Chronic Pain and Relationships

Chronic pain can be hard to manage for a variety of reasons, but it also has a trickle-down effect on personal relationships. Dealing with long-term pain is, no doubt, difficult enough by itself, but it can also alienate people from friends and family.

It is important to both foster and maintain those relationships. On their own and for the purposes of pain management, strong personal relationships are very important.

A chronic pain condition can sometimes strengthen a relationship because of the shared challenges and feeling of accomplishment it provides. However, it is also very possible that the condition will create new stresses and make effective relationships more difficult.

The most obvious way that chronic pain can interfere with relationships is the impact that it can have on you and your spouse.

First, a spouse can easily feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come with a partner dealing with pain. Second, it is no surprise that sexuality and intimacy can be hugely affected by a partner’s physical condition.

Finally, there can also be money concerns that come with the condition, whether treatment is covered by health insurance or not. Money issues can damage any relationship, and can be particularly hard when medical treatments are involved.

Chronic pain can also have a detrimental effect on relationships with your children. They can be both unhappy and confused by the situation, especially if they are still very young.

Children aren’t used to seeing a parent suffer and may experience a sense of insecurity and anxiety about their own position in the world. These feelings can also be compounded with guilt about whether they are somehow to blame for a parent’s pain.

Finally, chronic pain can have a large impact on an individual’s relationships with friends and family members.

Pain often damages a person’s sense of self-esteem and confidence, and sufferers might withdraw from relationships with friends and anyone outside their immediate family. This is hard not only on themselves, but on friends and family who want to assist.


The same skills that are good for all relationships in general are essential when you are dealing with chronic pain. Despite the temptation to do so, it is important that you avoid withdrawing into yourself. The people in your life need to know how you’re feeling.

However, it is also important that they don’t end up feeling overwhelmed by your condition. It is important to strike a balance based on individual personalities without shutting down completely.

Poor communication can lead to feelings of frustration and anger both for the sufferer and the care giver. They need to know both the timing and severity of pain in order to assist properly, but if a sufferer is uncommunicative this is impossible.

A care giver is reduced to guessing and estimating about the amount of pain that an individual is suffering. They can generally only make that estimate from the level of activity of the sufferer. This can easily lead to them underestimating pain levels.

Chronic Pain and Relationships


Pain conditions make intimacy and physical affection essential at the same time as they can make them very difficult. Again, communication with your partner is necessary.

More planning and preparation is required and obviously, this requires that you and your partner are able to talk honestly and openly.

It’s also important to be able to talk frankly with your doctor. A medical professional will have knowledge that a patient can’t and should be able to help mitigate intimacy problems caused by chronic pain.

Intimacy issues are largely impacted by the emotional challenges that come along with long-term pain. So while there may be obvious physical obstacles, it is often a person’s loss of self-esteem that creates the largest intimacy challenges. It may be worthwhile to consult a sex therapist or couples counsellor to help deal with these issues.


It is to be expected that, at least sometimes, you’ll feel like calling off plans and just staying home. However, this is disappointing for everyone concerned and can be hard on a friendship. Try to keep plans and maintain interaction with friends.

This also requires some planning and engagement in activities that are reasonable for your condition. For example, it might not be realistic to expect you to go golfing, but there are likely other activities that you could participate in, and with effective communication and planning, you and your friends will be able to maintain the relationship.

However, it’s also important to take a realistic view of your friends. Some people just don’t deal well with illness, and might not be able to understand your situation. These folks will require the same balance in communication that you bring to discussions with your family.

Chronic Pain and Relationships

Household Chores

Again, it’s perfectly understandable that you may not feel like participating in household chores. But again, like friendships, it is important that you stay involved in the household.

While the tasks that you did previously may no longer be possible, it is worthwhile to find other things that you are able to do to replace the tasks that you can no longer perform.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is an aspect of communication, but needs to be highlighted. You will often be surrounded by people who want to help you, but are unsure whether they should or not for fear of offending you in some way. Ask for their help and give them permission to give you assistance with tasks that you are having trouble with.

While none of these measures can act as pain-killers or otherwise help much with your physical pain, they will hopefully help you to effectively manage your relationships in spite of chronic pain.

As a result, you’ll be able to draw joy and satisfaction from these relationships at the same time as you manage your pain.

Further Reading

“How Chronic Pain Affects Relationships,” by Dennis Thompson, Jr.

“Chronic Pain can interfere with Sexuality,” by Mayo Clinic Staff.

“When chronic pain gets between you and your intimate partner,” by Jonas I. Bromberg.



2 thoughts on “Chronic Pain and Relationships”

  1. Can you please email me some mood charts? So I can track where my mood is day to day~ thank you

  2. My wife has chronic pain and my comment to you husbands out there is that you married this woman for better or worse and if it were you layed up you would hope and pray that she’d be by your side. So man-up and be there for her. She needs you and loves you the least you could do with your good health is be there for her. Anyone who leaves their spouse due to an inconvenient illness but you can still due almost all the same things is a horrible person and should be ashamed. If that happened to you you would hate them. Don’t be that guy/girl. Your loved ones deserve better and deserve all of your effort since you are getting there’s. I said my piece love you honey.

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