Do you feel like chronic pain is ruining your relationship?
Chronic pain can affect even the most solid of couples.
Navigating through life with another person is difficult enough without the added challenge of chronic pain.
The average divorce rate is around 40% but it soars when one spouse has a serious chronic condition.
The chronic pain divorce rate is a whopping 75%.
Chronic pain is invisible – unlike an open wound – there is nothing to show the outside world.
The lack of external signs may make it difficult for some partners to understand.
Athena Champneys has lived with wide pain from fibromyalgia since 2003. Anthena’s husband has not been 100% sympathetic.
“I was in so much pain that I couldn’t bend over to put on my own shoes or socks,” recalls Champneys. “And my husband was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! Get up and deal!”
If you feel like your partner is not supportive – it makes living with chronic pain even harder.
Natural emotional responses such as stress and anxiety, actually make your pain worse.
When you are distressed your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol heightens the pain signals your brain receives.
That is why it is essential to reduce your stress to reduce your pain.
Especially if that stress is coming from relationship troubles.
Remember though – chronic pain has a two-way effect on relationships.
Pain affects not only the person in pain but also their loved ones.
Don’t let your marriage become another chronic pain divorce rate statistic. The first step is to acknowledge the many ways chronic pain affects both partners.
How Chronic Pain Affects Relationships
Lack of understanding from partner
A lack of shared understanding of chronic pain is very common.
Chronic pain is often caused by an ‘invisible illness’, such as fibromyalgia, arthritis or back pain. Invisible illnesses can have a toxic effect on relationships. Especially, if one partner is skeptical about the severity (or even validity!) of the pain.
Don’t let a lack of shared understanding come between you and your loved ones.
If you can’t find the words to tell your partner how chronic pain feels – you might like to draw your relationship with pain.
If you struggle to explain your chronic pain to loved ones you might like this 7-step guide.
On the flip-side, an over protective partner can be just as unhelpful as a skeptical partner.
An over protective partner may prevent you from performing daily tasks. Tasks you are perfectly able to perform.
Over protectiveness can lead to unintended consequences. Consequences that make your pain worse through loss of physical strength, confidence and independence.
When one spouse lives with chronic pain there is often a shift in roles.
Pain, fatigue & disability may prevent you from doing normal household tasks – like cooking or cleaning.
Usually the partner has to pick up the slack and take on the extra responsibility.
This can cause feelings of resentment
The person in pain may experience feelings of helplessness, anxiety and low self-esteem.
As we discussed earlier, stress and anxiety make your pain worse.
That is why it is really important to reduce your stress levels.
For more information on pain & anxiety check this out.
Cycles of Miscommunication
It is common for couples with one partner with chronic pain to fall into toxic cycles of misunderstanding.
Lack of understanding works both ways. Both partners fall into patterns of miscommunication.
Many people expect more support but don’t know how to ask for it. You might expect your spouse to recognise your needs without prompting.
Unfortunately – nobody can mind read (even your other half!)
It’s only natural to respond with feelings of anger or resentment when we don’t get the help we need.
We are all guilty of resorting to sighs, moans or tutting when frustrated.
Meanwhile, the other person has no idea what you expect of them.
In the dark about your needs, they may respond in kind.
It is easy to fall into toxic cycles of miscommunication.
Try to be brave and ask for what you need.
We have a handy guide on communication tips here.
We all want to feel loved & cared. Unfortunately, sometimes your partner just can’t give you everything you want.
Every relationship experiences periods where one partner is disappointed by the other. When you live with chronic pain, you may feel unsupported by your spouse. This can lead to feelings of resentment and entitlement.
Researchers followed 106 couples where one partner lived with chronic pain. The research showed those who felt entitled to more support, were more likely to suffer from excessive feelings of pain.
This arises from unhelpful thoughts, like feeling hopeless and helpless and thinking you will always be in pain. This phenomenon, known as Pain Catastrophizing, can cause you to become trapped in unhelpful thought cycles. These unhelpful thoughts increase your stress and your pain.
For more on Pain Catastrophizing – check this out.
Remember – nobody is perfect (not even your spouse). Try not to take disappointment too personally.
Lack of Intimacy
Chronic pain is a powerful passion killer.
It is difficult to feel desirable when living with unpredictable symptoms, chronic pain and fatigue.
Some conditions such as fibromyalgia or endometriosis often make sexual intercourse painful.
Sexual intimacy is a natural part of a marriage. When it decreases (or disappears) it can create feelings of loss for one or both partners
Talk openly about developing problems and try to avoid blame.
Intimacy is important to remain a close connection. Try to find other ways of maintaining intimacy – not necessarily sex.
Changed financial circumstances
Many people living with chronic pain have to reduce hours or stop work completely.
This can bring additional financial hardship.
Money difficulties can add enormous stress to daily life.
It can also impact upon shared goals for the future.
Talk honestly and openly about the shifting landscape of your life. Again – blame is unhelpful and likely to end in hurt feelings.
Try to work together to realign hopes and dreams for the future.
Chronic Pain Divorce Rate: How Chronic Pain affects Relationships
Below are 10 useful tips to reduce the impact of chronic pain on your relationship.
1. Include your partner in problem solving and planning – don’t expect them to read your mind.
2. Try not to talk about or demonstrate your distress all the time. Initiate other conversations of mutual interest.
3. Manage your pain using strategies including relaxation, mindfulness, exercise & rewiring your brain. For more information on holistic pain treatments click here.
4. Use slow breathing when you are feeling irritable or angry.
5. Acknowledge your partner’s support and his or her feelings. No one likes feeling ignored or being taken for granted (even if it is not your intention).
6. Encourage your partner to allow you to try things again. Even if it will take longer or be less good as if he/she continued to do them.
7. Set goals – recreational and social – to do things together and with others. This is a simple way of bringing you together.
8. Talk as openly as possible about any developing sexual problems. Avoid blame. Aim for possible solutions or things you might try together. Intimacy is important; not necessarily sex.
9. Romance shows you care. Give compliments, make uninterrupted time for each other, special dinners and give flowers or gifts.
10. Relationships are salvageable but it does take both parties to want to work on it. Talking things over with a Psychologist or Counsellor can also be very useful.
Navigating relationships is a challenge for every couple. When you add the two-way influence of chronic pain it can complicate relationships even further.
As with everything about life improving and maintaining relationships takes dedication and practice. Discuss the suggestions with your loved ones. Try to take small incremental steps every day to work towards a happy life together.
We have also included a list of tips for your family members on how they can best help you to manage your pain.
The divorce rate when one partner lives with chronic pain is almost 75%. That means the chronic pain divorce rate is a whopping 35% higher than the national average.
Making a life with another person is difficult enough for all of us.
Chronic pain can create a huge variety of challenges such as lack of understanding, loss of intimacy, changed roles and financial burdens.
Be careful not to fall into cycles of miscommunication which can have a toxic effect on relationships.
Try to talk openly, honestly and without blame.
Remember none of us can mind read!
Ask for what you need and try not to be resentful if your spouse doesn’t quite deliver on everything you hoped.
Display gratitude for one another and try to keep the romance alive.
Even small gestures like flowers, ‘thank you’ or a cuddle on the couch can help your spouse to feel loved and appreciated.
Relationships are salvageable but it does need both parties to want to work on it.
Hard work and dedication can guide even the most troubled relationships into the calm and off the rocks.
What do you do to stop chronic pain impacting on your marriage?