** Due to the increasing severity of MY ILLNESS, it has become impossible for me to continue to post on a regular basis. Unfortunately, as much as I desperately long to, I am also unable to visit each of your blogs often or reciprocate all the loving, supportive comments many of you continue to leave - even though at times it may appear as though you've arrived at some long ago, forsaken blog! With that said, I really want you to know that I miss every single one of you and that I really am still here! I'm just too sick and too weak most days to be able to sit up long enough to create a brand new post...or even read one. However, I absolutely do receive AND read every new encouraging word you leave (and, often, the old ones, again and again!) and I cherish them now more than ever! I truly appreciate your love, support, and, most importantly, your precious time spent on your knees in prayer for my family and me. It ALL means the world to me and I am truly blessed to have friends like you!
~Hugs and Sister Love, Teresa

FYI: All comments come to my email, which I can easily read on my phone. I also enjoy Facebook on my phone because I can catch up on A LOT in a very short time there. Soooo, if you're on Facebook, come 'friend' me there! {{HUGS}} **

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Communicating With Your Spouse About Chronic Pain

We naturally share about our aches and pains with our spouse when we are chronically ill and in pain, but how much talk is too much before our spouse grows weary of hearing about a problem he just can't fix?

"I feel like there are thumb tacks in my bed!" I tell my husband as he crawls into the other side of our bed. "I know there is nothing there, but I feel bruised all over."

“I’m sorry,” he offers with a sympathetic voice, but there is little else he can do.

“Actually, I'm really nauseated too,” I add. “It’s probably just the meds. I wonder if I should eat something or if that would make it worse. Hopefully it will pass if I can just go to sleep.” Before I finish my sentence, he is already starting to snore because he's so exhausted. *sigh*

For many of us, our spouse is our best friend. If our relationship is good, we want to share our feelings with them. Even if our relationship is hurting, we feel that by explaining our pain, our spouse may sympathize and be more loving toward us.

Although we don’t want to burden them by constantly sharing about our aches and pains, when we are hurting there is a desire to be heard and have our feelings validated. By talking out loud about what we are feeling, it somehow makes the pain real. It’s no longer “all in our head.”

Galatians 6:2 tells us “Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” At some point we must carry these burdens to the Lord, as well as a close friend, rather than just count on our spouse to carry the burden of listening about every single ache.

Although our spouse may not be suffering from a physical ailment, there are still many losses that he is grieving. For example, it is an emotional thing to watch the person you love be in pain and not be able to 'fix it', especially for men. He may be suffering as he watches you lose the ability to do things you love. He likely misses the couples outings you once took together when you could do physically active events, whether it was date night or just taking long walks together in the evening. He may be frustrated that even his hugs can cause you to wince. Counselors have found that there are three major areas where marriages suffer: money, time and physical intimacy.

Your marriage may be having difficulties in all three, specifically because of the role chronic illness has taken on within your marriage. Is it possible to “share our burdens” with our spouse without overburdening him and making him want to run the other way every time we open our mouth to share another symptom of our ailments?

Be a team with your spouse

It’s you and your spouse “up against” the illness. Although you may feel like your spouse is merely a spectator, intentionally make him a part of your team fighting the battle of pain, in whatever way he is most comfortable.

Ask your spouse if you can share some information about your illness so he has a better idea of what you are going through, but don’t overwhelm him. If he is willing to attend a few doctors appointments with you, let him, and give him time to ask the doctor his own questions. For example, giving him a brochure may be better than handing him a 250-page book. If he listens to podcasts, find some that would be beneficial for him to listen to about your illness. Acknowledge that there may be role or responsibility shifts in the marriage due to the illness. Be open about what you are struggling with and where you need help. For example, if you can no longer scrub the bathroom, let him know well before the grime gets out of hand.

Connie Kennemer lives with Multiple Sclerosis and she candidly shares the struggle that it can be to find the right balance and word. “I am not as mobile as I used to be and I often ask more of my husband such as ‘Can you work at home this afternoon?’ or ‘Why do you have to go to another meeting?’ How much should he accommodate me because my body is changing? He doesn’t always know when to stop and encourage me to try things myself. This is a constant challenge.”

Be reasonable in your expectations

We often marry someone who has our opposite personality style. If you need to read every article about your illness, but your spouse doesn’t, it may simply be because your spouse has a more laissez faire attitude, not because he doesn’t care. His response to a crisis may appear to be nonchalant on the outside, but it doesn’t mean he is not worried and concerned about you.

On the flip side, maybe you are emotionally overwhelmed by the diagnosis and you need to just sit back and take it all in before you start doing research, while your spouse is spending hours at the computer finding out everything he can on the latest treatments, medications and signing you up for the healing service at church. He may accuse you of being in denial about it all, since you aren’t showing as much passion as he in finding out more about your illness. An excellent book recommendation in helping you understand your communication styles better is “Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti” by Bill and Pam Farrell.

Have information about your illness available for when he is ready

If you are having a conversation and you want to explain more about how you are feeling, or details about the illness itself, you may want to have books with sticky notes on the pages you think he’ll find most helpful. Or bookmark pages you can read together and then discuss. Connie says, “After ten years of living with MS, I am past the whiny stage, but Rex sometimes holds back; that’s when I need to ask him more questions about his feelings.”

Creatively keep him informed about the embarrassing parts of the illness

If your illness is going to cause you to be in the bathroom during eighty percent of the events you attend together, you need to let your spouse know that this is part of the disease. Health organizations have brochures on symptoms. You can say, “I’m dealing with some personal matters of this illness right now; I don’t really want to talk about them yet, but they’re in this brochure if you’re wondering.” Avoid sharing every detail if you can.

Look for other ways to vent besides always dumping on your spouse

“I realized that I held onto all of my frustrations of pain during the day and then ‘threw’ them at my husband as he came in the door,” shares Cheryl, who lives with chronic fatigue syndrome. “My actions set the tone for our entire evening and even though I felt better, he felt worse, and it lasted all night. He was beginning to dread coming home at night.”

Cheryl began to put aside the last two hours of her day to spend time writing in her journal, praying and doing something she enjoyed that calmed her. “Writing in my journal gave me the chance to express my frustrations, and then prayer really began to minimize the negativity too. My husband quickly noticed a difference and it’s made our relationship so much stronger.”

Find some ways to get involved in your community or a special hobby

What else do you have going on in your life, other than your illness? It’s easy to be overwhelmed with doctors' appointments and just maintaining our illness, but it can result in a pretty dull life. Even if you have limited energy, do something you’ve always wanted to do that doesn’t have a deadline. Put together memory albums for your grandchildren, clean out just one drawer, find a new craft or hobby, volunteer to be on a prayer chain. Soon you will find that your illness actually is the last thing you want to talk about when you have had much more interesting events in your day.


So, the question is, how much talk is too much? Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer. It is different for each person and each marriage. Learn to look at your situation objectively. Honestly ask yourself, "How often am I bringing up my illness and pain? How do I benefit from talking about it more often than necessary? What am I seeking? Validation? Understanding? Actual physical help?" Ask yourself if talking about your illness could be a way of getting your spouse’s attention, and if this seems to be the only thing he responds to? Regardless of whether it is attention, acknowledgment or understanding, how can you get these needs met by the Lord instead? How is it negatively impacting your life, or those around you, by discussing it all the time?

And then take a moment to really ask yourself “Is there a better, more creative way I can create intimacy with my spouse, other than just complaining about each ache and pain? What activities can I still share that could help us grow closer together?”

And then when you do need to share with your spouse, send up a prayer to the Lord first!

“Heavenly Father, You know I do not want to burden anyone, especially when I know there is really nothing they can do to 'fix' me. I just really need a big hug from You right now! I know that my husband cares about me very much and truly wants to encourage me, even on those days when he doesn’t seem to know how. Please give me the wisdom to know when to ask for help/comfort from him and when I should only come to You to fulfill all of my emotional needs. Amen.”

About the Author, Lisa Copen - You will find more articles and overall support while living with a chronic illness and/or pain, please visit Rest Ministries so you don’t miss any of their great content and to be entered for their monthly giveaway! Lisa Copen is the director of Rest Ministries, author of 'Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend' and founder of National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week.

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Casey said...

Wow, this really spoke out to me and I really needed to read this. Thank you for sharing this. I hope you are feeling ok

stipeygirl75 said...

This is good stuff. At the beginning, my hubby thought I was "obsessed" with my physical problems because I researched them night and day. I thought he was "in denial" because he never wanted to acknowledge them. He finally started coming around when I took him to a few doctor's appts. with me and he saw I was talking about REAL problems. He didn't understand I'm a sponge when it comes to information and I needed to absorb every piece of info. I can find! I try not to dwell on the problems too much because that makes him frustrated he can't fix it.

Teresha@Marlie and Me said...

You are so right on the money with this post! So many married couples say this vow, but never really take to heart the true meaning of it. tfs!

Jamie said...

This post made me really, really miss my husband!

Happy SITS Saturday Sharefest!

Jeanne said...


Chronic illness/pain take such a toll on relationships. Thank you for posting this.

I hope you are recovering quickly! Thanks for visiting my blog today.



Thank you for mentioning your plans to post the badge that links to Alicia's adoption site!!

Please let me know when you get it posted as I'm trying to coordinate efforts, so to speak, for this effort to get the badges posted as widely as possible. Thanks!

Working Mommy said...

Happy Sunday SITStah!!

I can definitely understand the message in your post. While I was pregnant I tried to keep my complaints to a minimum because I knew there was really nothing he could do for me. I have a problem sharing my aches and pains because I know there isn't anything that can be done.

Chaotic Kristy said...

This is such a great post, My husband has problems with his back and legs and we have not found out what it is {they say it's Mono} and all the time he is telling me he is in pain and I never now what to do and sometimes it turns into an argument. Which than I feel bad about.

Yaya' s Changing World said...

Thank you for sharing such helpful information. I am fortunate enough to have a very understanding and supportive hubby, but sometimes it is frustrating and, even embarrassing to tell him again that something hurts. Its good to know that I am not the only person feeling this way.

Thank you, again. ~ Yaya

Yaya's Changing World

Amandasaurus said...

This seems much more universal than just marriages with one partner suffering from chronic pain. No husband wants to come home to complaints, so the idea about journaling is something any wife could take up to make his life more pleasant.

It's so cool that you are so conscious of others even with your own pain!

Anonymous said...

This is a great article! I've found two other things that have helped my husband and me both manage my chronic pain and Marfan syndrome.

1) I've connected with a group of others online who are dealing with the same issues as me. When I'm really struggling, I know I can vent to them so that I am not just venting to my husband all the time. I mean of course my husband wants to know when I'm struggling and I do tell him, but I don't want to overwhelm him and we've found this is a good way to manage it.

2) Through our organization's annual conference, I was also able to help connect my husband with a support group of other spouses. He doesn't talk with them regularly, but even just the annual meeting helped him to be able to talk about the fears and stresses he experiences helping care for me.

Sarah Ruth said...

This is a great post! Thanks again for stopping by my blog. Have a great Thanksgiving!


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