Essential Reminders When Your Spouse Has Chronic Pain

It’s estimated that chronic pain impacts anywhere between 18-35% of all Americans.

But when we talk about chronic pain, we often focus on its impact on one’s physical health, daily functioning, job performance, and individual satisfaction. However, there aren’t many conversations about how this phenomenon affects loved ones.

Living with a spouse that has chronic pain can be emotionally complex. You may feel worried about your partner’s well-being. At the same time, you might feel frustrated or isolated in your relationship. You may wonder if things will ever return to a sense of normal.

If your spouse has chronic pain, here are some reminders to help keep you grounded.

Focus on Approaching Treatment Together

Even though your spouse may be the one with chronic illnesses or physical limitations, it isn’t fair to assume that they’re solely responsible for treatment. When couples come together to approach the problem, both people tend to feel more supported and optimistic.

The first step is education. Try to learn as much about your spouse’s chronic illness or chronic pain (without assuming you inherently understand their feelings or experiences).

Believe In Their Pain

Although it may seem dismissive, many loved ones unintentionally deny the severity of their partner’s pain scale. This often isn’t malicious, but it can be devastating.

People living with chronic pain often fight an invisible battle. They may already feel guilty about their condition or embarrassed that they’re in so much discomfort. They might already withdraw from important relationships because they don’t want to be seen as a burden.

If you truly love your spouse, the first step is acknowledging and validating their pain. Understand that it has a significant impact on their well-being. Recognize that they’re dealing with both physical and emotional symptoms right now.

Ask How You Can Specifically Help (And Follow Up With It)

Have you asked your spouse how you can ease their stress? What do they need to feel more comfortable in their home? Are certain household chores becoming more tedious than they once were? Has driving become a source of frustration?

Many people with chronic pain tend to minimize their symptoms or “push through” their pain to avoid bothering family members. Some people expect their spouses to read their minds and intuitively know how to provide support.

Both of these situations can be harmful. Instead, commit to prioritizing honest communication. Acknowledge that you see your loved one’s pain and want to help as much as you can.

You don’t have to “take over” everything (and your spouse probably doesn’t want that!). But if they ask you for specific support- and you agree to help- make sure you follow up with that. It can hurt if you merely show that you’re being understanding without actually doing the work your partner needs.

Understand You Can’t Fix It

Some partners go into full “solution mode” when it comes to chronic pain treatments.

Maybe you dole out specific coping strategies or talk about steps they can take to improve their chronic illness. Perhaps you try to put matters into your own hands when it comes to doctor’s appointments or medications.

Remember that you are not responsible for your spouse’s suffering, and you cannot change what’s happening in their body. You can care deeply about their well-being and provide compassion and love, but you alone can’t fix the struggle.

Be Mindful of Catastrophizing

It’s so hard feeling helpless to your spouse’s physical pain. You may feel like you’re on this emotional rollercoaster, and it’s easy to lose yourself in a downward spiral of imagining the worst-case scenario.

But try to be aware of how your thoughts affect your feelings. For example, if you absolutely assume that things will never get better, you will continuously find evidence to prove your point. Likewise, if you only focus on the “bad parts” of your relationship, it will be that much harder to notice the positive moments.

That’s not to say you should sugarcoat your experience or deny the severity of the condition. But catastrophizing is often a manifestation of profound anxiety, and constant worrying doesn’t actually change the situation.

Seek Your Own Support

Caregivers sometimes isolate themselves from others due to burnout or depression. However, social isolation often worsens your mental health, and it can erode your self-esteem.

Just as chronic pain sufferers need support, you need love, reassurance, and compassion during this vulnerable time. Consider connecting with supportive family members, local support groups, or a therapist. You need people who can validate your emotions and lift you up.

Focus on the Big Picture (While Honoring Your Grief)

Why do you love your partner? What has kept you together during this time? What makes you hopeful about your relationship and your lives together?

As you reflect on some of these answers, you might experience a sense of grief. This is normal- there is sometimes a profound mourning for a changed future or for the experiences you two might not have. There may be waves of fear, anger, and guilt throughout this time.

Try to accept that these feelings are part of the process. Even if you are both suffering, you can still come together with a healthy connection and love.

How Therapy Can Help You Cope

Chronic pain is a complex issue for both the pain sufferer and their spouse. You both may need to refine the parameters for your new normal life and marriage.

Therapy can help you feel supported during this difficult time. We can focus on managing your stress and coping with moment-to-moment difficulties. No matter your circumstances, I am here to listen without judgment. Contact me today to get started.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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