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Chronic Pain and Relationships

Chronic Pain and Relationships (1)

02 Nov

Test after test, doctor after doctor, and still no relief. Those with chronic pain know the cycle well. This seemingly never-ending search for relief, paired with pain’s constant presence, can oftentimes breed frustration, anger, even outright depression. It can also strain one of the most important things in life: your relationships with the ones you love. But, just like with every other aspect of pain, it’s all a matter of finding the right treatment.

Relationship Stressors

There are multiple ways in which the presence of pain can be detrimental to even our closest relationships. According to Advanced Pain Management licensed psychologist Mary Papandria, “Oftentimes, the pain patient becomes fixated on their pain. That’s all they talk about, think about, focus on. Their world becomes smaller and smaller … [and] they have little time or attention for other people in their lives.” As a result, their loved ones, including their spouse, friends and family, can feel neglected and unimportant.

According to a Journal of Pain review, as pain sufferers become more isolated from those they love, and more psychosocially impaired in general, spouses can become less satisfied and begin to view their marriage as maladjusted.[1]

Changing Roles

The changing roles which pain brings about are another factor that can negatively impact many relationships. As the book Relieving Pain in America, issued by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, puts it, “Family members find that … they must take on new roles (as caregiver and morale booster) and greater responsibilities in the family (e.g., grocery shopping, chores, errands) [and] the burden on them increases.”[2]

These extra responsibilities, which can oftentimes be incredibly overwhelming, says Papandria, can create a sense of resentment toward the pain sufferer, like he or she is using their pain as an excuse. And the individual in pain, especially if it’s a female who isn’t used to asking for help, can often feel like a burden on her partner.

“Furthermore,” states Papandria, “who the pain patient was before the pain may have disappeared. They aren’t themselves anymore and the spouse may feel that they don’t know them anymore.”

The Effects of Relationship Discord

All of these factors can create tension, frustration and anger between the two, as well as consequences beyond the relationship. For instance, husbands of patients with chronic pain, compared to those married to women without pain, report more loneliness, higher stress levels, lower activity levels and more fatigue, in addition a decline in marital satisfaction.[1]

But more than that, relationship turmoil can have an impact on pain levels and the effectiveness of treatment. In a study from the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, one year after completing a pain program, those with non-supportive families relied more on pain medications and reported having more pain sites, while those with supportive families had less pain intensity and greater activity levels.[3]

Papandria explains it like this: The negative emotions, depression and anxiety that oftentimes accompany pain and strained relationships can “all result in a worsened perception of pain, increased disability and lessened benefits from treatment. … People tend to be pessimistic. They focus on what’s wrong vs. what’s right. As a result, they tend to view treatments as not being effective and see their pain as worse.”  Their negative emotional state could also lead them to focus too heavily on their pain, she says, causing them to take notice of every twinge and spasm – and making them think treatments aren’t helping.

A Multimodal Solution

Since pain, emotions and relationships are so inextricably linked, to effectively treat one aspect, you have to treat them all. That’s where a multimodal approach comes in.

Treating the pain through a variety of minimally invasive treatment options also helps to improve emotions and relationships. “If patients have better pain control, then they are going to be less depressed/anxious and less apt to isolate,” says Papandria. “They will also be less focused on the pain and will have the energy and attention to attend to other things and people.”

And by addressing emotional issues and strained relationships, individuals can achieve better treatment outcomes, while simultaneously learning how to communicate their fears and needs, how to identify harmful thought patterns, how to set achievable goals and how to cope with the changing roles that pain has brought to their lives.

Pain doesn’t just affect the person experiencing it – it affects the people they love and the relationships on which their lives are built. By treating the emotional pain alongside the physical, the fulfilling life that has seemed elusive for so long may once again be within reach.

Get moving. Call (888) 901-PAIN (7246) or click to schedule a consultation now.

[1] Leonard, Michelle T., Annmarie Cano, and Ayna B. Johansen. "Chronic Pain in a Couples Context: A Review and Integration of Theoretical Models and Empirical Evidence." The Journal of Pain 7, no. 6 (June 2006): 377-90.

[2] Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2011.

[3] Jamison, R. N., and K. L. Virts. "The Influence of Family Support on Chronic Pain." Behaviour Research and Therapy 28, no. 4 (1990): 283-287.

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