Rochester, Minnesota - A few weeks ago, I met a couple attending one of our survivorship classes. As they were talking about their experiences with her diagnosis and treatment, I was struck with the differences in their approach and perhaps also their expectations of each other.

I could sense that she felt like the communication between them wasn't working for her. It seemed to me that she was upset that he wasn't able to express his emotions about what had happened to her.

She said that his way of dealing with emotions was to withdraw and go into himself.  What she really needed was to be able to talk with him about her diagnosis, about the impact it had on her personally, and what it meant for them as a couple.

As I was thinking about this, I thought of the book "Men are From Mars and Women are From Venus." In the book, the author writes about the basic differences between men and women when it comes to stress reactions.

He points out that men will frequently retreat to their "caves" to think about what's happening and then react later when they've had time to reflect. Women prefer to want to talk about it, especially with someone they are close to. This may be a set-up for failure if the man is retreating when the woman needs to talk it out.

I could tell the man cared deeply for his wife. He mentioned that he had taken over a few of the tasks at home that she normally did, and was doing more errands so she could rest more. He was caring for her by "doing" and she needed something different. She needed to talk and connect on a deeper level.

I wasn't sure I had a perfect solution. However, I wanted to reflect on what I was hearing. I mentioned that men and women deal with stress differently. I offered these ideas for them to try as they transitioned from the treatment period to their life routine again.

  • Reach out to a close friend you trust to talk about feelings and emotions — sometimes confiding in a friend can be helpful.
  • Write down your feelings in a journal to share with your partner later — this provides some distance and can keep your emotions in check.
  • Find new ways to connect that are not about your diagnosis of cancer — make a date with each other, be romantic and loving.
  • Reconnect with the things that are important to you as a person — creative outlets such as hobbies can be helpful.

They both agreed they were ready to move on and had experienced high levels of stress and trauma. Being the caregiver isn't easy. I wonder how many others have had a similar experience. What worked for you?