The aim of this study was to investigate whether a breast cancer diagnosis, personal assertiveness (i.e. frequency of assertive behaviour and tension associated with this behaviour), and partners' relationship-focused coping (i.e. active engagement and protective buffering) were sources of variation in patients' relationship satisfaction, cross-sectionally and over time. This longitudinal case-control study assessed the two dimensions of personal assertiveness and relationship satisfaction in both women with cancer (N=72) and comparison controls (N=62). In addition, patients completed a measure assessing their partners' active engagement and protective buffering. Cases (i.e. women with breast cancer) were not found to report more relationship problems than controls. Women with breast cancer who tended not to express their concerns and feelings and who experienced much tension when they did, reported relatively low marital satisfaction. Moreover, partners' protective buffering was associated with less relationship satisfaction in especially more assertive (i.e. high frequency of assertive behaviour and low tension) women with cancer, while active engagement was associated with more relationship satisfaction, regardless of the women's personal assertiveness. The results of the present study indicate that a breast cancer diagnosis by itself may not be a risk factor for relationship problems. However, in the context of an illness such as cancer, personal assertiveness, and a partner's relationship-focused coping strategies do seem to play a role in maintaining a satisfactory relationship with one's partner.