Couples and Cancer: Increasing Your Fun Quotient

Written by: Megan McMahon, PhD, Clinical Director

Cancer is stressful and, often, all consuming.  It has a way of becoming the focus of our day to day, not just psychologically, but practically as well.  The time spent in navigating our way around the changes.  The hours spent at the doctor’s office or in the treatment room.  The moments for which we cannot be present because we are too fatigued or nauseous.  Over time, this “cancer focus” takes its toll on our emotional and relational well-being.

When working with couples dealing with cancer, much of our time in session is spent addressing the common and anticipated stressors in the relationship such as loss of sexual intimacy, maintaining effective communication and adjusting to role changes.  What often comes as a surprise, however, is the loss of fun most couples feel.  With so many serious stressors, how much fun a couple is having may seem insignificant.  Yet, the loss of fun time together is one of the most common complaints I hear from couples.  The distress that accompanies this is significant because it impacts relationship satisfaction and undermines closeness.

Which brings me to the Fun Quotient (completely stolen from Anne Coscarelli, PhD at the Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology).  At its basic level the Fun Quotient (FQ) is the amount of time you spend doing things that are fun or enjoyable.  For a couple, it is the amount of time you spend doing things that you enjoy doing together.  To calculate your relationship FQ, keep track of the number of hours you spend together in enjoyable activity for one week and divide that by the number of hours in a week.


Does your number seem low or high?  My general rule of thumb with couples is to reserve at least 1 hour per day doing something enjoyable together.  This would equal a FQ of 4%.  Most of the couples I see who are in the midst of cancer treatment typically report a FQ between 1-2%.  When we begin to talk about what they can do to increase their FQ, and they begin to set aside “prescribed” time for these activities, they almost always report decreased relationship stress, improved closeness, and better relationship well-being overall.  Having fun together makes us feel closer to one another.

An hour a day may seem like a lot when you are not feeling well or when you are busy with medical appointments.  Remember that fun can come in the form of ordinary activities and is easier to sneak in than you think.  Watching a comedy together, playing a game of cards, going for a short walk.  Even just setting aside the time (cell-phones not allowed) to sit and be with one another makes a big difference.