blog post #274
guest post by Joey Haban, author of Newly Nerfed.
People with chronic pain face more than just medical difficulties. An illness or condition that causes chronic pain affects not only the patient, but family, friends, colleagues, and so forth. One of the toughest areas to navigate is a relationship where your partner or spouse is also your caretaker. Patients have to figure out how to hold up their end of the relationship while dealing with their pain, and caretakers can get seriously stressed out, sometimes beyond the point of wanting to maintain the relationship.
It’s no wonder 75% of marriages involving chronic illness or pain end up failing. The best citation I have for this is a seriously depressing page of statistics.+The eighth point comes from a Centers for Disease Control study, not peer-reviewed research. It’s not hard to see why. Both people envisioned a very different life for themselves and with each other, and some simply can’t deal with the responsibility of being a caretaker. It’s both tragic and forgivable. My doctor once asked me vehemently (and rhetorically) “Do you know how lucky you are to have your husband?” He has seen many chronic pain and illness patients, and seen many of their partners leave the relationship.
Researching the above statistic brought me to another interesting, if heteronormative, study that showed in various patient groups, “female sex was found to be the strongest predictor of divorce or separation in each of the three patient populations.” So, patients whose partners have stuck by them should give their gal or feller an extra-big hug — and if you’re a woman, at least make out a little.
Not surprisingly, much of this comes down to communication. Topics will come up that couples might rather avoid talking about. For example: sex. Often, one of the first things to go for chronic pain patients is the libido, due to medication side effects, body issues, or just the pain itself. It’s very hard to feel amorous when you’re so physically uncomfortable and exhausted, and there is no shame in that. This doesn’t mean it’s fun or easy to talk about, but it’s a whole lot better than just muddling along in bed (or not). Your partner would rather know about all that than wonder whether it’s their fault there’s no fire in your engine.
Many people with invisible pain issues make the effort to appear fine, or “front.” This may mean even your partner doesn’t know how you’re doing from day to day. And, cruelly, the toll it takes can make patients feel even worse. If you are unexpectedly emotional, obnoxious, moody, needy, or however your bad pain days affect you, let your partner know that a wide berth might be a good idea. My husband and I would often fight on Fridays for no clear reason,+Though usually instigated by me feeling like death. at a time when I had supposedly gotten over one illness and hadn’t yet been diagnosed with the next. Once we learned why I was a serious wreck by the end of the work week, it was a lot easier (and relieving) to see that the root cause of our fights was a physical flare or crash, and not actually relationship problems. Now I try to give him a heads-up on days that might be touchy instead of just springing my less lovely side on him.+When I was diagnosed with my first chronic illness, and before we got engaged, he got down on one knee and didn’t propose, but promised that he’d be with me through anything. And he’s kept that promise, supporting me through the whole rollercoaster of my previously excellent health while remaining my best friend and keeping our romance alive. It’s worth all the work to keep this guy around.
And while people with chronic pain are not their illnesses, as is often said, it doesn’t mean abdicating all responsibility. It may have been entirely the fault of the pain that you snapped at your partner for no reason, but when you’re in a better state of body and mind, apologize for it anyway. My husband and I are both, at times, stubborn and competitive, but it’s a lot better when one or both of us just let all that go instead of continuing to argue and fight.+I’m not saying either of us has a perfect record here. Remember how lucky we are to have a supportive partner/caretaker? Don’t torture them by letting them think they screwed up somehow. (Unless, you know, they did.) Being a caretaker can be a thankless job — don’t let it be for yours.
When you do get a day off from the pain, and if you can get a babysitter, take advantage of it to do the things with your partner you usually can’t do, like go to a movie, rip each other’s clothes off, play a board game, or whatever. If I’m feeling up to it I might go to the grocery store or drugstore, rather than ask my husband to do it — or at the very least I make sure all the dishes are washed and the sink is clean. Whatever you can think of to do during your good moments or days to show how much you love and enjoy your partner, go for it when you can, even if it’s just a long hug that you normally can’t tolerate due to the pain.
Relationships are hard work. Living in chronic pain is hard work. Put them together and too often the relationship fails. Every couple has to make up their own coping methods. If you already find it easy to discuss these things with your love muffin, then you’re in luck. If not, do you think things might be better in your relationship if you communicated more? Don’t spend all day ennumerating symptoms; that’s not what I mean. At least, if you haven’t yet, consider whether your illness might be affecting things in a way they wouldn’t if you were healthy.
In any case, let’s everyone go do something nice for our long-suffering sweeties.
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