Navigating Relationships

I will begin by saying that I am, by no means, an expert on relationships. I do feel like this is a discussion to bring up for those who suffer from chronic pain and/or illness. Why? Because all relationships – platonic, romantic, familial become more difficult. Our loved ones often don’t understand, and discussing your feelings about your pain or your life may not be easy for you to do. So, how do we figure out how to have friends, partners, and keep connected with our families while we’re in pain all the time? There is no easy or correct answer to this. Trying out (and sharing) ideas (so please reply to this post if you have some) is a good way to start, until you figure out what works for you. It’s also important to note that, as mentioned in previous posts, many chronic pain/illness warriors also struggle with their mental health, making it harder to figure out these relationships. Be patient with yourself, and hopefully those in your life will understand that they need to be patient with you.

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Family likes to talk. Or, at least, my family does, and I’m guessing a lot of other supportive families will want to as well. About your pain or illness. Parents, especially, want to be supportive and helpful. Talking about it with them can be difficult. No one wants to make their family members upset or sad. If you are physically needing the help of your family (or friends, or partner) it can be slightly easier to ask or talk about because it becomes more necessary. If not, than broaching those subjects can feel more emotionally painful. The good thing about family is they are the most likely to understand if you can’t come over tonight, or need some extra sleep; if you cancel plans, etc. No explanation necessary. Remember that they love you, and are trying to help. Also don’t be afraid to tell them when you need space, or don’t want to talk to them about something. Understanding for you, and for them, can be critical in staying close.

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Personally, I find friends to be the most pushy (at least initially) with plans, and getting you to go out and do things (which can be a good or bad thing, depending on the day). They also tend to make it known how disappointed they are when cancelling plans. What I’ve found is that being as upfront as possible is key. Giving them some info on your illness, and how you’re feeling physically (and depending on the friend, emotionally). It might take some time, but they will eventually back off a bit and be more understanding. Again, it can be difficult to talk to friends about everything, as there can be a protective need not to make anyone sad. Just remember, if they truly are your friends, they will stick around and be there for you. Lately, I’ve made a few friends who also suffer from chronic pain/illness. It’s nice to find people who understand automatically, and it can be easier to share with them. Not that you need a bunch of friends who are in the same situation as you, but it can be nice to have one or two to confide in.

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Romantic Partners

Another difficult task. There can be a difference in this navigation depending on whether you were already in pain/diagnosed before your relationship started, or after it did. In my last relationship, I was already in pain when we began dating, but didn’t get my tentative diagnosis until 6 months in. The relationship completely changed after that. It wasn’t her fault, nor mine. We both struggled with what was happening, and one key reason that things fell apart is that we didn’t share with each other how we were feeling emotionally about everything. I think this is the most important thing with romantic partners. Sharing. Let them know about your pain. That’s probably the easier part. And let them know when you’re depressed or having anxiety, or whatever is going on with you emotionally. Encourage them to do the same. Communication is key in any relationship, and so much more if you’re dealing with some sort of illness.

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Again, I’m not an expert on this subject. These are just a few things I’ve learned, noticed, and tried, in order to keep close with family, friends, and hopefully one day, a partner again. If you have anything to share or add to this post, please feel free to comment or send me an email at


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