It might be helpful to reflect on how pain can impact relationships, both within families and among friends. Unfortunately pain can lead to stress. Stress can compromise relationships. Strained relationships lead to more stress. When the constant stress of pain invades interpersonal relationships, the results can cause divorce, loss of self-esteem, lack of sexual intimacy, feelings of guilt, loss of friendships and emotional issues.
Consider these strategies for maintaining strong, healthy relationships:
1. Seek Out Effective Pain and Stress Management
It may seem like a no-brainer, but reducing your pain is the best way to limit its influence on your relationships. This can mean addressing the root causes of your pain, exploring possible treatments and seeing a pain specialist who can teach you coping strategies.
2. Empower Yourself
“Use the mentality that the more you can do yourself, the better. And if there’s something that you really can’t or shouldn’t do, ask for help,” says Linda S. Ruehlman, PhD, a health psychologist, pain researcher and co-founder of Goalistics, LLC. “You have to be assertive about your needs, but you don’t want to be too demanding. That kind of balance often takes some work between people,” she adds.
3. Understand the Difference Between “Hurt” and “Harm”
“It’s important to find some form of enjoyment with your spouse and family,” says Kevin E. Wilson, PhD, a clinical faculty member of Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Pain Fellowship Program. “This may mean choosing to participate in activities even though you may experience a temporary increase in pain. You really have to look at hurt versus harm. Don’t let the fear of pain interfere with important life events.”
4. Give up Expecting Others to Understand Your Condition
Try explaining to someone who’s never given birth what the process feels like. Or try to describe the impact of a car accident to someone who’s never been in a wreck. Some things just can’t be understood until they’re experienced and the same concept applies to chronic pain. Try to focus on the practicalities of living with pain, not the abstracts.”
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Take on New Roles and Redefine Relationships
“Get past the black-and-white belief that you have to isolate yourself because you can’t do the things you used to do,” says Dr. Ruehlman. “Of course, not every relationship with every acquaintance will continue. A true friendship is more than the activities you do together. And even if your partner is taking on new tasks, there can still be give and take.”
6. Find Creative Ways to Interact with Others
“Technology can really help people stay connected. Sending someone an email or text or calling them provides a way to participate in a relationship. It’s not about how you used to do it. It’s about how you can still stay connected,” says Dr. Ruehlman.
7. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
There’s a reason why communication is a universal prescription therapists give to people who want to improve their relationships: When used effectively, it works. It helps us work out problems, keep resentment at bay and manage changes in our lives.
Even if you have a chronic condition, you can still support your family and friends. Pain changes things; it doesn’t have to end things.
Please comment if you agree with these strategies and if you have others to share.