Chronic pain can be the source of huge strain upon a relationship. Partners and other people close to the suffering individual can be at a loss as to what they can do to help. Sometimes their assistance is welcomed and other times not. It can be confusing and stressful. There are many ways that a partner can help and some will be individual to those involved. Here are 5 simple ways that a partner can help:
Be an extra pair of ears and eyes
During consultations with specialists or therapists, it can be useful for a partner to come along. Beforehand you can decide upon their role. The possibilities include:
- listening and note taking
- offering observations about what has been happening
- watching and learning exercises so that they can provide feedback at home
- just being there for moral support
Sometimes having someone else in the room, even a loved one, can be distracting depending upon what is being practiced. So do discuss this with your clinician for the best outcome.
When your partner understands pain they will be able to further empathise and act through compassion rather than fear and worry. We do respond and are influenced by the people we are close to, meaning that if they have a working knowledge of pain they will better provide support and encouragement.
Pain can and does vary as each pain experience is as unique as each unfolding moment. Knowing that pain is related to perception of threat rather than tissue damage or injury, along with some of the main influences (e.g. emotional state, context, tiredness) helps to navigate a way forward. To overcome pain the person learns to coach themselves, making best choices in line with their picture of success. Sometimes we need help or someone to listen to us whilst making these choices.
Touch is healthy, especially from a loved one. Someone recently told me about how a hug from her children relieved her pain. Why? The release of oxytocin for a starter. The feelings of compassion and love can cut through all other emotions and feelings, which is why the development of self-compassion is one of the key skills of well-being.
Sometimes a hug can be painful of course, depending on where you feel your pain. If this is the case, then simple touch somewhere else is enough. Seek to notice the good feelings that emerge in you: what do they feel like? Where do you feel them? Concentrate on them. And if you are not with that person, just imagine a hug or a loving touch. This triggers similar activity, just like when you think about that beautiful scene in nature, your body systems respond as if you are there ~ our thinking is embodied.
Practice the skills of well-being together
A good example is metta or loving kindness meditation that cultivates self-compassion. It is best to gain instruction 1:1 to start with and then use a recording as a prompt until you are familiar with the practice. Group practice is also good when the collective or community creates a soothing atmosphere in which to practice.
At home, practice metta with your partner. Doing it together, you form a bond as you spend meaningful time together. You can also practice the exercises together. These are nourishing and healthy movements with the purpose of restoring confidence as well as layering in good experiences of activity to overcome pain.
Spend time together doing something meaningful
We are designed to connect. The chemicals we release and experience as that feel-good factor, do so when we have meaningful interactions. Pain all too often appears to limit choice and our tolerance for activity. However, on thinking about what we CAN do rather than what we cannot, we begin to build and broaden the effects of choosing positive action.
Positive action is all about focusing on what we can do: e.g./ I can go for a coffee with a friend for half an hour to gain the benefits of connecting, moving, a change of scene etc. and I will concentrate on these benefits. Make some plans, working within your current tolerance level, knowing that you are safe to do so, and follow them through by keeping yourself pointed towards the picture of success*. You can then gradually build your tolerance by pushing a little with increasing confidence.
There are many other ways that a partner can be involved. The key is to communicate openly and make plans together ~ here is a great insight into communication by Thich Nhat Hanh.
* Clarifying your picture of success gives you a direction and the opportunity to check in and ask yourself: am I heading in that direction or am I being distracted?
Please note: Whilst the practices above can appear to be straightforward, you should always discuss your approaches with your healthcare professional