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The 5 Love Languages™ Principles Can Increase Relationship Satisfaction Between Cancer Patients and Their Partners

February 24, 2023

In 2022, Texas Oncology joined The University of Texas student researchers in a study analyzing the use of The 5 Love Languages™ to better understand the importance of emotional support between cancer patients and their partners, and how that support affects patients’ quality of life.

The results of the study demonstrate that partners who communicate using the principles of The 5 Love Languages™ led to decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, and increased patient perceptions of their own relationship. Patient feedback on the study was overwhelmingly positive, with one participant stating that using The 5 Love Languages™ “has helped our relationship, and we need to keep at it.” The initial study was such a success that Texas Oncology is continuing to offer support groups built on the principles of The 5 Love Languages™.

The Texas Oncology staff members supporting the study include Maygen Hansard, LMSW, Penny DeCou, LCSW, OSW-C, Debbi Newton, LCSW, OSW-C, CGP, CCTP, Tara Garza, LMSW, OSW, and Stephanie Broussard, LCSW-S, APHSW-C, director of palliative care and social work at Texas Oncology, who served as the Texas Oncology principal investigator on this study.

At The University of Texas, Texas Oncology team members collaborated with Jamie C. Barner, PhD, faculty principal investigator, Jennifer Hoang, PharmD student, student principal investigator, and Emma Gugala, PharmD, MS, graduate research assistant.

Broussard shares the study results and describes how The 5 Love Languages™ helped cancer patients and their partners better emotionally support each other, improve measures of quality-of-life constructs, and enhance relationship satisfaction.

How did you use The 5 Love Languages™ in a support group setting?

The couples attended weekly 1.5-hour Zoom lectures, each focused on one love language. They engaged in group activities and take-home assignments, specially designed by Texas Oncology social workers to teach participants about what applying their partner’s love language looks like. The couples also took surveys asking about feelings of pain, depression, anxiety, and relationship perception.

What were some of the key findings from the surveys regarding quality of life and relationship satisfaction? Anything unexpected or a surprise?

The pilot study shows this approach is potentially useful in improving relationship satisfaction for both partners as well as the quality of life for cancer patients. Regarding results concerning higher quality of life, patients with cancer may feel less pain, depression, and anxiety, resulting in less use of medications for those indications. Pharmacists and other health care professionals caring for patients with cancer should consider referring patients to similar interventions as part of a holistic approach to patient-centered care.

What did patients say about the intervention?

Patients said the intervention taught them “how to love my spouse more,” and said they felt “more equipped to meet my partner’s love language better.” They said they liked the “ability to reconnect during and after cancer,” and that it “helped us get out of that slump.”

What are some recommendations for partners or spouses to support their partner who has cancer?

Be aware that changes in relationship dynamics are normal. As with maintaining any kind of relationship, it requires work and special attention. Find opportunities to connect. Communicate. Be open to changes in roles, responsibility, and intimacy needs. Seek out professional support services, such as therapy and the support groups that Texas Oncology provides.

What impact does body image/perception have when it comes to relationships between cancer patients and their partners?

It has a major impact. In a recent Texas Oncology survey on the impact of cancer on a patient’s body image and mental health, 50% of cancer patients felt less attractive, 36% avoided intimacy, and 42% felt less self-confident throughout treatment.

Using The 5 Love Languages™ principles can help to capture multiple elements of intimacy, which aims to be seen, heard, and valued in the ways that matter most to you. The Texas Oncology Foundation recently had an informational session focused on sexuality and intimacy in cancer patients facilitated by one of our own social workers, since we have seen an increase in the needs of patients on this topic which is often not addressed. The love languages help equip participants with the information, tools, and resources to create a space to validate their feelings as individuals and as couples. We also provide a road map and opportunities to exercise those skills.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.