Individuals with chronic pain and illness can constantly experience emotional distress. It can also affect a person's ability to engage in occupational, social and recreational activities. Chronic pain causes muscle tension, less sexual arousal, sexual dysfunction, limited mobility, fatigue, and creates changes in the appetite and sleep. When I work with couples who experience problems related to chronic pain and illness, often I hear they are having a difficult time being sexually intimate. One partner is not able to perform due to the severity of pain or because of the anxiety and depression associated with the pain. The individual feels guilty and ashamed leaving them feeling they are not good enough. Communication then becomes a problem, but it also becomes critical. Couples who experience chronic pain and illness will benefit from understanding their core emotional and erotic needs by explaining to each other why these needs are important. Both partners will need to feel ultimately safe prior to communicating. Couples can process their emotions centered on the pain and intimacy. This may lead to validating and understanding each other's reality. Each partner has a responsibility in the relationship and by developing a solid plan, this can create conflict resolution with the hope of promoting sexual arousal and intimacy.
Acceptance plays a critical factor when couples are affected with chronic pain and illness. No one wants to accept pain and illness, but accepting it rather than fighting it can bring wholeness to the relationship. This is not easy and it takes work! Couples can grow stronger when they can accept what they cannot change versus what they can change. They may not be able to change the pain and illness, but what they can change are the feelings and emotions that come with chronic pain and illness. Removing negative feelings centered on the pain and illness promotes an intimate bonding with the couple. Furthermore, desire and arousal are present and this may involve sexual anticipation, excitement, and emotional openness to sexual activity.