Romantic Relationships and Fibro, Part 2: The Partner Perspective

Hey there. I’m Tyler, Linda’s partner. When Linda asked me to write an article talking about how her fibromyalgia affects our relationship and my experience of it, I was like…”oh boy, jumping in the deep end, huh?” It’s a little confronting, a little personal, and fraught with the peril of navigating a minefield, but I have to agree that it’s something worth talking about. Just in case you missed her article discussing the spoonie perspective, check it out here.

Of course, I can’t speak for every partner of a fibro patient. And I also want to preface this by stating unequivocally that I love and adore her with all my heart, and any extra challenge or difficulty resulting from her condition pales in comparison to the extraordinary richness she brings to my life. Ok, that being cleared up, let’s get the uglier side out of the way first: the challenges that have come up having a romantic partner with a chronic pain condition.

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Challenges: The Basics

The challenges of living with a person with fibromyalgia vary from the most minor things to rather significant and demanding difficulties. On one end of the scale, there are little adjustments that need to be made on a daily basis. Let’s break these down into three broad categories revolving around the most basic aspects of human biology: sleeping, eating, and toilet time.

Sleeping

As I’m sure you’re all aware, it’s pretty rare for fibro folks to get a blissful, uninterrupted night of sleep. What that means for the non-spoonie partner in this scenario (assuming you share a bed), is frequent awakenings resulting from all of this commotion/tossing and turning. Luckily, I usually don’t notice it too much because I’m such a deep sleeper, but on particularly bad nights it can be really frustrating for both of us. I have a tendency to overreact because I’m not used to these kinds of interruptions. Often, I really want to just shout, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LIE STILL?!”, but I have to take a step back and remind myself that I can’t feel the pain in her body; that lying on her hip in that particular way is just so unbearable for her that she has to adjust position right now.

Making peace with sleeping difficulties has gotten so much better over time as I’ve adapted to the situation. One easy thing that helps a lot is having separate bed sheets so I can cocoon myself without getting jerked around so much by all the tossing and turning. You may even want to consider sleeping in separate beds if you’re both making each other miserable.

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Eating

Eating healthy has been a test of discipline for us both since we started really taking a serious look at our diet. I will admit that I’m partial to my junk food from time to time, even though I know it’s crap and best avoided. Unfortunately, keeping things like chocolate and stroopwafels in the house is just too much of a temptation for both of us (Ok, maaaaybe the stroopwafels are my own personal issue to overcome).

In solidarity with Linda, I’ve consciously chosen to purchase these sorts of things less often or not at all. In addition, since she loves cooking, she’s been cooking meals that contain less gluten, dairy, red meat, and sugar to help with her fibro. All I have to do is shut up and eat the delicious, healthy meal. Score! Very convenient that the kinds of foods that benefit fibro folks are the same kinds of foods that are generally just straight-up healthier for everyone.

Another positive side effect of all this is that I’m paying much closer attention to the effects food has on my body, which has led me to identify some problem items (like chocolate) that I can remove from my diet and know that I’ll feel better for having done so.

Toilet Time

I’ll keep this section brief and spare you all. Basically, fibro people tend to spend a lot of time in the bathroom. As a man, I am used to the luxury of going to the bathroom lickety-split in a matter of seconds. It has definitely been an adjustment for me to learn to wait for a long period of time to get that sweet bladder relief. Of course, this minor problem is exacerbated by the fact that we generally only have access to a single toilet.

Challenges: Beyond the Basics

When it comes down to it, all the stuff in the section above just amounts to minor adjustments that need to be made to live harmoniously with a fibro partner. You learn to adjust to the little stuff after a while to the point where you hardly even notice it anymore. However, there are still some broader challenges though that extend beyond domestic life.

I guess the biggest one for me would be feeling the need to scale back my social life and various physically demanding activities that I’m used to doing. This includes things like backpacking, camping, couch surfing, sleeping in airports to save money, and group activities with a lot of people. It’s not that fibro folks can’t necessarily do these things or they forbid their partners from participating in them. It’s just generally a lot more difficult for them to join in, and there is a sense of inequality of opportunity that gets highlighted when something like this is on the table.

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It’s a shitty situation. I would feel guilty leaving my partner alone at home for a weekend backpacking trip, and she might feel guilty for wanting me to stay home with her. Whatever happens, nobody is really getting exactly what they want, and there’s this unsavory sense of compromise.

Sometimes it’s actually rather difficult to isolate the relationship challenges arising specifically as a result of fibromyalgia as opposed to deep-seated personality traits. Social anxiety is a good example of this. I’ve had partners in the past who had terrible social anxiety but no chronic pain condition. But I can also see how the symptoms and complications of fibromyalgia can lead indirectly to terrible social anxiety. It can be hard when a fibro partner wants to leave a social event early to tell everyone we’re leaving and not really give an explanation, but it’s nothing compared to the pain and anxiety she’s feeling. Swallow your pride and be on the same team as your significant other. Don’t throw her under the bus in situations like this. It’s really damaging to your relationship to say things like, “Well I’d really love to stay, but Miss Sensitive over here really wants to escape back home.”

Benefits of Dating a Spoonie

Are there any benefits to dating someone with a chronic pain condition? Absolutely! Anyone who has to live with terrible pain day in and day out tends to be especially empathetic and caring towards others when they experience pain. It can be a tremendous bonding experience to struggle through health problems together, and you’ll never find a more understanding partner when you yourself fall ill.

I already mentioned the improvement in my own diet since Linda started focusing on healthy eating. A similar dynamic was at play when she taught me yoga – something that fibro people really benefit from that also just happens to be amazing for anyone! In these ways, I realized how much I took my own health for granted and how forgiving my body is at enduring punishment compared to hers. I am so much more grateful for my health now and less likely to whine about minor annoyances.

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At the end of the day, my reactions reflect much more about myself than her. This knowledge has led me down a path of self-reflection that makes it trivial to brush off any minor perceived annoyance to me that results from her condition. That’s just pure selfishness and it has got to go. It’s nothing compared to the pain she’s feeling.

My life has become incomparably richer for loving and caring for a person with chronic pain. If you’re the partner of a spoonie and are struggling with it, I challenge you to take a step back and look not only at the bigger picture, but at what they are dealing with on a daily basis. Use this newfound perspective to grow in empathy yourself and realize that you’re both on the same team when it comes to overcoming chronic pain.

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