us have room to improve. I asked you because I wanted to know - and I want to be the best I can be. We both know that I can't meet all your needs but I *really* want to meet the ones that I can. I'm not a mindreader, so if I ask you what I can do differently, I really want to know.
The intimacy issues bother me too - and they won't go away by ignoring them. I know things can be tough in this area - but a lot of women make a lot of assumptions here. I personally don't care whether my wife has one breast or three - I didn't marry her breasts. I married all of her. I know that you feel guilty because of the diminished libido and that now there might be some real body image issues. You're a pretty savvy group, ladies - but I must say on this issue a whole lot of you can be pretty clueless about how your partners feel. From what I read on the list a whole bunch of you have it all wrong when you picture what's appealing to your partner. I married a mind and a soul - and they're still there. Yes, it would be nice if none of this crap happened - but it did and your body is not the same as it was when we got married. Neither is mine. I have less hair (some of it is gray now), more of a waistline (considerably more), a few more wrinkles and *I* don't look as good with my clothes off as I did when I was 25 either. Sometimes intimacy takes a little more time, a little more patience and maybe some chemical substances that we didn't need when we first met - but we're worth the effort. There never was a reason to feel guilty. I need to hear what's going on with you. I don't need to be protected - you're my partner, not my mother. If you're afraid, maybe I won't have the answer - maybe all I can do is hold you and try to understand. Sometimes I might need you to hold me.
I guess it I was going to sum it up, the biggest thing that I need from a cancer patient is communication - as a partner, not as a child. I don't need to be protected from the bad stuff - sometimes what I imagine might be worse than the truth is. If you're afraid, I need to hear that. Maybe you'll find out what *I'm* afraid of. Maybe I can help, maybe not - but if I ask, I need a straight answer. If things are going lousy and I don't ask, I need it pointed out to me. If you're afraid, we need to talk. No one has to go through this alone, and I meant what I said when I said, "for better or for worse".
hugs to all -