Editor's note: This article was originally published on Kim Blackham's blog. It has been republished here with permission.

As the wife of a cancer surgeon, I hear about cancer cases every day. The young father who found colon cancer early and is expected to make a full recovery or the grandmother who is being treated for a tiny lump found during a routine mammogram. I also hear about the patient who has a tumor the size of a watermelon in his abdomen and is coming in for the first time. He reports it has been growing for years and causing tremendous pain, but he didn't want to worry about it. As a marriage therapist, I feel those cases are strikingly similar to the ones I see in my office.

Research indicates that on average, couples live in unhappy, distressed marriages for seven years before seeking help from a therapist. By the time they come in for therapy, both partners have spent years hurting and disconnected. For most of us, the slightest indication of cancer in our body would send us frantically for professional help. We would seek the very best treatment from the best professionals we could find. We would want to know what the research says about therapeutic options and treatment outcomes. We would seek out those who had struggled with the same thing and spend focused, dedicated effort to do everything we could to rid ourselves of that cancer and live a long and happy life.

So what causes us to delay seeking professional help when our relationships are not well? Why do we assume that we can cure ourselves or that it is not worth the time, money, or effort? If we really understood the cancer of disconnection, would we allow it to live inside of us and not seek a solution as quickly as possible?

Symptoms your relationship may have cancer

  • One of you feels criticized/blamed.

  • One of you feels shut out and alone.

  • Attempts to resolve conflict aren't working.

  • You've wondered if life could be better alone or with someone else.

  • You turn to other things for comfort (i.e. friends, hobbies, food)

  • There's been an unresolved injury such as affair, pornography use or lack of availability during a time of loss or need.

If you can relate to any of these symptoms, I encourage you to talk to a therapist. Don't wait until things get worse. Find the most effective treatment and make the sacrifices necessary to rid your relationship of the disease of disconnection.

If you suspect that your relationship has stage 4 cancer, and you wonder if there is any hope at all, let me reassure you that there absolutely is! I have seen many couples in my office that were there as a last ditch attempt to save their marriage, but they really didn't believe it would work. It may take a little bit longer, but I promise it is possible! Certainly it is worth trying - to know you did everything you could do.

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