Your relationship

Modern treatment options mean that for most people, CML is a long-term condition they live with, often for a long time.1 But you may be concerned about how CML may affect your relationship and your sexuality, it can bring many challenges for you and your partner and you may both experience a range of different feelings.2

You may feel2:

  • Disconnected from your partner – and disappointed if your partner doesn’t understand your need for support
  • Angry about having CML – and this anger may be directed at the person closest to you
  • Guilty about how CML affects your partner
  • Sad about the way CML has changed your life and affected the things you do as a couple
  • Anxious about the future, which may impact on the plans you make together
  • Stressed about money and work, which can put a lot of pressure on you both
  • Less sexual – because you feel tired, unwell, down or anxious, less confident or because you’re concerned about changes in your body, for example

Your partner may feel:

  • Uncertain about how to support you3
  • Worried about you – and worried about letting you see their fears3
  • Guilty about any resentment or anger they’re experiencing3
  • Selfish for wanting to be intimate with you2
  • Rejected, if you don’t feel like being intimate, and emotionally, if you don’t confide in them2
You may experience different emotions to these – but as you can see, facing CML as a couple can be complex and challenging.

So how can you deal with it? These tips could help.

Do…

  • Be yourself, and as honest and relaxed as you can3
  • Try to talk openly to your partner and encourage them to do the same with you. This may seem difficult, especially if you’re concerned about upsetting or worrying your partner. But it’s better to share your feelings honestly and it can bring you closer together. Let your partner know their needs are equally important, and make time to listen properly2
  • Get support outside of your relationship, whether that’s from a friend or family member, or from a professional counsellor.2 It may also be helpful to talk about your experiences with others with CML, in an online community, such as the CML Support forum
  • Consider speaking to your healthcare team about difficulties in your relationship, particularly symptoms or side effects that are affecting your intimate life, as they may be able to suggest ways to manage these2
  • Show love, affection and understanding through other ways when you don’t want to talk – such as hugging, cooking for your partner or planning a surprise2
  • Try to be intimate even if you don’t feel like having sex. Cuddling, massaging, kissing and holding hands can all help you feel closer2

Don’t…

  • Let your relationship become centred around CML. Make sure you leave plenty of space for fun, uplifting activities, and have conversations about everyday topics
  • Force important conversations when either of you are tired, stressed or busy
  • Isolate yourselves as a couple. Having support from others, whether from professionals, family members or friends, can ease the pressure on you2
  • Try to be “perfect” – your partner will probably prefer you to be the person they knew before diagnosis, including your imperfections3

On the other hand, some people may experience a strengthening of their relationships with their loved ones, often due to a situation called “post-traumatic growth”, where their experience with CML has helped them to make positive changes in their lives.3 

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has a useful section and download that may help with your relationship and sex life.

  1. Jabbour, E. et al. (2012). Patient adherence to tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy in chronic myeloid leukemia. Am J Hematol. Volume 87;Issue 7:687–691.
  2. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Sexuality and Intimacy Facts. Accessed May 2018.

  3. Mitsimponas & Rauh. ESMO IPOS Patient Guide, Survivorship 2017. Accessed May 2018.