Building a healthy relationship despite chronic pain is a complex dance, one that requires grace, patience, and of course love. Whether it’s you or your partner who’s in this continuous battle, the experience affects your relationship. But here’s what I’ve learned—both from personal experience and from others walking this path: it’s not just about managing pain, it’s about managing understanding, and support in ways that make your love and relationship stronger.
Understanding & Empathy: The Foundation
The journey to a healthy relationship with chronic pain starts with understanding and empathy. When one half of a partnership struggles with a difficult health condition, it causes more than physical discomfort. It takes an emotional and mental toll on both members of the relationship. Chronic pain can influence mood, plans, and even dreams for the future. Acknowledging this shared impact is the first step toward navigating it together.
Communication Is Crucial
Communication is the most important thing when trying to develop a healthy relationship with chronic pain. It’s not always easy to articulate how you’re feeling, especially on days when the pain seems unbearable. But finding ways to share thoughts, fears, and needs openly makes all the difference. It’s about creating a safe space where vulnerability is met with kindness, not judgment.
Equality vs Equity
For me, it’s hard to get past wanting to have a relationship with chronic pain that’s somehow still equal. But that’s just not realistic, for me and for many others. Like it or not (I do not), there are things I just can’t do and things that my partner and I both know will cause a flare-up.
Your partner may do more chores, walk the dog more or work longer hours. But here’s the thing: you may not be able to have an equal relationship despite chronic pain, but you can have an equitable one. What’s that mean? Whatever you want! That’s why communication is so important: every couple is different, as are their needs. It’s crucial to build a relationship despite chronic pain where both partners feel good about the decisions they make and the direction they’re going. The actual balance of work is less important than how you both feel about it.
Self-Care: You Can’t Love Another Until You Love Yourself
Self-care is crucial. It might sound cliché, but taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do for a relationship. It means giving yourself permission to rest, pursue hobbies, and to maintain your own identity outside of the relationship. You don’t have to like the same exact books, movies and TV shows as your partner!
The best thing is, it’s reciprocal—encouraging my partner to pursue the things I can’t do has enriched our lives individually and as a couple. Again, communication is key! But there are things I just can’t do, and it makes me happy that he’s not missing out on them because he’s choosing to be with me.
You may not be able to have an equal relationship with chronic pain, but you can have an equitable one. What’s that mean? Whatever you decide! The actual balance of work is less important than how you both feel about it.
Tackling Daily Life Together
Dealing with the practicalities of daily life requires teamwork. Relationships with chronic pain have to be flexible, adapting roles and responsibilities based on pain levels (and spoons!). As the “well” partner in a relationship with chronic pain, it’s all about being patient and understanding, whether that means stepping up when your partner can’t or stepping back to give them space to manage their pain in their own way.
If you find yourself needing help to keep the spark alive, find new ways to be close. Whether it’s through thoughtful gestures, deep conversations, or simply enjoying each other’s company, you know your partner best. Prioritizing activities and hobbies that both partners can enjoy together can also strengthen your bond.
Navigating Chronic Pain As A Team
Chronic pain may test a relationship, but it also offers opportunities to deepen understanding, communication, and love. Most importantly, living with chronic pain doesn’t have to overshadow your relationship. Chronic pain may be part of your life and your relationship, but it’s not the entirety of it. By embracing both the challenges and the triumphs, and with empathy, open communication, and a commitment to each other, you can find your way to a healthy relationship with chronic pain. Learning to navigate the challenges together can even make your partnership stronger.