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Living with Disability and Its Affect on Relationships


Having a disability, be it medical or psychological, can put a strain on relationships.  I am not just talking about marriages or romantic relationships.  All forms of communication and relationships can suffer when someone is going through a hard time.

In my case (of course it would be my case, it’s my blog), I have noticed changes in various relationships that I have with friends and family.  It can be broken down into different categories, positive and negative.  These are all actually relatively normal reactions to one person in a relationship going through a major life transition, be it significant other, sibling, child or friend.  One very important thing to remember for most of us living with pain or disability is this: I KNOW HOW I SOUND AND I WISH I DIDN’T HAVE THIS TO TALK ABOUT!

The negative:

These are the “categories” of negative changes in relationships I have noted or experienced in the past:

1-     I hate to see you upset, so I just won’t see you.  I know people this has happened to, me included.  This is not just limited to physical pain, this came into play a LOT when I went through my separation and had emotional pain.  Whether it is because I feel they do not want to spend time with me because they are tired of listening to me or whether I feel they are not supportive and are not positive, I avoid spending time with them or vice versa.

2-     Wow that sounds bad, but listen, my situation is so much worse than yours.  We are all guilty of this in life.  Sometimes you want to be heard and feel you need to top the other person’s story.  I have noticed that when someone has a really bad run of luck, some people, in an attempt to “relate,” will tell their tales of woe rather than listen.  I met a man in physical therapy who told me, “I am 70 years old, whatever you tell me, I am sure that I can top it, but right now we are talking about you. Later we can talk about me.”  I thought this was the most incredible advice I had ever heard.

3-     I am tired of hearing you talk about your health, so I will cut you off.

4-     I am tired of hearing you complain, so I won’t ask how you feel.  This can lead many people to feel as if they are a burden or as if their health, pain or emotional concerns are not being heard or, worse yet, not being believed.

5-     I can’t help you, so I won’t try anymore.  Generally, when a relationship gets to this point, I find it is best to cut ties.  Although no one can really help with your pain, relationships are a two way street and if someone has decided they cannot help you the options are either you are left unsupported and you are doing all the supporting, or you just don’t have the relationship anymore.

The positive:

1-     I have been through something like this, I can relate.

2-     It sounds like you are having a rough time, what can I do to help?

3-     Life sucks, let’s be silly and distract you.  Since I believe laughter is the best medicine, these are truly the best, most positive influences in life, those that recognize the value of distracting you from your pain.

4-     Wow, that sounds terrible, tell me about it.  Although it is not necessary to complain repeatedly, sometimes it is important to feel heard, even if just for a few moments.  Just be sure that you are also doing part of the listening in the relationship to keep the two-way relationship open.

How can you resolve some of these issues? 

It helps to educate the people who have in interest in understanding you and trying to figure out how to help.  When people say, “what is it like? I don’t understand,” then I will explain to them how I feel, or refer them here where I tell the whole world what life with physical/emotional pain is like.  It’s good to keep the lines of communication open.

I think the most important tip I can give is to try and discern between, “I am miserable and want to complain, I could use an ear,” vs. “I could use some advice,” vs. “I am not complaining and I don’t want to be like this.”  I think that is the part a lot of people do not understand and therefore become annoyed or angry and therefore distant.

I am sure most living with pain or disability would tend to agree that very rarely are we talking about our issues to get pity.  We talk about it because we need an outlet, to be heard.   When it comes down to it, we really just want to be like everyone else.

Comforting a friend image available from Shutterstock.

Living with Disability and Its Affect on Relationships

Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

My name is Tracy and I am a licensed social worker. I was working as a Social Worker, when an emergency spinal surgery 2 years ago changed my life and my career. I live with chronic pain and, as a result, I have taken my social work and writing skills, and made them into this blog. This blog is a humorous, informative, no-holds barred honest look at life with chronic pain, depression and disability.”

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APA Reference
Rydzy MSW, T. (2014). Living with Disability and Its Affect on Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Jan 2014
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