Living with Chronic Pain

Potential Negative Effects of Chronic Pain on Intimate Relationships


Chronic pain can negatively affect various aspects of life, including marital or romantic relationships. Although chronic pain can impact intimate relationships, several steps can help ensure that the effects are minimal.

Potential negative effects

  • Activity limitations
    When one partner in a couple has chronic pain, it can put stress on the relationship. They may not be able to perform daily activities, such as participating in leisure activities or sharing household responsibilities, as they once did.
  • Care needs
    The partner with chronic pain may need to ask for help on a daily basis. Consequently, they may feel more like a dependent or a burden rather than a contributing partner. Frequent requests for help may also make their partner feel overwhelmed or resentful.
  • Work or financial concerns
    If the individual with chronic pain is unable to work, financial concerns may develop. Partners of individuals with chronic pain may also need to take time off work to provide adequate care for their significant other. Or, they may need to work additional hours in order to pay medical bills or to make up for loss of income if their partner is unable to work.
  • Physical intimacy issues
    Chronic pain can also negatively impact physical intimacy. Either the pain itself or medications used to treat the pain may inhibit sexual intimacy. Because intimacy is an important part of a marriage or romantic relationship, lack of sexual intimacy can weaken the partnership.

All of the above factors can contribute to the breakdown of a relationship. More than half of marriages in which one partner has a chronic condition, such as chronic pain, end in divorce. However, steps can be taken to help prevent the negative effects of chronic pain on intimate relationships.

Four tips to manage or prevent negative effects

  1. Keep lines of communication open. The spouse or partner with chronic pain should remember that their significant other is not a mind reader. The needs of both partners should be clearly communicated. Talking about emotions, such as frustration or depression, benefits both individuals and the relationship itself. Other important topics to communicate include financial concerns and work stressors.
  2. Discuss and prioritize physical intimacy. Chronic pain does not mean that physical intimacy is out of the question. Although dealing with chronic pain may mean more planning or some adjustments may be needed to be physically intimate, it is still an essential part of a romantic relationship. Both partners should openly discuss ways to ensure physical intimacy remains a priority.
  3. Find new ways to divide household responsibilities. The partner with chronic pain may have difficulty doing their previous household chores, such as mowing the lawn or weeding the garden, but they can pick up new chores, such as folding the laundry or paying the bills. Changes in responsibilities may be necessary to ensure both partners can contribute.
  4. Remember to have fun and show affection. Having fun and showing affection strengthen a relationship and may decrease pain levels. Watching a funny movie or participating in a hobby that both partners enjoy is a good distraction from pain. Showing affection by holding hands, cuddling on the couch, or sending thoughtful text messages can also be beneficial for both individuals and the relationship as a whole.

Additional resource: The American Journal of Managed Care.

Did you find this helpful?
You may also like