Chronic Pain: Survival Guide for Partners and Family

November 9, 2017




Tolu Ajiboye


So you know that your partner or family member is suffering from chronic pain, and all you think about is how you can make him her feel better. Fortunately, you don’t have to keep wondering, there’s a lot you can do to alleviate (some parts of) the constant pain and discomfort your loved one is in. This right here is a handy guide for you to work with.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Every person who dates with a chronic pain syndrome - we need to have a sort of &quot;orientation&quot; for any potential relationship partner</p>&mdash; Ariana Kateri (@arianakateri) <a href="">August 6, 2017</a></blockquote>

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But before going further, it’s super important for you to gain at least a cursory understanding of chronic pain- especially its causes and effects.

Chronic pain 101:

Chronic pain is any pain that lasts for more than 3-6 months, especially when that is longer than the usual time frame for healing from what caused it. Also, it’s more common than you may think. About 20 percent of adults in Australia suffer chronic pain, and women experience it more than men do. The most common cause is injury and it accounts for 38% of cases of chronic pain.

The injury could have been sustained in a car accident, a workplace incident or anywhere in fact. Other causes are arthritis, cancer-related pain and musculoskeletal issues.

The mental side of things

On the mental end of things, there’s a lot of frustration, anxiety and depression your loved one may be going through. Roughly a third (31%) of Australian adults with severe or very severe pain experience high or very high levels of psychological distress. That’s a whopping six times the usual rate for those with no pain (5%). Further, a fifth (20%) of them also suffer from depression and/or other mood disorders, and this is more than double what the national the national average is (9%).

“Before, they would have been able to keep up with work, social life and hobbies. But with chronic pain, they may no longer be able to do things that used to give them joy and a sense of achievement. As a result, this can affect a person’s mood, and lead to symptoms of depression.” Clinical psychologist, Reuben Wurm explains.

These feelings moods also sometimes affect you and it’s not unlikely to observe that, among other things, you and your loved one may have shorter fuses than usual. However, a study shows that “the extent to which chronic pain negatively affected the chronic pain sufferer's respective partner and other family members was dependent to some extent on how effective the family was in coping with a relative with chronic pain.” What this means is that, to a large extent, it’s up to you to determine how this condition is going to affect your relationship with your partner/family member.

Things to keep in mind each day

Having these 5 things at the back of your mind everyday will go a long way in making your loved one’s daily life (and yours too!) easier and more bearable.

  1. Chronic pain is not an individual problem. This is one of the first keys to success when it comes to chronic pain. Always approach your loved one from the point of view that this is something you’re in together and will fight together! This helps to relieve feelings of isolation and depression that’s very common in people living with chronic pain.
  2. Try not to take things personally when your loved one is throwing fits and being irritable. This can be a particularly tough one and to be honest no one expects you to be a saint, but if you make a habit of it, it’ll reduce a lot of friction and arguments between you two. On the other hand, if it gets too much you should be able to speak to your loved one in a calm and loving manner about how his/her attitude affects you sometimes. Or better still, speak to a therapist about the right way to broach issues like this.
  3. Know that you may never be able to totally eliminate the pain. The thing with chronic pain is that it may never ever go away completely. Keeping this in mind allows you to have realistic expectations of treatments he/she undergoes. It is, however, very possible to alleviate and effectively manage the pain and this should be your primary aim.
  4. Have realistic expectations of yourself too!Carers, partners and family members often put a lot of expectations and pressure on themselves.” Dr Wurm notes. “But really the main thing that you need to do is be there for your loved one. So that they knows that they’re being listened to and acknowledged”.
  5. Your loved one is likely tired a lot of the time. No, it’s not that he/she doesn’t want to spend time talking to you or is just being lazy, it’s just that he’s tired half- or even all- the time. Sometimes the fatigue is due to the pain itself, and some other times it’s caused by the medications being used or lack of sleep.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Been stuck inside for weeks with chronic pain. Husband came hime with a projector today &amp; surprised me with a bedroom cinema. 💗</p>&mdash; Sara Gibbs (@Sara_Rose_G) <a href="">September 22, 2017</a></blockquote>

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Compassionate actions and steps to take

  1. Be in tune with the fluctuations. “Chronic pain can really fluctuate. People with chronic pain often always have pain, so it’s always there.” Clarifies Dr Wurm “But there might be different levels of it. What they could do yesterday may be very different from what they can do today”.
  2. Actively help your loved one remain involved. It’s normal for them to feel helpless a lot, especially as they cannot do most of the things they used to before. And in order not to exacerbate those feelings, you don’t want to highlight their inabilities. Instead, you should focus on and point out the things that they can do. Not only that, you should actively try to get them involved in those things, especially activities that make them feel needed.
  3. Participate actively. “Be involved with appointments, getting information and also where possible, be involved with the treatment plan.” Dr Wurm advises.
  4. Reassure him/her. Most people living with chronic pain often feel stigmatised and misunderstood, especially by co-workers, friends and families. Because chronic pain is an invisible condition (and most people aren’t educated about it), there’s a tendency to assume that the sufferer is lazy or exaggerating or just simply trying to get out of doing work or anything at all. Knowing or even sensing that this is what people are thinking of them really contributes to and worsens depression. And while you can’t control what everyone else thinks, you can definitely work on your own mind and actions. So make sure your loved one always knows that you believe them about the pain and constantly provide reassurance that you understand.
  5. Don’t neglect yourself. Find a way to pencil in time for you to look after yourself, participate in activities you enjoy or just catch up with friends. “I think it’s really important that you, as a partner/family member cum carer, utilise your social support system. Don’t be afraid to take people up on their offers to help and assist you.”  Dr Wurm adds.
  6. Understand that some everyday activities might be scary for someone with chronic pain. Dr Wurm explains why- “Some people with chronic pain can experience a lot of anxiety. As you can imagine, if you have pain that’s there all the time and flares up with certain activities, you may become apprehensive and anxious about doing those things. Understanding that some things can be scary is an important part of helping your loved one do the things they need to do”.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You know you have found TRUE LOVE when you hit rock bottom in life &amp; after all the dust settles your partner is still there loving you.</p>&mdash; Chris✞chronicpainDAD (@ChronicPainDad) <a href="">April 6, 2013</a></blockquote>

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In all, understanding how your loved one’s pain works and continuing to educate yourself on it is the first and most important thing you could do for them. For yourself, recognising that this is a very tough job and cutting yourself some slack at times will be great for your health and well -being. Good luck!

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Chronic pain is one of the most underestimated health care problems in the world today. <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PainAwarenessMonth</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#chronicpain</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#shareourpain</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Princess, The Tower (@APainPrincess) <a href="">October 1, 2017</a></blockquote>

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About the expert: Reuben Wurm. BPsych (Hons), MPsych (Clin), MAPS, MCCLP. 

Reuben is an endorsed Clinical Psychologist registered with the Psychology Board of Australia. He completed his undergraduate degree in Psychology with Honours and a Master of Clinical Psychology Degree at the University of Queensland (UQ).He has worked in both a private practice setting and in the public health system for the Adult Community Mental Health Service, the Child and Youth Mental Health Service (CYMHS), the Royal Children’s Hospital and the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane.

Tolu Ajiboye

Tolu Ajiboye is a contributor to the Smith's Lawyers blog for topics including injury recovery and mental health. Her work has been published by The Guardian, NBC News, Health Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine.

Tolu Ajiboye is a contributor to the Smith's Lawyers blog for topics including injury recovery and mental health. Her work has been published by The Guardian, NBC News, Health Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine.