Marriage and Family Life Issues
Sometimes vulvodynia affects other aspects of family life, including child care, performing daily chores and attending social functions.
Living with chronic pain usually requires some lifestyle changes that can be difficult for you and your partner to accept. When you have a chronic pain condition, sometimes just making social plans is stressful, because you can’t predict when the pain will flare up. Both you and your partner may have to adjust your expectations of how much you can do. Perhaps you can’t participate in some activities the two of you used to take for granted. Feeling sad or angry is a normal reaction to loss. If you dwell on what you’ve lost, however, it can lead to depression. (Please see Section 5 for helpful information on coping with chronic pain.) The healthy alternative is to enjoy the activities you can still do together and pursue new areas of interest.
When two people embark on a life together, neither one envisions that someday his/her partner will suffer from a chronic pain condition. Typically, each individual has a set of expectations as to which family responsibilities each one will assume. As couples evolve, the responsibilities fall into a pattern. When one partner develops chronic pain, however, this pattern is disrupted. It’s impossible to fulfill all your responsibilities when you’re spending so much time researching treatment options and visiting medical specialists. Additionally, your medications can make you feel tired, leaving you with less energy than usual. Discuss with your partner which tasks or responsibilities you need him/her to assume.
Parenting roles are affected when one partner suffers from a chronic pain condition. Whether you work at home or at an office (or not at all), dealing with the challenges of raising children are understandably more difficult when you are in pain. Sitting to help with homework or driving children to activities can sometimes feel overwhelming when you are in pain. You will probably need some extra understanding and help from your partner until your pain becomes manageable. If possible, you can also ask family members or close friends to assist with child care duties during times of heightened pain.
Your children will likely experience some feelings and concerns about your condition and their schedule changes. Even very young children notice when you are not feeling well, lack patience or cannot sit for long periods of time. Whether you disclose your condition to your children or not, they will know that something is wrong. If you don’t talk to them, you run the risk that they will arrive at their own conclusions, e.g., they may think you have a life-threatening illness.
Of course, the amount of information a child needs depends on his/her age and ability to understand. It’s important to be honest and let your child know how she/he will be affected. Here are some practical suggestions for talking with your children:
- Give a general description of your condition.
- Emphasize that the pain is not their fault and they can’t catch it.
- Assure them that you won’t die and that you are working with your doctor to feel better.
- Let your children know that pain can be unpredictable, i.e., sometimes you may seem fine, but other times it may prevent you from participating in activities.
- Talk about scheduling changes you have to make while you are seeking care. Tell them who will take care of their needs, such as picking them up from school.
It will take some time for your partner and/or children to adjust to the changes in your family life. If you notice that a member of your family is distressed, consider seeing a family therapist who specializes in the impact of chronic illness on families.