Chronic pain and relationships: five positive coping tips

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Two woman smile at each other foreheads touching. Image for an article on chronic pain and relationships.

Photo Caption: How much influence chronic pain has on our personal relationships greatly depends —on the amount of pain you personally feel, how you identify with it as well as how you relate to each person in your life. Credit: ©Rawpixel / Envato 

"Managing chronic pain and relationships is, in fact, more than a full-time job."

Chronic pain and relationships: how best to cope?

Raise your hand if chronic pain and relationships are affecting your life?

Are you more tired than before?

Are you unable to attend your child’s after-school activity because it physically hurts everywhere?

Is chronic pain and intimacy a problem?

Maybe there are times when even if nothing is “wrong” —you’re still in a bad mood?

First of all, you’re not alone. I get chronic pain and relationships (probably more so than you might think). Secondly, I want to help. So, let’s start with a quote from Dennis Thompson Jr.

“Interactions with a spouse, your children, as well as friends, and other family members alter in ways both large and small due to the physical limitations and emotional strain that come from living with chronic pain“


Unfortunately, what Thompson describes, is kind of normal, but with some guidance, it doesn’t have to be.

How much influence chronic pain has on our personal relationships greatly depends —on the amount of pain you personally feel, how you identify with it as well as how you relate to each person in your life.

Do they know you’re hurting? Or, are you pretending everything is alright?

I know it’s usually easier to talk about shit than to actually put it into action, and sometimes even talking hurts, but by understanding your new normal as well as learning new ways to cope, you can enjoy your life and your relationships despite chronic pain. With some help from Dr. Bass, here’s what you need to know.

Chronic pain and relationships: how to build meaningful connections

Partners of those experiencing chronic pain face grave difficulties on their own. Maybe you two started dating before your pain journey began?

That in itself can have negative repercussions. Intimate relations with your partner can be tricky too. A spouse may also have to bring more to the table when it comes to household chores and bills —eventually leading to financial burdens. You may even fight more because of this.

I want you to understand all of that is completely normal. You can overcome these obstacles. Coping with chronic pain and relationships is achievable, but it takes work.

Thompson emphasizes for those with kids that it can be upsetting for young children to see a parent in pain every single day. “They may be confused about what’s going on, and anxious because their future seems uncertain.” They may also feel resentment towards you that you’re not as available as you once were, or maybe even guilt —if they think it’s something they did that’s causing your pain.

As a result of this and everything else, you may withdraw from social events and relationships outside of your immediate family. That in itself can drive a wedge between you guys. Thompson reminds us, “Attempts to hang out might be rebuffed —if the person is experiencing a bad flare-up or thinks less of themselves because of their illness.”

"Support from partners keeps many people going. However, chronic pain can place huge pressures on both the emotional and physical sides of a relationship."

Elements to consider when trying to cope with chronic pain and relationships

Coping tactics can guide you on what you can do if your pain is negatively impacting the people closest to you. Here are five.

1. Find a communication balance

The ones in your life need to understand how you are feeling.

“Staying silent will only cause them to feel estranged from you … On the other hand, sharing too much can cause them to feel overwhelmed, helpless, or depressed.” Thompson

Instead, try to find a happy medium — keeping in mind that it will differ from person to person.

I’m sure you know their personality so channel that when you guys chat.

2. Have a good ole’ sex talk with your spouse.

This can feel awkward to discuss but chronic pain does not have to eliminate intimacy. Maybe you need to plan for it instead of avoiding it?

Thompson and Bass tell us, “Make plans for encounters that fit into your medication schedule and the ebb and flow of your daily pain.”

They also say not to be intimidated to experiment with new positions. Like if your favorite one causes too much pain, switch it up.

3. Oh, and when you make plans —try to keep them.

This is another prime example of easier said than done. Maybe when you made plans, you had every intention of actually going but when the time comes and you can’t muscle enough energy to get ready, you bail last minute. That’s okay. Instead, be upfront about this with your friends from the start. And try to only commit to events that you know you’ll be able to make. Keep it simple. People love honesty.

4. Participate in practical household chores.

This is where finding your new normal comes into play with chronic pain and relationships. “If you see that you’re unable to perform certain tasks that were once your responsibility, replace them with new ones that you are able to perform,” Thompson proposes. Doing so will keep you as an active and contributing member of your household.

5. Ask for support.

By asking for help, you’re bridging that gap. You’re making that person feel close to you. The people in your life want to help — so let them. Chances are, they may not know how to approach you. Maybe they fear offending you? 

They are in your life for a reason. Remember that.

Managing chronic pain and relationships is, in fact, more than a full-time job. Trust me. I get it. Not only is it personally challenging, but it’s also a family affair. Everyone is involved in one way or another. But that’s the thing – you’re not alone. I’m here too. Instead of isolating yourself and putting up these pointless walls, break them down and let your loved ones in.

After all, you guys may not have it all together but together, you can have it all.

Article by
Macey Bee

Macey Bee, the author of "Chronic Pain and Relationships," is an author and mental health advocate.