Is love enough to overcome chronic pain?

We all have seen movies or read books in which the hero (or the heroine) is saved from a terrible situation through love. Children stories like the Beauty and the Beast or Sleeping Beauty are typical of this genre. Is this at all possible, or this is it just a romantic idea? We just want to believe that “loves cures all” or there is some scientific basis for this?

The answer to this question goes something like; “yes, at least theoretically.”

The quality of a relationship is generally estimated through the quality of the attachment between the partners. Attachment theory posits that the way we appraise and react to threats is determined by our attachment style; this can be functional (i.e. secure) or dysfunctional (i.e. avoidant, anxious, insecure). When the threat we are facing is pain, the attachment style of the sufferer and the attachment style of the healer become important. The current literature supports that generally speaking, pain sufferer with axious, insecure or avoidant attachment styles have higher pain perception and pain related disabilities. Just as to be expected, pain sufferers with a more secure attachment style tend to report lower pain perception and higher levels of perception of control over pain.

Similarly, the helper’s attachment style is important for the helper’s well-being, the pain sufferer and the dyadic relationship. Anxious, insecure or avoidant helpers tend to report higher levels of personal distress when a partner is suffering from pain, the sufferer in turns tends to respond with negative emotionality to the dysfunctional attachment style of the helper and the relationship among the two is generally described in more negative terms.

The intriguing aspect of the connection between love and pain is that the above findings can be replicated in pain-free couples; pain-free people involved in a relationship with less than functional attachment styles exposed to experimental pain (i.e. cold pressor) tend to report higher levels of pain and perceive having less control over the pain experience while at the same time being less satisfied in their romantic relationship when compared to couples whose attachment style is more secure.
So after all, may be love is not the answer to chronic pain, but definitely it can go a long way to sweeten the deal for the sufferer, the healer and all the people directly or indirectly involved.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua