Tell Researchers How You Talk About Pain With Your Partner

Patient Expert

One of the hardest things about living with chronic pain is talking to others about your pain. And this can be especially challenging in your relationship with your partner or spouse. A study currently seeking participants aims to identify the goals behind why people communicate — or don’t communicate — about their pain to their partner. Earlier this week, I spoke to co-investigator Somayyeh Mohammadi, Ph.D., about the study.

Dr. Mohammadi studied for a doctorate degree in the Netherlands and is now working in Canada. She has a background of working in the field of chronic pain, primarily focusing on “the relationship between patients with chronic pain and their partners and main family caregivers.” She is particularly interested in “how family and caregivers can impact the chronicity of the pain or how pain and living with an individual with chronic pain can impact the health of the other person.”

She’s currently doing postdoctoral work in Halifax, Canada, with a focus on two areas. One is "pediatric pain and the impact of parental pain on the children's well-being." Secondly, Dr. Mohammadi is working on a study on pain communication at the Couples and Sexual Health Research Laboratory in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Halifax. The focus of this research, which is led by Natalie Rosen, Ph.D., is to investigate “why some individuals with chronic pain decide to communicate their pain to their partners and why some decide not to.”

Pain communication in relationships

Do you talk to your partner about your pain or express it through other means, such as wincing, or do you hide your pain from your partner?

People who are in pain exhibit what is called pain behaviors. “Some of these pain behaviors are solely with the aim of protecting themselves from a specific kind of pain, like when they walk in a different way to reduce their pain,” Dr. Mohammadi explained. But other pain behaviors may also have the goal of telling others about your pain experience. This can include asking for medication or telling the other person that you are having pain.

“Pain communication is very important because it helps patients receive the support they need,” she said. Especially from the partner — she explained that studies have indicated that people often show pain more to their significant other. But there are people who hide their pain from their partners, perhaps to “protect the partners from the burden or protecting themselves from receiving a negative response from the partner.” There isn’t a lot of information about the reasons for this kind of behavior in the literature. The Dalhousie University study is intended to start a deeper investigation, perhaps leading to more longitudinal and experimental studies.

Implications of pain communication research

I asked Dr. Mohammadi to explain the benefits of this type of research and how the results could potentially be used. She said that the research might show pain communication is related to marital satisfaction.

“If, for example, you find out that marital satisfaction is lower among the people who do not communicate pain to their partners, we need to work on helping patients communicate better so their partners understand better what is really going on,” she said.

Participate in the study By participating in this study, you will help build an understanding of why and how people communicate about their pain to their romantic partners. This can lead to a better understanding of the lives of people in pain. It also has the potential for clinicians to help people with chronic pain develop better relationships into the future.

The study consists of two surveys that you take online. The first lasts about 20-30 minutes, and the second about eight minutes. If you are a resident of the U.S. or Canada, over the age of 18, have chronic pain, and live with your romantic partner, you qualify to participate! If you are interested, visit the study homepage to learn more and ends of the first survey. The survey closes on March 3, 2017.

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