Living with someone you care about with chronic pain can be hard to cope with. Without support and understanding you can have feelings of overwhelming helplessness which can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, stress and a breakdown in communication. Coping strategies need to be put in place for people living with someone with chronic pain, otherwise it can affect close relationships and have a ripple effect out to relatives and friends. Children within families may find it hard to cope with a parent living with chronic pain and find it confusing especially if there is a communication breakdown. It is better to be open with children in the realities of chronic pain as they can often feel the pain is something they have caused or responsible for.
Chronic pain management involves accepting these changes and learning to live with them to help maintain a balance in day to day living.
There are several ways that you can help maintain this balance, helping the family to lead a good life with the understanding that there will be some changes.
Understand the condition
Understanding their condition can help you understand about the pain and why it affects your loved ones in the way it does. It can help you understand the frustrations and limitations they are dealing with. Ask questions about their chronic pain with your healthcare professionals and even do your own research. It will help give you some foundations towards coping strategies on what they can and won’t be able to do, and why some days will be better than others.
Pain is invisible and can be difficult for people to believe or understand how much pain, people living with chronic pain, are in. The level of pain these people experience is individual to them so this should be accepted. Listen to them, by letting them do the talking, so that they can express how they feel, which then allows you to hear what they are saying and find a way forward.
Although hard to do, by accepting that you are living with someone with chronic pain is a positive step and makes it easier to work towards better coping strategies. Acceptance doesn’t mean giving in to the chronic pain, but it helps to figure out ways to live with it, to enable a more normal way of life. There will be limitations but tasks can be adjusted to their capabilities.
It is important that couples and families maintain a good communication balance between each other. Feelings of frustrations can build-up causing outbursts of anger and eventually the silences makes people withdraw from each other. This can cause distancing and a strain in relationships which can then filter down to the whole family if there are children. On the contrary, over sharing can become overwhelming, leading to a feeling of helplessness and depression. Once you have a better understanding of their chronic pain condition and listen to what is concerning them, it will make communication more balanced and helps to keep away feelings of frustration.
Asking for help
If possible, resist the urge to ‘help’ with everything they want or need to do. It may sound harsh but predicting what they need or want leads to dependency and frustration. Help them maintain independence as much as they can and let them ask you for help, when needed. Do care for them but try not to become their carer. Encourage what they can do rather than let them dwell on what they can’t.
Keep tasks simple and achievable. It is far better for people with pain to keep active and often helps to distract from their pain. It gives people a purpose and a goal to aim for. Over time activities begin to get easier and by learning that they can do things helps to improve confidence. Encourage exercise as this is good for the whole body and mind.
Intimacy in relationships
Intimacy within relationships can be possible when living with someone who has chronic pain. Good communication and planning can help maintain a healthy relationship. Think about timing around taking pain killers and positions that may be the most comfortable.
Making plans for going out
Forward thinking and planning can make it easier to arrange outings and go to social events. You may have to remain flexible in case of those days when it may seem too much to achieve. Try not to cancel plans with friends, it is important to maintain social circles and relationships with them. Make the plans together so that you both know what to expect from each other.
Take time out for you
It is important that you have time for yourself and not to feel guilty if you do. Acknowledge your own feelings and find time to express them too. It is ok to take time out on your own as this will help maintain a healthy body and mind. You may want to visit friends, go shopping or do some sport – anything that gives you the space to be you.