Living with chronic pain: Impact on the family
Chronic pain can have a profound influence on family life and relationships. Many of the people that we talked to were very grateful to their families, who helped to keep them going and gave them pleasure in life (see also 'Relationships and sex life' and 'Parenting, children and grandchildren').
Families can go through a bewildering and emotional time watching the person suffer and feeling frustrated that they cannot do anything to help, especially when treatments do not work. One woman felt that her close friends and family had to go through a natural grieving process over the loss of the person she had been.
Many people felt that there was not enough support for families, although NHS Pain Management Programmes or support groups had sometimes run helpful sessions for families.
Most of the people we talked to said that chronic pain sometimes makes them self centred, moody and intolerant and that often they took their pain out on those closest to them by being snappy, and even aggressive. Sometimes it was best to be alone at such times, although some explained that they did not always realise what they were doing. Many felt guilty about what they put their families through and had tried to make it up to them.
Some preferred not to talk about their pain or hid it from their family because it could become a “nag”. Others commented that whilst they did not talk about it, their family could sense that they were in pain. Some people who lived apart from their families did not want to burden them. A woman who had moved away from her home country said her family had enough other things to worry about.
Many people talked about the positive support from their families including understanding, tolerance of their moods, belief of their pain, or a good shoulder to cry on. Several felt that their pain had actually brought them closer to a family member, most often a parent but sometimes a brother or sister.
Some had relatives who were healthcare professionals, or who had their own health problems, and found they were particularly understanding and supportive. A few men suggested that because they were not working they had spent more time with their children, which had brought them closer together.
People often relied on their parents, children or wider family for practical help with the housework, DIY and even personal care. Whilst support with daily activities was appreciated, occasionally people felt that their relatives were inclined to overprotect or 'wrap them up in cotton wool'. Communication was vital in getting the right balance of still doing things and asking for help when it was needed.
Often a partner had to take on more responsibility, or there had been a change in what they did in the family (see also 'Relationships and sex life'). People with older relatives were sometimes concerned that they were not capable of looking after them.
Some people that we spoke to felt that some members of their family did not understand or believe their pain. This was upsetting, but because it is an invisible disability and can vary so much from day to day it can be hard for others to understand. People who did not have family support often relied more on close friends or healthcare professionals (see also 'Impact on friends and reaction of others').
Last reviewed November 2012.