How to Help Your Partner Understand Your Pain

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If you suffer from arthritis pain, you know the toll it can take on all areas of your life—your work, your social life, and your family life.

It may especially affect the quality of your relationship with your partner, since chronic pain can cause you to be more irritable and less receptive to intimacy. But new research demonstrates that taking the time to shore up your marriage brings more benefits than just a healthier partnership. A happy marriage actually lessens your pain.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine looked at 255 adults with rheumatoid arthritis, assessing their marital status along with various indicators of physical and emotional health. Ninety-seven participants were unmarried; the researchers found that they scored higher on measures of pain and psychological distress than the 114 participants who were in happy marriages. The 44 participants who were in unhappy marriages scored about the same as the unmarried participants, leading the scientists to conclude that marriage itself doesn't offer protection from pain, but happy marriages do. Our emotions can have a direct effect on our physical sensations.

So how do you work on improving your marriage when you're suffering? According to the National Pain Foundation, frank and open discussion is key. Your spouse isn't a mind reader and neither are you. Good communication is important in any marriage; it's crucial in a partnership in which one person has a medical condition.

Instead of blaming, try asking for what you want. A simple, "I could really use extra help in the kitchen today; my joints are bothering me" can work wonders.

Instead of bottling up your pain, try letting it out. Ask your spouse for a back rub if that would feel good. Or just a shoulder to cry on.

Instead of shutting down sexually, try something new. A new position or simply a different kind of lovemaking when pain prevents traditional intercourse can keep intimacy alive.

Your partner may often feel helpless in the face of your pain. If you tell him or her what you need—or even that there's nothing he or she can do at the moment—it's likely to have a positive impact. Keep the lines of communication open and your marriage will strengthen. And your pain, hopefully, will lessen.

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National Pain Foundation

National Institutes of Health