A shared love: reciprocity and hopefulness in romantic relationships of young adults with chronic pain

Bernie Carter, Abbie Jordan, Paula Forgeron, Pamela Qualter, Holly Saron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Chronic pain (≥3 months) creates pain-related challenges that may negatively affect how young adults perceive themselves, and, indeed, they often report feeling different compared to peers and prospective romantic partners. Most studies of romantic relationships in young adults living with a long-term condition (including pain), do not consider the perspective of their partner. We present the findings of a qualitative, exploratory interview study (Phase 2 of a mixed methods study). This qualitative phase aimed to explore how young adults with chronic pain and their partners navigate romantic relationships. We focused on how young adults perceive and experience their romantic relationships and the impact, challenges, and benefits associated with living with chronic pain. Methods: This study used remote (videoconferencing) photo-elicitation interviews with a convenience sample of young adults with chronic pain (aged 18–25 years, UK and Canada) and their partners. Recruitment occurred via social media, pain-related websites and organizations, and professional networks. Five young adults with chronic pain from the UK and Canada formed the e-Advisory Group and provided detailed advice throughout the study. Data analysis used the principles of inductive reflexive thematic analysis to explore the dimensions and meaning of romantic relationships from the views of young adults with chronic pain and their romantic partners. Findings: Sixteen young adults participated (seven couples plus two young adults with pain who were interviewed without their partner). The young adults with chronic pain were ages 18–24 years (mean 21.88 years, SD 2.23). Four major interpretive themes were generated: Kindred spirits—we just sort of work; Loving in everyday acts—it's not above and beyond, it's concerned supportiveness; It's OK to be vulnerable with each other—we can talk it through; and You can't see over the horizon—hopes and fears for the future. Discussion: Hopefulness and reciprocity were key to the stories shared by the young adults in the current study. Despite the challenges and limitations imposed by chronic pain, their relationships were characterized by partnership and reciprocity, and they were able to be vulnerable with each other and offer each other support.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1179516
JournalFrontiers in Pain Research
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

This work was funded by internal funding from Edge Hill University awarded via the Health Research Institute Fund

Data Availability Statement
The raw dataset (apart from photographs and images) generated for this qualitative study will be available from the first author upon reasonable request.


  • chronic pain
  • couple (spouses)
  • identity
  • photo-elicitation
  • reciprocity
  • relationships
  • young adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine
  • Health Professions (miscellaneous)
  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)


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