It is as important for the pain-free partner to assess his or her thoughts and feelings as it is for the partner in pain. Empathy and communication about preferences and boundaries are two aspects that couples work hard to foster in order to keep their relationships healthy, and they are of the utmost important to those in relationships affected by chronic pain.
Empathy is one of the most necessary components of a healthy relationship where chronic pain is present, but one of the most difficult to come by. The pain-free partner cannot necessarily be expected to understand what the partner in pain is going through. Likewise, the partner in pain may not be able to empathize with the pain-free partner’s feelings.
Since chronic pain has a major impact on his or her partner and the relationship, the pain-free partner has a responsibility to understand the condition the other is experiencing. Coming along on doctor’s visits and/or doing research to understand the condition will help to bring him or her closer to understanding. There are times when a partner may even doubt the presence of a pain condition or the severity of it. Learning about the condition will help the partner understand its validity.
The partner in pain must also attempt to empathize with his or her significant other; watching a loved one in pain is a hardship of its own. The pain-free partner may be experiencing helplessness over his or her inability to make the other feel better. He or she is likely also experiencing extra stresses, such as more work, medical bills, increased housework and, possibly, childcare responsibilities. Attempting to be empathetic toward these stresses without blaming yourself may be difficult, but reaching such an understanding will help avoid the resentment that may creep into the relationship.
Communicating: Sex Life
An additional strain chronic pain often has on relationships is the imposition of limitations on sex life. This is common, particularly among people with back pain. Desire may be decreased due to the constant negative feeling of pain, and fear that having sex may cause more pain can reduce desire even further.
It is important for the partner in pain to communicate these concerns to the other partner; this prevents fears of undesirability. The pain-free partner must also attempt to understand the other partner’s needs. A couple’s sex life is a highly unique thing; in some it is seen as minor and in others it is a major issue. Coming to resolve may be a long and difficult process, but you owe it to your relationship to work at it. See Chronic-Back-Pain-and-Healthy-Relationships for information on developing intimacy without sex as well as tips on having enjoyable sex with back pain.
Maintaining a healthy relationship in the face of chronic pain is a two-way street. The partner in pain must be aware of his or her own attitudes, how he or she conveys pain and expectations and attempt to understand how the other partner is experiencing the relationship dynamics. The pain-free partner must be open to communicate his or her feelings, attempt to understand the other’s condition and accept without resentment the changes that are now affecting both of your lives.
It may not always be easy for either partner to exhibit the understanding and communication clarity that is aimed at, but by committing to keep the relationship strong, you and your partner can work together to eliminate the strain chronic pain has on your relationship. Acknowledging that both partners play an equal role in this process is the first step.