When Your Relationship Suffers from Chronic Pain:

by Sue Krenselewski

When the one you love is injured or ill, the problem is usually temporary. Even so, if you’ve ever experienced injury or illness in your relationship or seen it in someone else’s, you know the kind of stress and chaos that can ensue. But when pain is chronic, meaning it has gone on longer than can be medically explained, you may not have an end in sight. What either of you could deal with when the pain was temporary (if it ever was) suddenly looks a lot more difficult.
As you and your partner work through the issues that surround your relationship and chronic pain, these are some important concepts to keep in mind:

  • Pain is invisible to everyone but the person experiencing it. You never know what your partner’s pain is really like. Honor what he or she tells you about it. Don’t brush it off.
  • Being with someone in physical and emotional discomfort is hard. Your discomfort makes your partner hurt, too, so he or she wants to make it stop. Sometimes, when nothing else seems to work, fixing the issue means wanting you to just get over it. It’s a normal human response and both of you will experience it. You will each need to learn to give the other space to be with his or her emotions without getting tangled up and escalating the situation.
  • If you are in pain, you must deal with the pain. Don’t be a hero. “Sucking it up” doesn’t make you tough or special. It makes you hurt more than necessary. It also makes you crabby and hard to be around, and nobody needs that—including you. Stuffing the pain and associated emotions also creates tension and constriction that make the problem worse (and in my opinion is a major factor in most chronic conditions).
  • Focus on now.  Live in the present. Grief for abilities and skills you’ve lost is natural, but getting stuck on yesterday won’t help you. (In my opinion, another major factor in many chronic conditions.) Accept where you both are now in the present moment—physically, mentally, emotionally, with your relationship, etc.—and you will be able to move forward. Accepting where you are is like finding your location on a map. Once you know where you are, you can set out for new destinations and explore your possibilities.
  • Living in the present means discovering what you can do.  You already know what you can’t do. Find things you can do that you enjoy, especially things you can do together. The discovery process can be a lot of fun and really bring you together as a couple.
  • Take time for yourself.  This one is especially for the caregiver in your relationship. You must take time to care for yourself. That may mean asking for help if your beloved needs a lot of care. It’s not selfish. You-time will help you decompress and recharge so you can continue caring.
  • Ask for help. Neither of you can do everything on your own. Ask for assistance when it’s needed. You may be surprised how many people are willing to help out if you only ask.

If you stay mindful of these concepts, especially during the bad times, and do what you need to find the new balance in your relationship, you will find that being with your partner becomes much easier, the bad days are less intense, and the effects of the pain on your relationship are less destructive.

Tips For The Person In Pain

Sue Krenselewski (http://www.kinesictherapies.com/therapist.html) specializes in chronic musculoskeletal pain and offers this advice for those couples affected by pain:

  • Keep your options open for pain management. You have standard medical options for pain treatment, including medications, surgeries, and physical therapy, but you also have a host of complementary options, including a wide variety of massage, BowenWork*, reiki, cranial sacral work, and other body and energy work. Just because your doctor doesn’t recommend something or your insurance doesn’t pay for it doesn’t mean it won’t be helpful for you. When you limit your options, you limit your possibilities. People who tell me they’ve tried everything usually have far more unexplored options than they could even imagine.
  • Be your own advocate. If you don’t, no one else will. DO NOT give up your right to information and decision making just because you think your doctor is brilliant. Doctors are still people. Ask questions. Make sure you understand what your doctor tells you. If your doctor recommends something for you, know why. Ask what other options are available even if your doctor makes the options you’ve been given sound good. Do your own research, and don’t limit yourself just to medically recommended treatments. Complementary therapies are just that, a complement to your medical care, and they work extremely well for many people.
  • Know you limits. Pushing past your endurance is a recipe for a flare up of your condition. Learn how much you can do, and respect your body when it says stop or lets you know you’ve done too much. Staying within your limits doesn’t mean you’re weak or lazy. It means you’re wise. However, you will need to stand strong when others, especially your partner, want to push on just a little more.
  • Honor the good days. For some chronic pain conditions, good days are infrequent. Cherish those days together.

* Bowenwork is a very gentle yet deeply effective bodywork technique that addresses the whole you, meaning the musculoskeletal system, fascia, nerves, and internal organs. By balancing the fight-or-flight and wine-and-dine parts of your nervous system, the technique helps you access your own natural and profound healing abilities. By accessing the healing abilities you were born with, your body is able to heal in the way it needs in order to achieve long term and often permanent results.

5 Simple Ideas for Pain Relief at Home

by Sue Krenselewski (http://www.kinesictherapies.com/therapist.html)

Essential oils—Lavender, lemongrass, marjoram, birch, helichrysum, frankincense (and others) are all good choices for pain relief. I use them all in my practice. You can put a really good quality oil right on your skin (a couple of drops for an area), or you can mix them with a few drops of vegetable oil and then put them on your skin. The oil you choose may depend on how your condition and pain manifests. You can look the oils up on the Internet to find out which will work best for you. You can find them at your local health food store or order them through a few different multilevel marketing companies.

Massage—It doesn’t have to be professional to be effective. You can even take classes for couples massage so you can be more effective.

Epsom salt baths—2 cups of Epsom salts dissolved in a warm bath for a 20 minute soak relaxes tight, tired, and spasmed muscles. You can also add a few drops of essential oils to enhance pain relief. You’ll find Epsom salts in most pharmacies, and they’re pretty inexpensive. 
Liniment—Tiger balm, zheng gu shui, po sum on, Badger Balm Sore Muscle Rub, and Sore No More are all liniments that work quite well to help temporarily relieve muscle pain and soreness. Some pharmacies carry tiger balm and badger balm. You can usually find the Chinese liniments in Asian markets. Sore No More is actually a horse liniment that’s safe for human use, and you find it in tack stores. All of these liniments are available over the Internet.

Hot and cold packs—Use either or both, whichever works best for you. If one makes your pain worse, stop using it right away and try the other. If you use heat, make sure you use moist heat. It penetrates deeper and doesn’t dehydrate your muscles.

Sue Krenselewski

Owner, Kinesic Therapies

Greater Grand Rapids, Michigan Area | Alternative Medicine