How to Keep Chronic Pain from Ruining Your Marriage
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Chronic pain can make marriage difficult for both you and your spouse. Learn how to keep chronic pain from ruining your marriage.
One of the first things I noticed about my husband when we first met is how hard working he is. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. He has taught himself to fix cars and tractors, to weld, to farm, to garden, and so many other difficult jobs. I watched in admiration and pride as he was the “go-to” person to help his family with the hard jobs like moving, yard work, and building projects.
When we got married he shared dreams of the trips we would take and the adventures we would have. He wanted to build our dream home by hand and work alongside his father on the family ranch.
Shortly into our marriage, he started experiencing bouts of extreme pain. He didn’t let it slow him down. He continued to work on his cars and the farm never letting someone else do a job he knew he could do.
As the years have gone by, his pain has become exponentially worse. He now needs a walker or a cane just to move around the house. He can’t get in and out of a vehicle without extraordinary pain. The last night of comfortable sleep is a distant memory. Pain medicines merely dull the pain enough to marginally function.
Pain and Marriage
Anyone who has experienced chronic pain personally or as a loved one knows the impact pain has on a person’s personality, mood, mindset, and relationships. It changes you, sometimes without you even knowing it. The medicines that help dull the pain have side effects of fatigue, memory loss, irritability, and addiction. These changes will have an impact on your marriage.
The one in pain is angry, frustrated and confused. They want to be able to function “normally” and without the pain.
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The spouse of the one in chronic pain is also confused. You feel as if you have to walk on egg shells, never knowing when your spouse’s pain will spill over causing an angry outburst. You are frustrated because of the added weight from the things your spouse can no longer do.
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To the One in Pain,
Don’t Assume your spouse knows when you’re in pain.
While my husband is always in pain, there are some days that are better than others. Often times my husband will be having a “bad pain day” but it isn’t immediately obvious to me. I’ll ask him to do something or even a simple question about his day and get a sharp response in return.
At this point, because he hasn’t expressed to me the amount of pain he is in, I don’t know if his response comes from anger, hurt, or increased pain.
A simple, “I’m in a lot of pain today,” goes a long way in keeping conflict from your marriage. As a spouse, I want to do everything I can to ease my husband’s discomfort. A sharp response even due to his increased pain only puts me on the defensive.
To the Spouse of Pain,
Recognize that there are some things your spouse just can’t do and don’t complain about it.
Your spouse does not choose to be in pain. They would love to be able to do everything a pain free person can do.
The honest truth is, they just can’t.
Just like every other person, my husband gets clumsy and drops things. His pain prevents him from simply bending over and picking it up. If I’m not around or if I’m unavailable it’s just going to be left on the floor. Me complaining about it does nothing more than stir up anger.
I know this causes frustration for you to have to do these things for your spouse; the things that were they not in pain would be completely reasonable. You have to change your thinking. Instead of thinking that you are doing something for them, simply make the task part of your routine.
I know that when my husband changes from his work clothes to his farm clothes that his work clothes are just going to stay on the floor where he took them off. It’s not some slight against me or laziness on his part. He just can’t bend over to pick them up without extreme pain. Instead of thinking I’m picking up HIS laundry FOR HIM, I just added gathering laundry off the floor to my normal routine. This change in thinking keeps me from feeling resentment towards him for leaving laundry on the floor.
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Keep communication open and honest.
Talk about how you are feeling. Let your spouse know how frustrated you are. Each of you keep an empathetic, listening ear to your spouse’s struggles with this chronic pain. Don’t minimize the impact this pain has on both of you and avoid the comparison game of “who has it worse”.
Some of the most healing times in our marriage have been when my husband and I just talk about how frustrated we are with his pain. When talking about it though, we always end with counting our blessings. Some days this is really hard but it keeps us from focusing on the negative.
Don’t feel guilty about your struggles.
Yes, there are people out there who “statistically” have it worse off than you. That does not make your pain or your troubles any less valid. Contrary to what you may have been taught (The “there are starving children, eat your vegetables” mentality), comparison does not beget gratitude. Own that life is hard and then move on! Adding guilt to your struggles is a waste of energy.
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Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
In the same way, there are always people who have it better. This would not change if there was no pain in your life.
I know it’s hard when you see friends and family taking elaborate vacations or having these amazing experiences that you would so love to have with your spouse and family. Before you start feeling sorry for yourself and saying, “If I/my spouse weren’t in pain we would be able to do [all the things],” I challenge you to ask yourself, “Would I be doing it anyway?”.
Be honest with your answer. You will find that keeping the right perspective goes a long way in avoiding bitterness about “lost” opportunities.
Pro tip: Social Media will never make you “feel better”. It will cause more comparison. Unless you are in an optimal frame of mind, stay off social media.
Be willing to compromise.
Finally, to keep chronic pain from ruining your marriage, understand that you WILL need to compromise.
Whether you suffer from chronic pain or not, when you get married you are no longer the focus. Rather your relationship with your spouse becomes paramount.
When the Bible says “two become one” it means that anything you do affects the other. That’s marriage whether you believe in God or not. To believe differently means that you are simply cohabitants.
Before criticizing the other, ask yourself if it really matters.
Does it really matter if the socks are in a communal basket or neatly folded in a drawer?
Does it really mater if the sheets are tucked in the bed or not?
Does it really matter which direction your drinking glasses are stored or your toilet paper faces?
If your answer is “no” or even “not really” then don’t sweat it. There will be so much in your marriage that’s hard. Don’t make your little compromises a big issue.
Chronic pain does not have to ruin your marriage! Quite the contrary. When you embrace your reality and make some focused adjustments you will have a marriage that withstands the test of chronic pain.
Did you like this post? What are some ways you keep chronic pain from ruining your marriage? Let me know in the comments below!
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Thanks for sharing your excellent advice that I know will be helpful to many couples. While I don’t have a spouse who lives with chronic pain, as I nurse I’ve seen a multitude of similar situations.
I wish both of you the best as you prepare for your husband’s possible future surgery.
Thank you, Diane! It’s always my prayer that what I write will help someone else. I always appreciate having a nurse’s perspective and thank you for your words of encouragement. All the best!
Thank you for sharing this wonderful advice, I truly enjoyed it! Your husband sounds a lot like my husband, always a very hard working man. Unfortunately about 9 months ago he had to be hospitalized for a kidney stone which then led to a downward spiral of other medical issues. Long story short, he has been diagnosed with fibro, chronic fatigue, major depression & anxiety. Might I add we also have 3 small children, one whom is only 9 months old. Some days are better than others. The kids don’t understand that running and playing in the house doesn’t make daddy mad he’s just in lots of pain. Every day we try to learn from the day before and stay resilient. Once again, thank you!
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