The Effects of Chronic Pain on the Family Unit

 Chronic pain affects not only the individual but also their loved ones. This article looks at this topic in more detail and guides healthy family coping mechanisms.

Family dynamics can vastly change when chronic pain comes into play. Healthy family connections and coping strategies can be challenging to maintain. This study states that chronic pain, “impinges on almost every aspect of family life, and, over time, is likely to bring about significant consequences for the family”.

Seeing your loved one in pain, struggling to function, and potentially struggling mentally, as a result, can be very distressing. It’s not nice to see someone you love going through so much. Often family members can feel helpless because they aren’t able to ‘fix the problem.

Sometimes loved ones can be unsure how to help, even though they desperately want to.  

Feeling helpless

This feeling of helplessness can lead to frustration and emotional distress within family members. The person in pain may feel extra pressure, trying both to cope with their pain and reassure their loved ones.

This study explains that “uncertainty is often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and helplessness as they struggle to understand the pain and fear what the future holds for both them and their families".

Invisible symptoms are hard to understand

A lot of symptoms that come with chronic pain are invisible from an outside perspective. This can lead to family members not understanding what the person in pain is going through.
They may underestimate the severity of their symptoms and may not understand why they cannot keep up with day-to-day tasks. It’s common to hear that you ‘don’t look sick.
This can be frustrating for the person in pain. It can feel isolating to not be understood. It can be frustrating to have to try and explain your symptoms or to feel your experience is invalidated because others can’t see the illness or injury.
This can often lead to tension within family relationships, and a sense of distance. The person in pain may pull away so that they don’t have to explain themselves.


Chronic pain can impede a person’s level of functioning, particularly when it is left untreated. Often family members will take on a caring role.But this is only a bonding time between family members. This new dynamic of ‘carer’ and ‘patient’ can be difficult to adjust to and can strain relationships. Particularly when it comes to chronic pain and marriage, this role can become an obstacle to romance and sexuality.

Loved ones not feeling able to ask for support

When your loved one is in pain, family members may feel that they cannot talk about their problems because they don’t want to give their loved one ‘anymore to deal with.

This can leave them struggling in silence, feeling that they always need to be strong for the person in pain.

Reinforcing fear avoidance and inactivity

Loved ones want to protect the person in pain and even when they feel they are doing the right thing, sometimes they are reinforcing maladaptive (unhelpful) behaviors. Often pain patients avoid activity because they worry that it is going to worsen their pain: this is known as fear avoidance. Avoiding activity can contribute to maintaining and increasing pain levels.


The right family support can make coping with chronic pain so much easier and help to maintain those strong family connections.As well as the family being involved in treatment, there are ways that you can introduce more positive coping skills as a family when dealing with chronic pain. 

1. Open communication

Talking to each other about how you are feeling, on both sides is so important. Spending time together wanting to be able to listen to his advice.

2. Respecting boundaries

The person in pain may have boundaries, for example, things they don’t want help with or times when they need their own space. It’s vital to respect these boundaries. Equally, the relative’s boundaries must be respected.

3. Doing research

Whether you are a relative or a person in pain, researching chronic pain can help you to understand the science behind pain, how to approach daily activities and how you can be proactive in recovery. The more knowledge you gain, the better equipped you will be.

4. Looking after yourself

Every individual needs to be fundamentally responsible for looking after themselves. If you are a family member who is caring for a chronically ill loved one, you need to ensure that you are practicing self-care and prioritizing your own mental and physical health. You cannot be there for someone else fully if you are not first there for yourself.

5. Planning fun family activities

Chronic pain has a habit of taking over every aspect of life, for both the patient and family. Ensure that you are not allowing your whole life to become about the pain. Plan fun activities and enjoy quality time together!

Now go give a hug to one person you love.

Our hugs go out to you all!
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