Chronic pain can be a chronic pain and put a chronic strain on your relationship. Pain can steam from an injury, a medical condition, post-surgical recovery, or an unknown cause. Some people have to go to multiple doctors for multiple years before finally getting a diagnosis. Not everyone gets a diagnosis for their chronic pain. Some doctors may even say that the pain is all in your head. Chronic pain is hard for everyone involved. Regardless of whether or not you and your partner know the root cause of the chronic pain, it is still real and life changing.
The partner in chronic pain may have a life entirely dependent upon the severity of the pain on a day-to-day basis. It can be hard to have to have to say again and again “I’m not up for that today,” “I can’t go,” or “I just need to lie down for a while.” While these statements may be rooted in self-care, they are always double edged swords—once again the pain has taken control over their body and their relationship. These instances slowly bring up resentment, fear, anger, and disappointment in both partners. As this continues to happen, the partner living in pain can begin to devalue their own self-worth.
Chronic pain can put severe limitations on one’s physical abilities and their emotional wellbeing. Fear can begin to grow, making the partner in pain worry about being left alone, their partner staying with them, their partner literally getting sick of them, and the worsening of the pain itself. Other thoughts, people seeing their pain or illness instead of them, people seeing them as a disappointment, and whether or not their partner really knows that they are doing the best they can, will eventually creep up. It can be hard to vocalize that that even though they’re in physical pain, they’re also in emotional pain, wanting to be there, wanting to go with, wanting to be the partner they believe you deserve, and wanting to be a part of “us” that your relationship was built upon.
It can be excruciatingly hard to watch your partner be in chronic pain. With all of the disappointments, large and small, staying alongside someone who is in chronic pain is taxing. On a smaller scale, the disappointments can be anything from needing to lay down early, not wanting to have dinner together, suddenly changing plans and not getting that date you’ve been looking forward to all day. On a larger scale, maybe your partner can’t work anymore and your income is a fraction of what it used to be, maybe your partner isn’t as mobile, maybe getting medical care and medication is difficult, and maybe you won’t be able to take that vacation you’ve been planning…ever. All of these disappointments add up and can cause real damage to your relationship.
Being able to grieve together is important. It is important for couples to be able to recognize that the chronic pain affects both partners and that you can grieve your losses together. Acknowledging the new feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, and fear about your life with chronic pain is important—both partners need to know that you’re in this together! Take back your life; it may not be what you expected, but it is yours, and you can make it beautiful. Grieving together can help assuage feelings of sadness, anger, and resentment.
We are all terrible mind readers, and unless you and your partner are willing to share openly how you feel, neither will really know how the other is feeling. Usually, we can tell when something is “off” about our partner, but rarely are our assumptions about the cause right. In my experience as a marriage and family therapist, when I get couples really talking about how they’re feeling, they often surprise each other. When you and your partner can share your feelings and begin the grieving process, the load gets lighter and you can begin to share the pain.
It can be really hard for the partner with chronic pain to hear that you resent them or their pain, and it can be equally hard to admit that the partner in chronic pain resents the illness and pain. No one asks for a chronic pain condition, and it can often feel like drawing the short straw. When you and your partner can explore these thoughts and feelings together, you can help each other through the pain, challenges, and adjustments to your life. Being open and honest with your partner about resentment, disappointment, and anger or fear can be scary and hard. A marriage and family therapist can help facilitate discussions about your feelings surrounding your life and relationship so that you can be open, honest, and vulnerable without risking causing more pain or resentment.
Don’t wait any longer to take back your life. If you or your partner is suffering from chronic pain that is putting a strain on your relationship, contact me here for your appointment or call a local marriage and family therapist. I work in Fort Collins Colorado.