Relationships are a subject that I don't think enough of us talk about within our Chronic Illness community, we focus on our pain and symptoms first and foremost, and ways to reduce these with our lifestyle and nutrition and medication, and then we talk about our mental health. But what about relationships? Every relationship is different of course but with an added pressure of looking after someone with an illness, or being the one with a chronic illness, this can put a strain on a relationship and put it to the ultimate test.
Its like having a constant threesome. Except one person (RA) needs all of the attention. Whilst giving yourself attention, your partner attention, you then need to find the strength to deal with the extra thing in the relationship!
I think it is imperative for anyone with this within a relationship to have understanding and support. Feeling comfortable enough within your relationship to talk freely about your condition, to speak up and get the support for those days when you just cant be you and are in pain, or so fatigue you need your partner to help you out with those things you cant achieve.
I still find it hard to initially admit to people when I first meet them that I have arthritis. Sounds weird I know, because I'm sat here writing blog posts and a website about it. So you have to deal with the 'oh my god you don't look ill? Your not old enough?' all over again. I also don't want to give an initial impression to people that I am a sick person, and that is what defines me, and that it may put people off if they feel like they have to 'look after' me. The thing is, if you come across these vibes from people, then they are not the one, or very sympathetic atall. You find who you need to find when you are least expecting it. You will find the ones that will look after you when you have a flare, will forgive you if you cant get up out of bed one day, and will remind you to take your tablets.
Another thing I'd like to put out there which i have learnt, and am still learning is communication. Even on my worst days, It is so important to still put it any effort you have to your relationship rather than shutting them out and making them guess what is wrong, this never works. I occasionally put my walls up and believe I can deal with my own shit, wrong. I need that person to help me too. This communication and exploration of your emotions will bring you closer. Being very clear with what is specifically frustrating you that day, or if you just feel shit, admitting that to yourself and calmly speaking this through with your partner will make your partner feel involved and supportive, rather than helpless whilst watching you suffer. There's no harm in asking for help.
Okay lets talk about Sex too, because we all do it, and intimacy is an important aspect of a relationship. Another important reason why you and your partner need to have a clear understanding of the condition, is to avoid any pressure with sex. Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause pain, fatigue, depression, body image issues due to weight gain and damaged joints, these emotional and physical demands can be hard on sex life. Although RA meds don't affect sexual functioning, some may also mess with your libido.
A study shows that over half (56%) of the patients found that their arthritis provided limitations in their sex, with fatigue and pain being the principal reason for this. So how do we deal with issues revolving around Sex? Because no one wants to talk about it with their family, friends or health care professionals and most importantly their partner!
The first stage of dealing with any issues, is talking and talking some more about your desires, feelings and challenges, speak about what feels good and what doesn't. It might feel awkward but sex and intimacy are important for a healthy happy lifestyle.
There's an ebb and flow, take the good days and maximise the time you're feeling great
Be open to change- focus on what now feels good for you and what suits you both
Accept change. You have this condition, how will you adapt to continue to live your best life
Staying physically active will help strengthen your muscles and improve your range of movement in your joints. Being fit will enhance your sexual desires.
Important relationship qualities for me...
Inspire each other
Turning towards each other not away
Appreciate flaws n' all
Thanks for reading!
Chloe & Arthur x