Previous studies on acute pain have demonstrated that the presence of a compassionate, supportive spouse can reduce the brains response to a painful stimuli and to top it off, the addition of an affectionate touch can actually further reduce pain intensity.

Which is great news, HOWEVER an overly concerned spouse may not be so good if one is experiencing chronic pain. For instance, this study looked at experimentally induced pain tolerance in individuals with chronic low back pain. The researchers found that the presence of an overly concerned, worried, or caring spouse decreased the patient’s pain threshold in by 75%!

“These data suggest that spouse solicitousness is associated with heightened pain perception in chronic pain patients…”Flor et al 1995

This recent 2022 study took this study a step further compared brain responses using EEGs in those with chronic low back pain when they had their spouse present versus absent during the experiments.

Basically those with overly-attentive partners had significantly higher pain-related brain activation which explains the greater self-reported unpleasantness and pain intensity ratings when their spouse was present during the experiment.


“…the present data suggest that partner interaction and the spouse’s solicitous behavior may play a reinforcing role not only on the behavioral and verbal level but also in the central nervous system response to painful stimuli in chronic pain.” – Nees et al 2022

So it seems like with the most loving and the best of intentions, one may sometimes need to tell a partner, “Honey, I love you and I know that you love me, but your kindness and compassion may be making me feel worse. How about if you did not focus on my pain and disability but helped me do activities that distract me and I will enjoy.”

Nees, Fraukea,b; Ditzen, Beatec; Flor, Hertaa,*. When shared pain is not half the pain: enhanced central nervous system processing and verbal reports of pain in the presence of a solicitous spouse. PAIN: September 2022 – Volume 163 – Issue 9 – p e1006-e1012
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