As a patient of pain, you have to realize that your own condition and how you cope with it, influences the people who love you. Just like how the people around you will be influenced by your ailment, you will also become influenced by their reaction to this situation!
Therefore, you have to understand that when all this doesn’t go well, it could put you and the bond you have with all of those around you, into a downward spiral.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to reverse the direction of this spiral!
When you’re a chronic pain patient, this not only flips your life upside down, but that of your partner too. It shouldn’t need explaining that this can put pressure onto your relationship due to the changed circumstances.
Let’s have a look at the consequences a chronic ailment can have on the relationship:
- Loss of ‘how it used to be’
- Loss of intimacy
- Loss of financial status
- Loss of emotional balance
- Loss of expectations and dreams about the future
American research shows that 75% of partners with a wife or husband suffering from chronic or long-lasting ailments end up leaving them. Of course a significant part of them would have broken up anyway, but just like many severe impactful events in life, chronic pain can cause couples either break up, or grow closer. Research has shown that some people living with chronic pain report improvements in their intimate relationship, such as feeling closer, because they have faced a challenge together.
It might also be of interest to know that research shows that CPPs in solid relationships feel less pain, less inhibition and less depressive symptoms than patients in a stressful marriage, so it cuts both ways!
Below you’ll find information and some advice to keep the relationship with your partner warm and solid, and how you’ll support each other in an optimal way.
For more advice, tips, pitfalls, in short: all do’s and don’ts, and besides that, stories of Anna and many more pain patients, order ‘Coping with chronic pain, a team effort. For You and Your Partner’ here.
Why is it so difficult for the people around you, even for your significant other, to understand:
- Your pain is invisible
- They can’t feel your pain
- The pain is often irregular and unpredictable
- Your negative emotions from the pain are often very intense, and they don’t understand why
- Pain and illness are not nice to talk about
- People have a tendency to feel powerless, and that’s not a pleasant feeling.
“Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness!”
Regularly talking about what happened to you, as well as the consequences this had on you, your partner and your family is essential – and this is what many relationships are lacking. And even if you think that your relationship is wonderful, there is always room for improvement. Facing pain day after day can make any relationship tense, so stay alert. Life will have changed, and unfortunately not for the better. Your relationship will almost certainly suffer if you don’t talk about this, and pour your feelings out. However, communication, finding solutions to problems, and thinking about alternatives for the lost dreams and future expectations can make your relationship stronger and closer. I’m not saying you need to spend all day talking about pain, absolutely not! I mean that you should sit down and have a thorough conversation about this now and then. You yourself will know better than anyone else will when it’s about time to have these conversations. Do make the time for them. Don’t just ignore that urge because you want to avoid a difficult or annoying conversation.
It is vital that you don’t just share your pain with your spouse, but the feelings that come with it as well.
Don’t lock your partner out! Some chronic pain patients crawl away into their own little world of pain and feel relieved that ‘at least they’re not bothering anyone else with it’. They think, “It’s bad enough that I have to deal with this”, or “Others don’t have to suffer with me.”
If you’re the one who does so, be aware that this will end badly. You won’t be able to keep it up without becoming angry and frustrated. On top of that, you won’t get the help and support you need in this way, and you’ll end up coming apart at the seams.
Besides that, your partner will have negative emotions of his own due to the situation. Make sure he can vent them to you as well.
The life of your partner
The role of a partner of a chronic pain patient is important, and can be extremely difficult. It’s possible your partner will have to do twice as much work per day because he has to take care of the household and the children, next to his full-time job. On top of that, his life has changed and he, just like you, has needed to change his plans for the future. Researchers at the Washington University found out that, in the US, partners of chronic pain patients were a shocking four times more likely to be depressed than the patients themselves. If they have to shoulder all the household work, have little to no time or energy left for their friends or other relaxation, have to constantly worry about their financial situations, have to become stressed because of all the weight on their shoulders and have to give up the intimacy of their relationship, it’s not farfetched to imagine that, if you’re not careful, the levee might break at some point.
For these reasons, help in keeping your partner as healthy as possible. Make sure he gets enough rest and sleep, eats healthily and, if necessary, takes vitamin supplements. That he keeps enough time left to practice his hobbies, or maybe starts one, or he won’t be able to keep going. Keep aware of his needs, ask how he’s doing, how his day was, and be understanding of his emotions when he is having a hard time keeping his head above water. On top of that, your partner is fully within his rights to tell you when he’s particularly tired or to say ‘no’ sometimes.
“Find a good balance between asking for help,
while at the same time staying as independent as possible”.
His own thing.
Encourage your partner to keep doing the things he liked to do before you became ill. The things that made him relax. Understand the importance of him keeping his old friends close, and that he keeps playing sports, making music or generally keeps up his old hobbies. If that doesn’t work out because there’s too much to do at home, or if you can’t stay at home on your own, try to find a solution with the help of your social circles. Having your partner do nothing but work, household chores and taking care of the children all day is asking for trouble. Many end up becoming depressed or burning out because of this. It’s very important that you don’t let it come to that, because it’ll just make the home situation that much worse!
- Accept that your old life won’t come back, and look for valuable ways to fill in these new gaps. Focus on all the things that you’re still able to do, and find new ones.
- Pick up the pieces after a bad day, and face the next with a refreshed courage, no matter how difficult that can be sometimes.
- Seek professional help if you’re depressed because of your ailment.
- Use words to describe your pain, instead of demonstrative gestures or expressions.
- Be precise and clear in talking about the kind of help you need.
- Keep doing what you’re able to do alone independently, even if it takes longer or causes discomfort.
- Talk about your frustrations and insecurities. Not every day, but do share this with your partner every now and then.
- Make it clear that you’re doing your best to stay cheerful and happy, but that this doesn’t mean that you’re not in pain.
- Encourage your partner to retain his hobbies, friends and other forms of leisure.
- Encourage your partner to share his fears and frustrations with you.
- Ask for help from friends and family, so that you can both take a load off your shoulders.
- Communicate in a honest and respectful way about (the loss of) your intimacy and sex.
- Find other techniques, positions or times of day together.
“Never hide behind your pain when you don’t feel like doing something.
That’s only going to ruin your credibility in the end”.
- Dig in the past and keep yourself occupied with things no longer within the realm of possibility.
- Feel guilty about your ailment and its impact on your family.
- Keep the magnifying glass on your pain all the time.
- Groan, sigh, hobble or give pained looks to everyone to show just how much you’re suffering and spend complete conversations talking about how much pain you’re in multiple times a day. Honestly, it’ll only ruin the mood and cause irritation.
- Act tougher or stronger than you really are.
- Expect that the other person just magically ‘knows’ what you need.
- Ask for or accept help with things you’re still able to do yourself.
- Stop thinking or planning, and leave everything to your partner.
- Feel guilty if you’re angry, frustrated, sad or scared for a while.
- Build up a wall around you and lock yourself into your own little world of painful.
- Shy away from being happy because others might take it as a sign that you’re not in pain.
- Reject every offer of help that you get, and assume that your partner will be fine.
- Automatically reject any and all invitations because you’ve already convinced yourself that it won’t work out anyway and that you don’t want to be disappointed again.
“Think of solutions, not fear or obstacles!”
* To improve the readability of this page, I will refer to the patient as ‘she,’ ‘her’ and ‘mother’ instead of using ‘he/she,’ ‘his/her’ ‘mother/father,’ all the time. It reads so much easier and I will assume that everyone is able to fill in the correct form. I chose to write in the female form because chronic pain is more common amongst females than it is amongst males. I will refer to partners of CPP’S as ‘him’ because statistically, most relationships are heterosexual by nature.