Relationships and arthritis: how to strike a healthy balance

02 December 2020
A couple holding hands.
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Arthritis has an impact on many aspects of a person’s life and the lives of those around them. You can change because of your arthritis and relationships can change as a result.

Living with long-term conditions can present specific challenges. Some days, when some things aren't possible with your loved ones (whether that's days out, sex, or more 'active' activities), there can be feelings of guilt.

It doesn’t have to be all negative, it’s about acknowledging these feelings, taking each day as it comes and being kind to each other .

If you or someone you love has arthritis, it can be hard to explain how you’re feeling. But many people find that they become closer by discussing things openly, and that their relationships become stronger as a result.

A good relationship with friends, family or a partner can help you to live with your condition and look after your wellbeing.

Read our top tips:

1. Don’t expect others to be mind readers

Communication is important in any relationship. It can be just as hard to ask for help as it can be to know how to help. Talk to each other and try to understand where you’re both coming from.

“Be open and honest with your partner. I told my boyfriend about my arthritis and that I might feel sick or bite his head off some days. We’ve grown together, he comes to appointments and has seen my bad days. Keep communicating and don’t keep them in the dark, as they might think they have done something wrong. It was hard at the beginning talking about my arthritis as I didn’t find it easy.”

Olivia, 19.

Read Olivia's story about living with JIA.

2. Talk when you need to

Sometimes you might not want to talk about your arthritis, and this might be the same for your friends and loved ones in your life. That’s ok, talk when you need to and be there for each other when the time is right.

It’s important to know there are other resources out there which can help provide support.

You might prefer to use our online community, read information on our Facebook page or website about living with arthritis.

3. Prepare for good and bad days

People with arthritis can have good and bad days, so it helps if your relationships can adjust to what each day brings.

Let each other know what’s needed best on the bad days and any extra support you may need.

It can be hard to be spontaneous if one of you is in pain or experiencing fatigue. You could go all-out hygge and have a relaxing movie night, that’s ok.

Read more about fatigue: ask the expert - fatigue and the boom and bust cycle.

4. Don’t let arthritis define your relationships

It’s important to make time for the little things and to not be afraid to put yourself out there and do something exciting.

Whether it’s enjoying a date night with your other half or simply making some time for a family board game. Make sure you do what matters to you.

It’s important to not let your condition define your relationships. Look after yourself first and take any relationship at the pace you need.

Your experiences

Louise, Jackie and Sally each share their stories and advice to others.

“Stay hopeful, stay truthful and be kind to each other” - Louise

I’ve got psoriatic arthritis and I was diagnosed in 2007!

I’ve been with my husband for 20 years we’ve been married 14! He was there when I was diagnosed 6 months after we’d got married when I was 27, they say it was triggered by severe stress as my husband had a very bad motor bike accident a month after we’d got married.

We’ve had two children along the way, and we’ve had a few ups and downs but most of all my husband respects me, cares about me and shows me affection and he often realises when I need to rest more than I do.

Arthritis doesn’t mean you aren’t still ‘you’ just a different version of you than maybe you’d like.

Life is for living take each day as it comes and don’t feel bad if you have a bad day and feel unhappy tomorrow is another day. My children have been amazing as well!

“Only been living together for a few years and it (arthritis) has changed things so much.” - Jackie

My partner has been amazing. Since I was diagnosed in June, he has more knowledge of rheumatoid arthritis than me, I think. So, if I am sat on the sofa yawning at 9pm he will tell me to go to bed whereas I'd sit there feeling too guilty to go to bed.

I often wake up and he's moved to the spare bedroom. If I've been restless because of pain. He never complains. I am so lucky.

Sex? Much less and different. Def no more swinging from the lampshades. Lol. But there are still ways of being close.

Read more about sex and arthritis.

“I stayed single for 13 years because I developed rheumatoid arthritis and was a single mum.” - Sally

I didn't think anyone could find me attractive and, like you, that I'd be a burden. I concentrated on showing my son how to deal with the day to day as it's likely to affect him in the future.

I wanted him to follow his dreams, whatever they may be, so I followed mine - I took myself and him to motor racing events, to concerts, on holiday etc. I made friends and maintained contact but never thought I'd meet anyone.

Until just a year ago, I got chatting to a guy in my local and he's made me realise just being me is enough, rheumatoid arthritis or not.

I hated people saying to me I'd meet someone, I thought it took away the positives of my independence, but I am proof it can and does happen.

I never thought I was lovable. You be you and all that you deserve will come. 

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