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Self-Help & Coping

Create a New Social Life

Supportive social contact is a huge buffer against a chronic illness like fibromyalgia, says Connie O’Reilly, Ph.D., of Beaverton, OR. But couples may have to rethink and recreate a social life based on new realities. On an individual basis, patients may need to consider new pastimes that are fun but don’t drain their energy bank or overwork sore muscles.

“Develop new mutual interests,” O’Reilly suggests to help couples maintain a social life. “The kind of socializing may be different than it was before the illness.” It’s important to continue to make plans but be sure to have contingency arrangements for those inevitable disruptions because of pain or fatigue. Be prepared to be flexible with a time or date, or take a rain check.

“You need to try to let go of this idea that you can or should try to prevent someone else from being upset or disappointed,” O’Reilly says. Pushing yourself to meet social commitments will only make your fibromyalgia worse. And it’s also important to let your partner do what he or she needs to do to achieve their social needs.

“Your job is to engage in good self-care so that you don’t feel jealous or resentful when your partner does choose to go out without you. Your partner’s job is to decide what he needs to do to make certain he takes care of himself,” she says.

“Needs for the couple to socialize together shouldn’t be relegated to the trash heap,” says Don Uslan, M.A., M.B.A., L.M.H.C., a therapist in Seattle, WA. “Couples who are not used to individual socializing may have a very difficult time with this concept. But there aren’t a lot of choices. Either the well spouse learns to do certain things alone or with her own group of friends, so she can meet some social needs and lessen any possible resentment. Or the couple will have to learn to enjoy and accept a less active form of socializing together.”

There are challenges in living with a chronic illness that “good will and good intentions cannot solve on their own,” says Uslan. This is when couples therapy or professional counseling may be needed.

Barbara Suter, Ph.D., a therapist in New York City, says, in addition, an outside support group could act as psychological support for the well spouse to let off steam or even be a social outlet. And “if time is too limited, perhaps an online group could be an option.”

“A couple may be fortunate enough to go for many years before a major challenge strikes. Or it may be early in the relationship,” Uslan says. “If you didn’t come down with fibromyalgia, it might have been something else, cardiac problems or severe back pain. The end result is the same. Either both parties are in it for the long haul, or one partner will try to find some way out, usually by blaming the person with the illness for some failure of not living up to the relationship contract. So, if it’s clear that both parties are in it for the long haul, they just need tools and techniques to figure out how to cope.”