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Why Your Partner is Causing You Worse Pain

When a loved one is in the hospital, it is often natural to want to be right by their side the whole time. Our culture is one of family and togetherness, making sure that no one is ever in pain alone. But what if the classic romance of ‘in sickness and in health’ was not always the best thing for us? Recent research suggests that some women may actually feel more pain when in the presence of their romantic partners than when alone.

Researchers from University College London, the University of Hertfordshire, and King’s College London teamed up to conduct an experiment on the effects of a person’s perceived pain level when their significant other is nearby. They believed that the fact that most doctors recommend having someone with when a patient is having surgery or other medical procedures should be explored.

The team tested 39 straight couples to engage in the study. Prior to the experiment the couples were asked questions regarding how much importance the idea of closeness and intimacy was in their relationship. During the experiment, the women were subjected to random pulses, causing pain. Shocks were given when their partner was in the room and outside as well. During this time, the women’s brain waves were recorded.

The researchers discovered that certain women experienced worsened pain when their partners were in the room. Interestingly, these women had a commonality of avoiding closeness and intimacy in their relationships. Women who thought these feelings were very important tended to see little to no change in their pain levels. It was an interesting discovery as it shows how certain people’s brains react to other people, even if subconscious.

Dr. Katernia Fotopoulou, co-author of the study stated, "Our research shows one piece of advice doesn't fit everyone. Advice that you must have your partner with you is not always going to work if people are most concerned about lowering the level of pain they feel." Other scientists found that this study correlated with research done on children’s pain when their parents are in the room. That study showed kids often felt worse when their parents were around, especially if they themselves were nervous about the situation.

Dr. Amanda Williams of University College London, commented on the new findings. "People assume that having a partner, a parent or a close other present is always helpful but it is clearly not the case. We need to understand who this advice doesn't suit."

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