BACKGROUND: There is increasing evidence that serious and life-threatening illnesses such as malignant tumors not only can lead to increased psychological stress, but also can lead to positive changes. METHODS: In this qualitative study, 31 patients with head and neck cancer and 25 women partners were interviewed with regard to positive personal changes (posttraumatic growth). The audiotaped responses were analyzed using qualitative context analysis. RESULTS: A total of 25 patients (81%) and their women partners (84%) reported positive changes. Qualitative content analysis revealed 3 different categories of growth: attitudes toward life, personal strength, and relationships. Partners reported significantly more positive changes in relationships, especially, within the partnership. The total amount of positive change was almost equal. CONCLUSION: Positive personal changes are frequently reported by patients and by significant others. The total amount of positive change is almost equal in patients and their women partners, but wives experience more positive changes within the partnership.