How many hours, no, years, have you spent trying to improve your own or your partner’s physical health and chronic pain? I have spent years and tens of thousands of dollars trying to get better. For months, I was flying interstate to see the best specialists in Australia. Of course, we couldn’t keep that up.
Now, how many hours and dollars have you spent on your mental health? My guess, not as much. Last year I invested more money on my mental health in 6 months than I had over the previous six years of experiencing chronic pain.
Want to know why?
Because research continues to highlight:
“It is not only the intensity of pain a partner experiences, but also the mental health wellness of both partners that determines relationship satisfaction.”
I was really surprised when I first started reading these papers because I thought the best way to improve my relationship was to improve my chronic pain but apparently, it was not the only way. Because I love testing research, I set out to focus more on my mental health to see the effect it had on our relationship. It is well known, people dealing with chronic pain are more prone to psychological distress such as anxiety and depression.
For many of us living with chronic pain, we have lost one of our natural mechanisms for blowing off steam, strenuous exercise. Previous to experiencing chronic pain, the first thing I would do in the morning was a long distant run. I loved running uphill. I would destress and reset every morning during a mountain run. If I had a stressful day, I would mark out 100m on the street in front of my house before dinner and sprint back and forth until I was too tired and high on endorphins to obsess over little worries. When we were living in the UK, Johann would laugh at me when I left the house in my runners wearing big fluffy earmuffs. It was cold, but I knew if I didn’t go running I would be a basket case by the end of the week!
Trust me, that is not an option for me today. I know it is also not an option for many of you either. So, my next choice was talk therapy. We jointly own a psychology practice, Johann is a clinical psychologist and I use a small amount of talk therapy with my adult clients so I knew there was potential for it to be helpful. I underestimated just how helpful.
Here are the reasons why focusing on mental health is important for any Chronic Pain Couple:
Person in Pain:
- There is a loss of identity when struggling with chronic pain. It is traumatic and you should find the time to explore the hurt and your new identity without judgment.
- You need evidence based strategies to become mentally strong to cope with long lasting pain and flare ups.
- A psychologist is a great support person. Sharing the burden makes it easier for your partner too!
- Chronic muscle tension from stress causes more pain so strategies to decrease stress is important.
- Negative thoughts and judgments about your pain only exacerbates the pain and fuels anxiety and depression.
- There may be grief relating to family, work and financial planning restrictions.
- Exploring ‘the meaning of life’ with a psychologist can be helpful.
Partner of Someone with Chronic Pain:
- There can be feelings of disappointment and loss when your partner is changed by chronic pain.
- It can feel as though you share your partner with a third person (the pain) who takes their energy and attention.
- You need to work through any guilt experienced when you enjoy activities your partner can’t do.
- It is important to be encouraged to stay connected with your friends.
- You may need to work through the change in direction your partner’s pain causes. Your dreams, hopes and aspirations for your family’s future are likely impacted.
- Loss of intimacy is a big issue for both people in the relationship.
- It is difficult watching your partner suffer.
- It is likely your roles have changed and you experience financial burden.
- Lack of spontaneity can be hard to adjust to, as well as social isolation.
Sign up to The Chronic Pain Couple Community for free and you will be notified when our post ‘How to Choose the Right Psychologist for You’ is up. We have lots of insider tips. I also look forward to sharing what I did in therapy and how it improved our relationship and my ability to cope with the pain.
Written with love and pain,
The Chronic Pain Couple
P.S Now it’s time to hear from you (It helps us feel normal!). Have you considered seeing a psychologist? If you had a positive experience with a psychologist, your comment could provide insight and inspiration for someone else who doesn’t know what their next step should be…