Recently a close friend of ours was diagnosed with a lifelong and very painful condition. We are devastated for her, while at the same time overjoyed she has found answers. Here is a letter to her relationship.
To my dearest friend’s relationship,
I am writing a letter of encouragement to you as you embark on this journey with chronic illness and pain. In the beginning, it may seem as though chronic pain is a powerful force trying to break you. It sure does a good job of complicating things and taking away your fun, spontaneous moments and quality time. Know that you don’t have to let chronic pain control you though. It is possible to insert a lot of space between circumstances and both partner’s reaction to it. You can tame the chronic pain beast and talk about it in a way that makes both people feel heard and supported. Overtime, you will adjust to the diagnosis and although it may be hard to see now, you can find a new normal that is filled with different kinds of great moments and deeper love than you could imagine.
In the beginning, you will hear a lot of bickering or sometimes silence. The person in pain is exhausted and their mind is continually running through ways they can make themselves better or just survive the day. You will hear the partner without pain ask if the other really loves them, because the one in pain doesn’t touch them lovingly like they used or initiate conversation or sex. That’s all normal, don’t be alarmed. It will just take some time (and motivation) for them to learn how to communicate about energy and pain levels and find new routines that work for them. If the couple can have regular dates at times when pain is lowest, show small acts of love and care, communicate well, prioritise mental health and try to stay up to date with their partner’s world (their desires, fears, everyday happenings), then you will be fine. In fact, you can be more than fine. You can flourish. You will just have to work harder than other relationships.
I mentioned mental health. You must be on the lookout for any signs of mental health problems, such as depression. It’s very common for people suffering from chronic pain to also experience mental health problems. Not addressing mental health issues is a significant risk to you so ensure your couple seek support early. Don’t be fooled into thinking depression is just a sad feeling someone can pull themselves out of. It is a physical disease that needs guided treatment.
This includes the supportive partner as well. Please don’t forget about their need for support. Sometimes we forget how much the life of a partner of someone in pain is affected. Make sure they get lots of time to invest in their hobbies and have family or friends who can help them support their loved one in pain. Don’t let them believe they can’t complain because they aren’t the ones ill or in pain. Supporting a partner in pain is very difficult as well.
Finally, I want to talk about sex. Not all chronic pain couples will have problems with sex but many will. When you hear your couple talking about planned sex, don’t be afraid of it. Don’t be fooled into thinking sex always needs to be spontaneous. You might think your best sexual encounters were spontaneous but recall the process again, there was often an element of planning (the outfit, preparing the apartment or hotel etc). Also, don’t get stuck on the idea that sex only means intercourse. Be more open to enjoy every stage of sex. Don’t let your couple sit with sexual issues without talking to each other and health professionals. You will hear and see some funny moments. Laugh, because otherwise you will cry.
Well, I know you must be tired. Make sure you rest because you have a big journey ahead of you. Don’t look around at other relationships and compare. Also, if you look back at your early days, use those memories to remind you of the solid foundation you have instead of wishing for the past. Your future can be just as bright, your couple just need some time to figure out their new path and learn to navigate it.
With love & pain,
The Chronic Pain Couple