Explaing Pain to Partners

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    Hi there

    I have been married for 6 years and throughout my marriage have had periods of very bad pain due to a failed spinal fusion. Most of the time I cope with it on my own and try not to let my husband or two yound children aged 2 and 4 see how I feel.

    Recently we were involved in a minor RTA which resulted in me having whiplash which has set off my back spasm again and I am back on the MST. I am once again in chronic pain and feel a complete failure as I can’t do the things I could do a month ago any more. As a result of this I am snapping at my husband, shouting at the girls and bursting into tears at the slightest thing.

    The worst thing is not being able to explain to my husband how I feel. he is the type of chap that sees things in 1 of 2 ways, you can either do something or you can’t and therefore if I am in pain then I should go to bed and rest. This is very frustrating as I want to try and do things and don’t want to be shut away all the time.

    I just need some help explaining this to him as whatever I say it all seems to come out wrong and we end up arguing. Sometimes I just feel that I should leave.

    Can anyone please help me explain things sensibly and so that he can understand?

    Sorry to have waffled on but I am getting desperate.


    Hi Ruth,

    Yes, I understand how you are feeling. Pain is the unseen devil isn’t it. We may be severely disabled and in a wheelchair, but not suffering too much pain. But because it is visible, that we are in a wheelchair and therefore not able to do some things then others will, usually, automatically understand and help. But if we still have our mobility, however limited and painful, others see us as ‘oh, he/she is on her feet so can’t be in too much pain’. The last thing we want to be is immobile so we struggle through the pain, often doing much more than we know we should. After 10 years of progressively worsening disabilities and in constant chronic pain my husband has finally realised and has done all he can to help me, with a few hiccups of course. If we have a busy social week, such as Christmas, I try to go along with him to everything as I know how much he enjoys the social life. But sometimes just one more ‘outing’ becomes impossible and I refuse to go as I just can’t do anymore. Then he finds it difficult as he feels I am letting people down; but he is getting more understanding on that one.

    I know about the irritability and the ‘snapping’ at everyone too. We know we need to try to explain it and we turn it round and round in our heads trying to find the right way, but also a bit afraid of their reaction. Then, because we are uptight and stressed over it all, the slightest thing will cause us to snap, then we feel guilty. Before we get to that stage we have to try to find some quiet time with them, asking if we can discuss this through. When we’re stressed about it all it is very easy to keep saying ‘You, this… or You, that…’ which will put the other persons back up as they feel as if we are attacking them; for not understanding or being insensitive. Calmly, we should try to state how we feel by saying, ‘when this happens it makes me feel…’ etc. Work out what you feel is best for you, i.e. using some of Jan’s coping strategies and especially ‘pacing’. Find some literature or books on coping with chronic pain and share them with hubby; and other family members and friends. Explain that just because you are one your feet and smiling that does not mean you have no pain, but that you are trying to do your best and live your life in the best possible way, with all it’s limitations. You have very young children to cope with, which is tiring for even the healthiest person, so stick to the basics. Don’t worry about keep tidying after them etc. Save it for the evening, when maybe hubby can give you a hand to get those things done. Try to work out a system and routine that will make it as easy as possible to cope with. When you feel you need to rest and you are on your own with the children, make it their ‘quiet time’. Sit down with your feet up and read them stories, chat to them, put a good kids video on, anything that will enable you to rest for a bit.

    I seem to be waffling here, but I hope you can understand what I’m trying to get at. And it won’t all happen overnight. It is hard for those who haven’t lived with chronic pain to entirely understand how we feel. But I do hope your situation improves for you. Let us know how you’re getting on; and read some of the newsletters and ‘coping’ articles here and try to put them into practice.
    Take care, regards, Lynn


    Hi Ruth,
    Sorry to hear your so frustrated. This was the subject area most brought up at the pain management program that I attended. On top of everything people grieve for their ‘old’ lives, & ‘old’ abilities. It is a natural process. There is also a natural process to ‘relationships’ around pain within the family circle. An actual predictive cycle. I saw it explained on the mayo clinic web site.
    Perhaps ‘armed’ with the imformation available from that site, it will help both you & your husband to not ‘go the hard way’. I am sure that it is difficult to pace with such young children, I have found that well developed ‘meditation’ & ‘visualization’ techniques, perfect for getting a refreshing ‘rest’, in any situation. Remember that the more stressed we are, the tighter the muscles, & the pain is worse. Try developing relaxation techniques, & that way you will feel like you are doing some thing positive to help yourself. No matter what, we can always think & the more time we spend with positive thoughts the better things go. When a negative thought enters your head, you’ve got to ‘kick’ it out & replace it with a ‘calming’ thought. In this way we can begin to manage the pain rather than the pain managing our life. I have found listening to relaxation tapes before sleep, a real sancuary.
    You will always have this site to ‘voice’ the things you need to say, without having to bottle those feelings or having an argument with hubby. He is probably frightened too, as he also doesn’t know what to expect for his family’s future. I think there is a conscience choice we have to make. The situation is that we have pain – what will we do with it, fight it or ‘get to know’ it. Fight against it or
    manage it, with proven techiques. We need to be good to ourselves & take care with the obstacles that we face, so we can teach our children that everyone has problems, it’s what we do with those problems that really counts. No one ever drowned from being in the water, people drown when they stay in the water too long. Our anxiety levels have ups & downs, like pain levels do. Do you garden with your children? I recomend trying that as a way of emotional relaxation that you can develope together. I write these thing to you because I can remember how overwhelming my family life became for us, 3 male teenagers in a blended family – I have to say I felt as though I had failed before things finaly turned around & I began to manage the pain so I could be as productive as possibe. I used to force myself, before I got out of bed in the morning to think of 5 things I could be thankful for. Sometimes my list was just talking, thinking & breathing, gradualy though, the list got longer. You can put the worse behind you. When you think of a task that you need to get accomplished, break it down into small increaments, 1 min. at it & rest. Three mins. at it & a rest. Five mins. at it & a rest. Eventualy, you will get it done, ( & feel accomplished), even if it takes a week to empty the fridge, at the end you will feel as though you were sucsessful, it reinforced for me that I could be productive, again. I could have small victories.
    This I think was what really helped me in this area. I just felt as though I couldn’t do anything, with no end in site. I realised that there were things I could do – I just needed to learn how to do them differently. I had to learn how to modify my activities – & I did, & so will you. One thing you can count on is change.
    Best Wishes Pam


    Hi Ruth,
    can you e-mail me with details of your failed fusion please as I have just found out that my fusion op failed and have yet to speak to anyone else who has gone through this experience.
    I think it would benefit us both to swop stories and also advice!!
    I wish you all the best with your husband, it is very hard for partners as if you havent been in chronic pain, its very hard for them to understand what we are going through!!
    All the best


    Hi I have prolapsed disc and athritis in neck and am unable to work or do much. When I started to have neck problems ten years ago I felt that no one including my husband could possibly know what pain I was in and this made me feel very angry and frustrated. it sounds awful now but I wanted someone to know how I was feeling. My husband always said he felt very frustrated as he wanted to wave a magic wand and make me better and he felt useless because he couldn’t.
    Following a serious car crash two years ago my husband now has permanent lower back and leg pain and struggles to work, tests have shown it is a soft tissue injury which cannot be put right by surgery. Now I know how he felt all those years ago because I can’t help him to get better. I now know what he meant by frustration because he couldn’t make me better.
    I can honestly say that talking no matter how difficult it is and being honest and explaining how you feel does make relationships better. I can’t explain myself very well but just being able to have a good moan about your pain etc to someone who will sympathise but not feel you are asking them to do something to make you better is a great comfort.
    Sorry for waffling but talk talk talk.

    Jan Sadler

    How right you are, Karen. Keep talking and explain how your partner can help you. As you say, it is very frustrating for a partner not to be able to ‘fix’ the situation, men especially, seem to find this hard to accept. Practical help can be given, such as suggesting heat/ice and helping to apply it.

    Mostly we just want to be held, cuddled and reassured. I explained to my husband that this is the very best help he can give me.

    I hope this helps someone else too.

    Keep talk – and keep on hugging!


    As Jan said, the male approach is more centred on trying to find a solution for a problem, and my husband could never understand that I wanted to talk to him about how I felt and I didn’t want him to have the answer, I just wanted him to try to understand the way I felt and comfort me. Men often don’t understand the female desire to talk about their problems and have someone just say they agree it must be horrible, or that they once felt like that too. The trouble is that because we are so different we need to explain these desires to our other halves and it may take them some time to get the hang of it, to suppress the “fix it” voices in their heads and just draw us in for a cuddle. You need to try to find a time when you are least painful and most rational and when your man isn’t stressed, tired, hungry or trying to watch TV and explain that when you tell him how you feel you aren’t asking him to tell you what to do about it, to tell you how to fix it, you just want him to show some compassion for how hard it is. Teach him some lines that he can repeat back to you when you are in a state, something that you will find calming… with practice these will come over sincere! If he still feels that he wants you to go and rest then you can try to agree a compromise, that he won’t just say go rest, he will say why don’t you rest for half an hour and I’ll bath the children and put them to bed. That way you know that the work isn’t going to just build up while you aren’t there to take care of it and you can have a proper rest, plus you both know how long the rest is going to last for. You do need him to understand that chronic pain is different from acute pain. When you are acutely unwell you go to bed and put things off for when you are better, but when you are chronically unwell you have to go ahead with things even when you are still unwell because there isn’t any time you can put it off to.

    It’s easy to end up in a fight if you try to resolve this while you are still in the midst of the pain and the stress, so it is best done away from the event and starting from what YOU do and not from what he does ‘wrong’. Starting with something like “I know it must be hard for you when I say how I am feeling but you realise I am not asking you to fix the problem, don’t you?” or “I know I can be quite short with you when the pain comes and I am sorry, but I just can’t rest when there is still so much to do. The most useful thing that you can do for us then is…”


    Ruth, sorry to hear what happened to your fusion op. Sounds awful.
    Partners… my experience has been that more show contempt when I needed their help, and I felt a real burden and humiliated and rejected.
    Only one of them used to make me laugh when I was stuck. Only one.
    Unfortunately he and I were not compatible, but at least he restored my faith a bit.


    ,Hi Ruth,
    I found it helpful to copy all of the information I could off of the internet – there are some informative sites – and I had my wife read it.
    I also am open and honest with her about my feelings both physically and emotionally. I have let her know that if I am feeling well enough to do certain things that I will, if I’m not doing them she knows it’s because of pain. Do your best to get your family educated about your situation.
    God Bless,


    hi Ruth

    I’ll keep this short, everybody has given you such good advice,

    My husband always wants me to rest if I’m in pain and I remind him that because of my fusion if i rest all the time I will become worse. Also I’m in pain constantly and life cannot just stop! The muscle will cease up and cause more pain so I don’t want to be isolated from him and my daughter and will promise to do things slowly.

    love Anne


    Hi Ruth,
    I have a problem with explaining my pain to people. My partner does know of course (sees me in tears or totally out of it on my meds) and he does look after me when i need it. But he doesn’t understand why i shout at him/snap at the slightest thing. I’m really difficult to live with at the minute as i’m going through a bad patch. I also find it really difficult to explain my pain to my family..i only see my parents about once a month. They sometimes ask..”oh, hows your back?” like its a little spot thats bothering me, and i just say “oh, still sore” and thats it!! i don’t like telling people how much pain i am in…i don’t know why because they know what i’ve been through…Isn’t it weird? I’m embaressed to be in pain……


    Your comment about being embarrassed to be in pain struck home with me. I hate to tell people that I am in pain, hate not being able to do things and end up making lame excuses rather than explain properly. Does anyone have any tips please?


    Hi Meg..
    I thought i was the only one…everyone else seems to have accepted the fact they they are in pain and so should everyone else! But i find that so difficult…my partner and i went to visit his mother a few weeks ago and she could see i was in pain and started asking about it..i got really embarrased and asked her to stop talking about it!! Then i felt really rude..she was only being nice.
    I don’t understand it myself, i know its nothing to be ashamed of..but i am.


    Ruby,,, your comments about being embarrassed about being in pain got to me as well. I’ve just come off the phone with my mum and she asked the question I hate “so are you feeling better yet”. … I just mumbled that i was still the same. I could hear the sigh in her voice. I know she’s trying (very sometimes) but she doesn’t understand and I can’t get it through to her. We went away for a few days holiday in September and she couldn’t understand why I couldn’t walk to the nearest restaurant… especially as she only has one lung and to her that is far more debilitating… Only my best friend – a wonderful man called Trevor – truely understands me, and that is because he has sat up in the night, just holding me as I have cried.

    I’m embarrassed to be seen out with my crutches, and would rather stay at home than go out and face people watching me… it’s sad but true.


    so relieved that we all feel like this – i have to make so many excuses and have lost so many friends by wriggling out of meetings etc. had a friend to visit me yesterday – a lovely lady – but i got really agitated before she arrived – and i know she would’ve hated knowing this. she thought i was much brighter but didn’t know how much i was screaming inside! it’s a hard one, isn’t it? annie

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