Going through a health crisis or medical emergency can bring a couple closer together as they feel they’ve overcome something difficult together and came out on the other side. Yet, when that challenge is chronic, on-going, daily pain that seems to have no end in sight, it can put a lot of negative stress on an otherwise healthy relationship. If you have chronic pain and you’re worried about how it is affecting your relationship, you’re not alone.
Chronic pain, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, can affect every area of your life. Consistent pain may limit your ability to work or earn an income. Not to mention, your ability to attend social events with family and friends, perform domestic chores, parent your children, and handle childcare responsibilities. Due to this, your partner may have to take on more household and parenting tasks on days when you are not able to function as well. Money worries from hospital bills and decreased income may become the main focus in all of your conversations with your partner.
What does the research say?
Much research has been done to explore how chronic pain affects relationships. A recent study from the European Journal of Pain shows that chronic pain poses significant burden on relationships, marriages, and domestic partnerships as chronic pain increases a person’s reliance on others for assistance. In the study, 27.2% of chronic pain sufferers (patients) and 22.8% of spouses (partners) reported having a troubled relationship and 52% of spouses (partners) reported experiencing a high level of burden.
Another study indicates that couples report a decline in sexual and marital satisfaction after the onset of a chronic pain condition. It also references the correlation between marital satisfaction and spousal support with pain severity, physical disability, and depression in people with chronic pain.
“Chronic pain prevents patients from doing the things they love.”
It is clear that chronic pain affects relationships, buy why does it do so? Researchers might say it is due to the fact that chronic pain prevents patients from doing the things they love- from being with the people they love and enjoying life. In addition, as reported by Stanford Medicine, chronic pain can be a trigger for depression and anger, even more than for a reduction in physical activity.
So, what can you do?
Coping Skills for Couples with Chronic Pain
- Communicate regularly.
As with anything involving a relationship with another person, communication is key. This means each partner (the patient and the spouse/partner) must feel heard and listened to on a regular basis. Don’t be silent about how you are feeling as that can isolate you from your loved ones. Yet, sharing too much can overwhelm your family. Find a balance and remember to leave space for your partner or spouse to share how they are feeling as well.
- Redefine sexuality and intimacy.
Intimacy and sexual connection with your partner is still important. More planning and creativity may be needed. Make plans for time together that work around medication, and times of the day when you know you’ll be in the most pain. Most of all, be flexible and creative- sex doesn’t have to mean intercourse. Be playful and redefine sexual connection on your terms despite your illness.
- Stay engaged in your life.
Stay involved and engaged as much as you can with friends, family, and the day-to-day flow and responsibilities of life, but find what works for you. Plan social interactions during times and in ways that work for you, even if it is video chats and virtual hangouts. Work with your partner to determine ways you can help with household and life responsibilities that take your daily pain into consideration. Staying engaged with life. If you feel like a contributing member of your family it will help manage emotional strain and depression.
- Try couple’s counseling and therapy.
Couples counseling can help you and your partner communicate in new ways and see a different point of view. In addition, talking to someone other than your partner about your pain and struggles will help you brainstorm new coping strategies. It can give you much needed breathing room to your relationship.
- Involve your partner in your treatment.
Involve your partner in your diagnosis, treatment, and medical appointments, if at all possible. Take your partner to appointments and share all diagnosis, treatment options, and plans for moving forward with him or her. This will help educate your partner about your condition and give some validation to your experience. It will also help your partner feel more involved and in control with your treatment plan.
There are a lot of reasons why chronic pain and illness can affect your relationship for the worse. You have some control over how you and your partner respond to your situation. It is possible to transform a stressful (and painful) situation into one where you and your partner can learn, grow, and become closer to one another. This may require a lot of effort, communication, flexibility, and creativity. It is worth it in the long run for your own mental health and wellness and the long-term health of your relationship.