Living with a chronic pain condition, such as fibromyalgia, can be difficult enough in itself but, when it comes to relationships, it can also cause additional complications. Aside from the pain associated with fibromyalgia, the illness often has a negative impact upon the patient’s emotional wellbeing.
The combination of these two elements alone can place an understandable strain upon both partners in a relationship. In fact, a study published by the US National Institute of Health concluded that:
“In addition to physical impairments that are well documented among individuals with fibromyalgia, fibromyalgia can result in a substantial negative impact on important relationships with family and close friends.”
Some of the relationship pressures described by those suffering from fibromyalgia include:
- Feelings of marital instability
- Marital anger
- Feelings of withdrawal or hostility
- Mood swings leading to ill feelings
- Reduced libido
From the perspective of someone whose partner suffers with a chronic pain illness, the difficulty of watching a loved one go through pain and suffering (as well as feeling the impact of the associated negative emotions) can also be challenging: as a one partner of a fibromyalgia sufferer (known as ctc315 on the related fibromyalgia community chatroom) details:
“My wife is a wonderful, loving woman, but sometimes she just is angry, kind of like a PMS or Menopausal thing. It is a side effect of the Savella and I know this and I make allowances for her disposition. Of course she always apologizes afterwards, but it can be quite challenging.”
On an internet community discussion board relating to the subject of “living with someone with fibromyalgia”, the following fibromyalgia patients summed up a few of the difficulties involved in a relationship where chronic pain plays a factor:
#1 ISSUE: “It’s not that he doesn’t believe me (though that took years) but I still have to ask for each little thing, and that is very draining. It just doesn’t occur to him.”
#2 ISSUE: “With my gent, he sometimes wants to go, go, go, and doesn’t really understand when I say that I need to stop.”
#3 ISSUE: “I shut him out, I get paranoid he doesn’t believe me, I get upset because I want to do more, then I get angry that I can’t do more. I feel like I’m letting him down by not getting better faster.”
In summary, two major factors that may place particular stress on a couple, where one partner suffers from fibromyalgia are:
#1 LACK OF SUPPORT: Fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose, potentially causing the strain of a lack of support being felt by the sufferer if they don’t feel that their partner is convinced by their symptoms
#2 UNPREDICTABLE SYMPTOMS: The symptoms of fibromyalgia may vary from day to day. This may add additional pressure on the relationship in terms of forward planning for shared time together, as well as the unpredictability of moods and pain levels
In 2010, research was undertaken by the University of Missouri, investigating: “the interactions of married couples that include one spouse who has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or chronic widespread pain”. As Christine Proulx, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies explains: “fibromyalgia is very hard on both spouses because their lives are changed dramatically.”
So, if you are in a relationship and suffer from fibromyalgia, what steps can you take to help your partner to understand and support you more effectively?
We’ve put together the following three tips to help you out:
#1 EDUCATE: Try to inform your partner as much as possible about the nature of your illness. Share relevant articles and websites about fibromyalgia with them, and describe how your own particular symptoms can effect your mood and pain levels
#2 COMMUNICATE: Let your partner know when you are having a particularly tough day and calmly explain why certain tasks may be more difficult/unachievable for you. Try to refrain from taking your pain/frustration out on your partner as we often, unfairly, take things out on those closest to us when we aren’t feeling out best
#3 THINK POSITIVELY: If unavoidable symptoms prevent you from undertaking daily tasks, or a planned day trip, try to remain positive and find a way to work around the issue. For example, calmly explain to your partner the reasons that you cannot keep to the existing plans, and work out if it possible to reschedule for a future date, once the flare has subsided
It’s important to remember that living with fibromyalgia does not mean the kiss of death for your relationship by any means! Love, respect, patience and making time for fun are all key when it comes to any long-lasting and happy partnership.
Has fibromyalgia affected your relationship? Have you found ways to cope and mend bridges? Do share your experiences and tips.