Patient Blogs | Ankylosing Spondylitis
The Effects of AS on Relationships
photo of couple holding hands next to river

I'm very grateful I had a partner that was understanding and supportive when I was going through one of the worst times of my life. I was a mom of two young children working full-time in the corporate world. The constant pain I was dealing with was excruciating.

It's quite difficult to describe what intense, nonstop achy pain feels like to another person, especially when they’re not experiencing this type of pain.

There were days when I woke up and gingerly moved my body. I was utterly amazed at the days where my joints didn’t ache as badly as they did the day before. But the pain was always there.

The nights, oh, those nights can be worse. You’re desperate to fall asleep. When you finally do, you wake up several hours later because it feels like someone’s twisting a knife in your low back. Sleep isn’t something you can take for granted anymore. It’s now become an evasive, frustrating cycle.

I have a lot of empathy for those that suffer alone in chronic pain without having support or a shoulder to cry on. In my case, I was fortunate. My husband has always had my back from day one. 

But it wasn’t always easy for him. 

Being in a relationship and having to deal with chronic pain is a strange and unfamiliar experience. It's definitely not what my husband or I ever anticipated coming into our lives -- a stranger that wasn’t invited to the party.

When chronic pain is the other entity in the relationship, communication is imperative. It’s one of the keys to keeping a relationship intact and functioning healthily. But throw in daily pain? It can become the silent catalyst that slowly kills any respect and love in your relationship. 

Your partner's thinking: “How long is this pain gonna last? I’m sick and tired of hearing all the complaining 24/7. I really want to go camping this weekend. If they tell me they can’t again …”

Your thoughts: “Why can’t they get it? I need to rest after washing the dishes. It’s tiring and drains me when I’m finished. I would just love some help for once instead of the hurtful insults. Camping this weekend? Fat chance.”

May I make a suggestion?

Have a conversation with your partner and tell them how you feel. Keeping your emotions and thoughts locked up deep inside makes matters worse and your body will eventually take a toll. You’re trying to manage chronic pain, not add fuel to the fire.

Living with chronic pain often feels like you’re a prisoner in solitary confinement with your mind and body. But it's critical to have difficult conversations with your significant other so they can understand what you're truly going through. 

The last thing you want is for all the frustration you feel to fester inside. At some point, it will bubble to the surface and erupt faster than the volcano in ancient Pompeii. We all know how that turned out for those poor people.

Speaking with your partner in an empathetic way is a skill. 

It needs to be developed and regularly practiced. I recommend checking out Marshall B. Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication

I recommend this book to many people including my coaching clients. It’ll teach you the art of communicating with your loved ones in a caring way where everyone involved will feel heard and respected. And loved.

I’ve tried some of the strategies in the book with my kids and husband. They work!

However, if you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your partner on your own, please consider speaking with a really good friend or working with a therapist.

Here’s the other elephant in the room: Chronic pain also causes extreme psychological stress, which can wreak havoc on your relationships.

Pain has a twisted way of playing dirty tricks with your mind. It plays on your deepest fears and can leave you feeling insecure about your body.  Sometimes, you begin to wonder if your partner even finds you attractive anymore.

The Facebook photos of healthy-looking women laughing it up on the beach, clinking glasses with their partners as they look deeply into the eyes of each other don’t help your situation.

We compare ourselves to those people in the photo because we assume our lives aren’t amazing like theirs. (Is that really true though? A convo for another time perhaps.)

I mean, who wouldn’t love to be having fun in the sun and splashing in the sea with their loved one? Instead of living in a painful body. What a sobering reality.

Put yourself out of your own misery. Don’t spend all of your time scrolling through your social media feed on your phone. You’ll just feel worse than you already do. And you don’t need more negative thoughts competing for your precious brain space. You’re fighting back chronic pain after all.

I’ll leave you with this final thought. If chronic pain is seriously interfering with your relationship, can you take your partner by the hand, look them in the eye, and have a heart-to-heart?

Get it all off your chest but in a loving way. This isn’t the blame game. Let them know how you’re feeling and the need to reconnect in a safe, loving, and nurturing way.

Your relationship will thank you for your courage.




Photo Credit: Tim Robberts / Stone via Getty Images

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Lovaine Cohen

Lovaine Cohen

Diagnosed since 2001

Lovaine Cohen has lived with ankylosing spondylitis for over 20 years. A chronic pain coach, Lovaine helps women reduce pain with her Holistic Healing Method program and shares pain management and anxiety tips on her blog and on Instagram. Her loves include her two children in their early 20s, a rescue husky named Stella, and her husband of 28 years. Connect with Lovaine on Instagram.

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