Chronic Pain and Divorce


I have often said that there probably are as many reasons (or definitions or examples) of “x” as there are “x”. For example, I have written that there probably are as many definitions of “genius” as there are “geniuses”.

Another example is that of divorce. There probably are as many reasons for having a divorce as there are divorced couples.

I suppose that there are a few overriding categories within the umbrella of “divorce”. For example, every person–especially younger people, like first-time newlyweds–grow, evolve and change. If they grow, evolve and change in similar fashions and in similar directions then there should be no concern.

However, if they change in dissimilar fashions or in dissimilar directions, or if one person changes and the other does not, then there can be a concern. Another possibility is a change in perception. If a quiet person marries a voluble person then they may appreciate the differences. However, after awhile, they may find these differences in the other to be very irritating.

Another example is of a traumatic experience, such as the death of a child. There seems to be conflicting reports. Some state that divorces from such instances are far below the national average of marriages that end up in divorce; another states that divorces from this are as high as 80%.

Regardless, there do seem to be very good suggestions to avert such a divorce: show your feelings and allow your partner to do the same and to grieve; communicate, perhaps even more so than before; communicate with a neutral third party, in other words, get counselling; do not blame each other; and be ready for changes. These good suggestions can be applicable to all marriages in all situations.

Yet another example of a reason for divorce is of chronic pain. A person may be involved in an accident or develop arthritis or another debilitating condition and the other person may not know how to properly meet the sufferer’s needs. Yes, the vow is, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…” but the reality is often different.

Tracy Rydzy had been morbidly obese, in a wheelchair and barely able to walk, and having had a few back surgeries. She acknowledged that there were many factors involved in getting a divorce (both on her ex-husband’s side and on her part), one of which was her chronic pain.

Ellemma did not have a divorce but, for all intents and purposes, the marriage was through. She saw that her husband was in great emotional pain from not only being the sole financial provider but also having to do the chores around the house because of her physical pain. She felt that he stayed in the marriage only because he knew that she could do nothing on her own. This broke her heart.

A female reader of the blog of Barbara Kivowitz was also similarly not divorced, but did contemplate it. She had suffered from four years of the pain of RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) and her husband was led to feel guilty if he enjoyed life (which she was unable to do), and she stated that she had no support system. Ms Kivowitz suggested that she should get a divorce as the emotional and physical hardships present in such a situation was more harmful than in a situation after a divorce.

Russ Benning had a painful blood-clotting disease in one leg that his fiancée (later wife) knew about and which later developed in the other leg, as well. They did stay for many years but after 15 years of marriage, they got divorced, causing him to lose not only his wife but also her income and health insurance, making him even worse off.

“Mixi” had various conditions, ailments, illnesses and a very bad back injury. Her husband showed little empathy or sympathy and felt that she was play-acting. He eventually ran off with her supposed best-friend, resulting in a divorce.

With the exception of Mr. Benning, all the people named above are women. This anecdotal evidence coincides with that of a study. A study was done of 515 patients who had a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis or a brain tumor.

The women in the study were seven times more likely to get divorced or separated as were the men in the study. The divorces were most common just six months after the diagnosis, although couples who had been married for a long time fared better.

It was theorized that women had a greater emotional attachment to a relationship and that they wanted to face the challenge head-on, whereas the men wanted to avoid undesirable conflicts.

The advice for marriages involved in a traumatic experience can be applied or adapted to those involved in chronic pain. However, there seems to be some unique, special or other advice that has been helpful in maintaining a marriage in which one person is involved in chronic pain.

Have a priority or reset priorities A patient of the psychotherapist Dr. Steven W. Pollard had chronic back pain, and was overly medicated. He was unable to function in his marriage counselling sessions with his wife, and was unable to function in virtually everything else.

His wife eventually had enough and filed for divorce, and he lost custody of his child. This seemingly woke him up to the proper priorities and he eventually found happiness in a second marriage and was able to see his child again.

Deborah Ross was middle-aged, had some teenaged children, had a degree in psychology and a practice that was thriving. In all respects, she was a success. Her husband, though, had been ill, had migraine headaches and even seizures. On an airplane, he had a seizure that was so bad that the pilot was forced to turn around and go back to the nearest airport.

He was eventually diagnosed with epilepsy, slightly comforting her in knowing that there was a name for it and that it was not something even worse (such as a brain tumor). He felt awful that he was not able to do simple things and she felt awful that it was a drain on her time and resources but after a great deal of conversations, they realized that they were each other’s priority.

Adjust expectations Priorities are for long-term needs, expectations are for daily or even hourly needs. Michelle Miske McCart had Multiple Sclerosis for a decade and later lost vision in one eye, causing her to no longer drive. Every day, she has to go through an hour-and-a-half of physical and speech therapy before she is able to get out of bed. They develop plans, but these are sometimes overridden by the fact that her pain from the MS is too great. In short, in poker as well as in life, play the hand that is dealt to you.

Be more realistic Some people who suffer from pain have an enlarged sense of the pain and of their needs in combatting the pain. This is referred to as catastrophizing. It often results in an even greater perception of pain, and of counter-productive ways of asking for assistance. Such people will sigh, or moan or exhibit other behaviors in which another person does not know how to adequately respond. This often affects other aspects of a couple’s relationship. Instead, proper and adequate communication is always the key.

Be less practical The above are practical advice but another option is for people to be less practical. The husbands of women who suffer from chronic pain are often practical in that they look at all the treatment options, the costs and of doing the things that the wives can no longer do. However, the emotional factor is ignored. In trying to maintain the household, husbands often forget or overlook the wives’ emotional needs.

A couple that suffers together stays together. Shelley Kirkpatrick suffers from severe fibromyalgia. She suffered so badly that her husband had to care for her every need, even to the extent of bathing her and brushing her teeth. They dealt with many financial, employment and health crises. He saw her at her worst, but also at her best. Through it all, they now know that when the next crisis comes about, they will survive that as well.

There are as many reasons for liking and not liking someone. There are many people who like people who have blond hair. If you have blond hair then you are in luck.

If you have black hair then you may not be fully appreciated or loved by these people. However, there are many other people who appreciate and love people with black hair. If you are overweight then you can be appreciated by those who like overweight people.

If you are skinny then you can be appreciated by those who like skinny people. If you are tall then you can be appreciated by those who like tall people. If you are short then you can be appreciated by those who like short people. If you are in chronic pain then you can be appreciated and loved by those who want to be there in your needs.

Divorce is not good, but neither is being in a bad marriage. If you have already been divorced or are in a bad marriage then do find someone who can be there for you physically, emotionally and financially. You do not need another pain in the neck.