Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain LIFE Spring 2015, Issue 11 - Page 24

Support For the Supporters by Deborah Barrett, PhD, MSW, LCSW A Column for the Ones Who Care for People with Chronic Pain Conditions The National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association is delighted to announce: This is the first in a new series written explicitly for family members, close friends, and other supporters of people with chronic pain conditions. Chronic pain not only impacts those with pain but also the people in their lives. WHAT ABOUT ME? The taboo question when someone you care about is suffering My wife has fibromyalgia, degeneraive spinal disease, and post-surgical problems. She can only sit or stand for limited periods, and has not been able to sleep more than two hours at a time for years. Without restorative sleep, and with severe pain, she is, shall we say, “pretty darn grumpy.” She has a short fuse and can be verbally abusive. I understand that she feels miserable and try to let this roll of my back. Intimacy is also out of the question. But I married “for better or worse.” draining to witness someone you love in pain day after day. Plus, burying your own needs – whether to protect your spouse, avoid conflict, or from resignation – erodes emotional closeness and intimacy. To flourish as a couple in the face of chronic pain requires being able to support each other. Identifying the “elephants in the room,” such as your own frustration or desires, however difficult, is key. The trick is to do this a in a way that opens up opportunities to unite in the face of pain, rather than incite a cycle of guilt and blame. How to do this? Dear “For Better or Worse,” Compassion for your wife’s experience may buffer you from taking her behavior personally. Nonetheless this ungentle treatment will wear on you and the relationship. The tragedy is that you both may be struggling similarly with sadness, frustration, anger, guilt, and grief, while feeling alone in your suffering. 1. Waiting for a pain-free time may be futile. However, you both benefit from creating moments in which you can feel calm and present with each other. Support your partner to take steps to increase her comfort, such as with heat/ ice, cushions, medication, lighting, music, or whatever allows for a more relaxing space. Recent research documents that well partners often experience comparable declines in life quality, yet voicing the struggles of well partners seems almost taboo. However, as you know, it is 2. Validate. People who live with pain often feel like nobody understands. Share your compassionate observations with your wife: “I know you are hurting and exhausted and frustrated.” People 24  Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Life Sp r i n g 2 0 1 5