The Arthritis Newsletter

Fall 2017

The Chronic Couple: Managing Arthritis with a Partner

By Simon Hughes


My wife, Marcelle, and I both have arthritis; mine Psoriatic and Marcelle has Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). I was diagnosed about thirty years ago, before meeting Marcelle, and I was fortunate to attend a program run by a rheumatologist, a pharmacologist and a physical therapist. The program provided information about the disease, medications, and how to physically cope. But what we can’t always learn from medical professionals is how to deal with our relationships when it comes to a chronic disease like arthritis.


Many readers will be familiar with a common reaction from those who don’t live with an illness: “Well, you look fine to me!” It’s the relative invisibility of arthritis that can make it a difficult disease for others to understand. Even as close partners and our understanding of arthritis, it can be very easy to misinterpret how each of us is feeling and assume things that are not true.


One of the first steps to dealing with arthritis in a relationship is knowledge; it’s really an essential tool you need in order to be fully supportive! Making my wife aware of my arthritis was a necessary part of her knowing me, and knowing my built-in limitations. When Marcelle was diagnosed, it was not only the medical knowledge I had learned, but also the fact that I suffered from the disease itself that helped me understand what she was going through.


Teamwork is another important aspect. After Marcelle’s diagnosis, while she was waiting for the drug regimen to kick in, she had to learn to live within her new limitations. Approaching the situation together helped; for example, we raised the sofa so she could get on her feet more easily. Having crawled to the bathroom myself years ago before my first medications kicked in, it was easy to empathize and come up with a simple solution!


Open-mindedness and willingness to change/reorder priorities are the other keys to making things work with an arthritic partner, just as they are within any good relationship. Communication is critical! Neither person should hold back on expressing concern or confusion as to what’s going on.


We now have new routines and practical solutions for most day-to-day living, sharing chores by what we can each physically do best. Shared appointments with our rheumatologist ensure we know what’s going on with each other, and Marcelle is active on social media, and we try to keep up-to-date on arthritis research.


The most important thing to remember is compassion; it’s the best approach to living with an arthritic partner. When you love someone you don’t add stress to their life, you find ways to avoid the stress. You look at the newly available (and sometimes reduced) choices and you adjust your priorities. In the end, love may not be all you need, but it’s always the best place to start.


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