It always upsets me when I see discussions about a relationship breakdown, especially when Rheumatoid Arthritis or chronic illness is cited as the cause.
Some examples of statements I hear people say:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis Ruined My Relationship
- My Wife Doesn’t Understand Me or My Illness
- My Family Don’t Know What I’m Going Through
- He Left Me Because of Rheumatoid Arthritis
- My Children are Missing Out Because of Rheumatoid Arthritis
and much more in the same vein.
*This post was updated in June 2020
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Relationships
Without a doubt, Rheumatoid Arthritis has a massive impact on the person diagnosed, but also on their loved ones and people around them.
It’s not unreasonable when people write “RA is killing my relationship”. The sad truth is, Rheumatoid Arthritis does place a lot of strain on relationships.
Recently, I wrote a response to a comment in a forum, I’ve reproduced it below.
I haven’t got all the answers, what I have got is the experience. Bridget and I have probably been through every emotion, hardship and tough time you can imagine and come out the other end.
Here’s the response I posted in one of the forums:
I feel compelled to write a long post today. A post based on my observations from reading comments over the last week.
Please accept that I’m in no way judging you, nor do I want to offend or upset you but I feel I need to comment on the plight of many on here is bothering me.
I joined this group to try and offer a different perspective, that of a partner and carer of an RA sufferer.
I’ve been shocked by the number of posts about unsupportive husbands, wives, partners, children and family members.
My initial reaction to these posts is “oh, you poor thing” but that doesn’t actually help anyone so I’ve been thinking about using our own experiences as a benchmark.
Please accept my contribution in good faith, we Brits are not known for wearing our hearts on our sleeves but if it helps just one person I’ll park my stiff upper lip.
Prior to RA, we had plans and dreams, we worked towards them every day and we could see a great future ahead of us.
Before the RA diagnosis, flare-ups and bad days were upsetting, dare I say inconvenient, but we firmly believed they would leave of their own accord or get fixed with medication.
Obviously, this didn’t happen, the RA bombshell hit and every single piece of our life was left in ruins.
Everything we’d dreamed of now seemed so far away, we didn’t have time to think about us, RA consumed us every waking moment, it scared us, upset us, frustrated us and angered us.
This sudden takeover from an unknown quantity put strains on us as a couple. It stole our dreams, it was hurting the most important person in my life and there was nothing I could do about it.
Initially, I hated RA, it took my beautiful Bridget and turned her into a person I didn’t know. If it was a 10-foot giant I would have happily fought it but I couldn’t, it was controlling her body and mind and all I could do was sit back and watch.
RA caused many arguments, it attacked our relationship, there was now three of us vying for attention and only one was going to win.
I started feeling resentful, how could Bridget be more interested in RA than me?
Why didn’t she like me anymore, what had I done?
Looking back, I hate myself for allowing these thoughts and feelings into my head but what could I do – I’m human!
We were strong as a couple but it was being tested to the limit, something had to give.
We knew we had to beat this, as our understanding and experience of RA grew we came to realise that talking to each other about how we’re feeling was our best chance of getting through this.
Now, I fully appreciate we are all different and so are our relationships. At any point and on many occasions it would have been easy to walk away. I’m sure both of us at some point saw this as the easy option, but we hung in there.
We loved each other before RA and we were sure as hell going to love each other with RA.
We came to recognise the disease for what it is – a disease!
We talked to each other, cried together, shared our fears, aired our grievances even smashed a few plates, but we never lost sight of the fact that both of us needed each other.
It was hard, still is some days but the outcome was worth it.
Nothing or no one can prepare you for this. If your relationship had cracks before RA then it will be tested to the limit.
If you can’t talk to your loved one, find someone who can. If you feel they don’t understand, you are absolutely right, only you know how you feel, but that doesn’t make them a bad person.
They’re hurting too, their life has changed, they are helpless, but that’s not your fault either!
We are not equipped to deal with this, why would we be?
But, what we are equipped to do is solve problems. We can overcome almost anything if we try hard enough and that’s a good place to start.
Solve one problem at a time, little battles are easier to win than a full-blown war. If you have an issue you can approach without fear of reprisal – do it.
These small wins add up, they force us to cooperate and bring us together, they are small steps on the road to a place where you can both accept RA as part of life. A life which you control not RA.
I’m sorry if I’ve gone on a bit, but I just wanted you to know that things can get better. Not everyone can work through this, but from my point of view, it’s worth trying.
I can’t imagine my life without Bridget, just writing these words is hard enough, but had we gave up on each other that’s exactly what could’ve happened.
This post received an unbelievable amount of comments. It’s clear that relationship breakdown is a big problem.
The good news is, there were also as many positive comments, people sharing how they’ve worked through the hard times, which is encouraging.
Relationships and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Relationships can be fickle at the best of times. When you add into the mix, a life-changing disease such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, things can and do get tricky.
I’ve shared my take on RA and relationships below. I’m not qualified to give specific advice but these organisations are:
Below, I’ve shared resources from the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society who are much more qualified to help you than I am.
The NRAS also have a freephone helpline (0800 2987650), the line is manned by trained advisers who know what you’re going through.
I have also linked to Arthritis Care, they are another important resource for arthritis sufferers.
I will add further resources as and when I find useful information. If you know of any resources to help people who are having relationship difficulties, leave a comment.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Spouses
When Bridget was diagnosed with RA we didn’t know what it meant. We naively assumed only old people suffer from arthritis.
We didn’t even know that Rheumatoid Arthritis was different from “Arthritis”, we certainly did not know it’s a chronic illness, a disease that would touch every part of us.
Yes, we read the leaflets, spoke to doctors and searched the internet, but most of the information explained the disease, treatments and possible outcomes.
What it didn’t do was talk about the emotional and social side of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
If you think about it, RA often comes out of nowhere, it has a tendency to hit you like a brick and affects you in ways you couldn’t even imagine.
Bridget was 26 when she was diagnosed, at the time we were both working, planning a family and generally doing what most young couples do.
All of a sudden, Bridget couldn’t move, work and childbirth looked unlikely. This put huge pressure on her physically, on us emotionally and financially it nearly bankrupted us.
This is a lot of changes to hit all at once, is it any wonder relationships become strained?
Rheumatoid Arthritis can have a cumulative effect, it’s always there in the background, waiting to steal your life.
We can cope with a minor crisis, but when they all come at once, something has to give. Sadly, it’s often our relationships that take the brunt.
It’s not all bad news, though!
I’d argue, RA made us stronger, brought us closer even made us better people. We are certainly more aware and tolerant of each other’s physical and emotional needs.
We appreciate, together we can conquer most things RA can throw at us.
We’ve achieved this level of Zen by talking through our problems. We agreed, no matter how difficult the conversation or how personal the subject we’d discuss it. We’d at least try to find a solution, so far, the plan has worked.
We’ve had blazing arguments, thankfully, these have subsided with time. We’ve had to agree to disagree and we’ve had to park some stuff because there simply isn’t a logical solution.
My point is, RA will kill your relationship if you let it. Relationships have to be worked at, RA means you’ll just have to work even harder.
If your relationship wasn’t built on love, trust and communication before RA, it sure as hell will be tested to the extreme.
The irony is, RA actually forces you to face these shortcomings and can be the springboard for developing a wonderful relationship.
Emotions, Relationships and Coping with RA – NRAS
Living with Arthritis – Arthritis Care
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Children
Children are good at adapting to situations and are surprisingly resilient. To them, you are simply mum or dad, they frankly have no interest in RA.
Yes, older children say hurtful things, they find your weakness and go after it with laser-guided precision – all children do!
The secret is, don’t take it personally. They’re not emotionally mature enough to understand the impact of their words, and that’s all they are – words!
The hard part from your point of view is learning to not internalise them. I know it’s easier said than done, but that’s the best way to deal with them.
If you think about it, why do the words hurt you so much?
The answer is guilt.. you feel guilty, you think your children are missing out or are in some way suffering because of you.
Do you ever think:
If only I didn’t have RA I could (fill in the blank)… or thoughts to that effect.
We’ve all had these thoughts, and guess what?
Guilt will not cure you, it will steal precious time with your children, it will eat you up inside and drive you crazy.
It’s entirely normal to feel guilty. What really matters is that you recognise it and concentrate on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
When our children were old enough to understand, we sat them down and explained there’ll be days when mum isn’t up to it.
We didn’t burden them, we simply involved them.
The world didn’t fall apart. If anything, it became a better place. We inadvertently raised rounded children who appreciate people are different and they’re better for it!
We did things together on good days, we looked forward to them and we gave our children our undivided attention.
Sadly, most children don’t get this level of involvement from their busy parents. I can confidently say our children didn’t lose out.
We had absolutely nothing to feel guilty about and neither do you!
Pregnancy and Parenthood – NRAS
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Friends
I firmly believe a Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis sorts out true friends from casual acquaintances.
Often, people you class as close friends simply fade away. It’s not that they no longer like you, it’s just that your lifestyles are different, it’s not their fault, it’s not yours either!
RA is a chronic illness, it’s unpredictable, it’s painful, it’s debilitating, it makes you tired, it makes you grumpy, it depresses you, it’s all-consuming and it changes you.
Who wants a friend like that?
I’ll tell you who; true friends, that’s who!
There’s little point in getting hung up on people who fall by the wayside. Friendship is fluid, it’s a two-way relationship.
When you accept friends come and go you’ll be less upset when they do.
Ultimately you’ll end up with a tight circle of friends, if by some quirk of fate you lose all of your so-called friends, don’t worry, you’ll make new ones.
OK, so what did we learn?
For me, there are three takeaways in this post:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis is a bitch
- It’s not your fault
- Communication is the key to a healthy relationship
Would you agree or disagree?
What are your tips for maintaining healthy relationships, what’s the secret?
Do you know of any useful resources to help people having relationship problems?
Do you know someone who would benefit from reading this post?
Let me know in the comments… and please share this post – thank you.
You can read more of my musing about Rheumatoid Arthritis here:
I love this post from Rachel at What a Pain: