I have lately been receiving emails and comments regarding how difficult the stress of chronic pain can really affect a marriage. Each of these emails was sent from women so the focus on this post is married women with chronic pain. Marriage is hard with two totally healthy people but throw in an invisible illness and it can become more difficult than one could imagine. People often say, marriage should not be work or hard if you love one another. Really? Well, in most cases it can be very difficult and painful. One of the biggest issues in marriages is communication and appreciation for what one another does. One of my favorite movies is The Breakup with Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn. In the first scene, Anniston is making a huge meal for both families after working all day in an art gallery. There is obvious tension during the dinner but it is not until everyone leaves their apartment that my favorite quote from the movie happens. The kitchen is a total mess and Anniston, like many women want to clean it before morning comes. Vaughn has other plans and lies down on the couch to play a video game. Clearly, this pisses the hell out Anniston. They argue for a bit until he says: “Ok, I’ll wash the dishes, Ill clean the whole damn kitchen.” Anniston says: “But, I want you to want to wash the dishes.” Vaughn yells back: “Why would I WANT to wash the dishes??” I find this scene hilarious but it does truly point out the basic issues in relationships. She wants him to want to help her and support her and feel appreciated. He literally has zero clue what he is doing wrong as he is just chillin back and believes his relationship is fine. Meanwhile, Anniston feels totally alone and unloved. Neither are true but her needs are not being met and as she says: “I deserve somebody who gives a shit.” We all do, men and women. Imagine if Anniston had chronic pain in this movie?
It is so difficult for anyone who does not have chronic pain to understand what one goes through on a daily basis. I knew I could not possibly be in a healthy relationship until I truly had chronic pain under control and was living a healthy, happy life despite the pain. I was in a good place with my health and rarely thought about my pain. I had a system that worked and was very scared to meet a man that could possibly change my management of chronic pain and the way I had to live in order to keep chronic pain on the back burner. I met my husband at a juice bar and although I do not believe in love at first sight, the second he walked into that restaurant my heart skipped a beat and I thought to myself: “I’m screwed.” I had never felt anything like that from anyone in my life. It was almost as if I knew my life was about to change forever. On our second date, I found the courage to tell him the truth about my life regarding my bike accident, brain surgery, and chronic pain. I explained how it took me fifteen years to get my pain under control and wanted him to know how important it was for me to stick to my healthy lifestyle and continue to stay on track with managing chronic pain naturally. Telling him this stuff on our second date really proved to me how I knew deep down I had met the man I was going to marry and have a family with. We have been together since that day and have our beautiful daughter, Kayci. It is beyond difficult for my husband to grasp the concept of chronic pain, especially because he met me after my deepest, darkest hours where I was spending more time at the doctor’s than at home. He saw an athletic, part-time social worker who had a zest for life and never mentioned pain. As I have written the most effective, yet difficult thing I do to manage chronic pain naturally is to not talk about the pain and to distract myself when my mind starts focusing solely on my pain levels. The only visible scar I have is under a lot of thick brown hair where the brain surgeon cut to save my life. Lately, on and off I have been having difficulty managing pain. This rarely happens, except when extremely stressed and have too much on my plate to the point that I cannot do the necessary things to manage my chronic pain. I want him to understand why I am the way I am. Chronic pain has put both of us in a predicament because he cannot possibly (no one could) grasp how much chronic pain affects me on a daily basis. However, I believe slowly during this stressful time he is seeing what his wife goes through regarding pain when stressed to the max and not utilizing each tool I truly need to manage my pain naturally.
Most women with or without chronic pain often feel a sense of guilt for very silly things and are sensitive, especially to words. Men and women,, in general have totally different ways of dealing with problems. Men want to fix things: chronic pain cannot be fixed but it can be managed. Women just want to vent, talk or be held. Let me tell you, most men cannot stand to hear their significant other talk endlessly about the same thing. I believe most women talk so endlessly to their spouses because they do not think their spouse has heard one thing and often times this is true. If you are married to someone with chronic pain you must acknowledge them and their diagnosis. You cannot fix the problem. You must understand when he or she is having a difficult time with pain levels and let them know that they believe you and just give encouragement. We, as people who have chronic pain must stop feeling guilty. What is more important than your health? Listen to your body, mind and spirit. Learn to do what is right and healthy for you without feeling guilty. Learn to say: “No, I cannot do that today. I am having a difficult time and need to take a break.” No one makes up chronic pain. I will write this as I have many times. The greatest three words anyone can say to a loved one who has chronic pain is: “I BELIEVE YOU.”
I will continue to write more posts regarding relationships and chronic pain as I now see from the response and emails that this is a huge topic that needs to be addressed. Also, if you need a distraction from chronic pain watch the movie: “The Breakup.” It truly is funny but also demonstrates the real issues couples face on a daily basis.