Love and arthritis: making relationships work08 September 2021
We know that the common misconceptions about arthritis, along with the physical and emotional impact of the condition, can affect people’s relationships.
We know it’s hard, but honesty truly is the best policy. And having conversations together with your partner, about how you are both feeling can help to build a stronger, healthier and loving relationship.
Stephen and Georgia who both live with arthritis tell us how communication and learning to adapt is key for any relationship.
“I can’t do what a lot of dads do, but I can still be a great dad.”
Here, he shares how his wife and two boys (age 13 and 11) motivate him to keep going.
“I met my wife in 2005, almost 16 years ago now!”
Back when we first met, life was very different. I was able to work, and my arthritis was manageable until around 2007/8.
Our first son, Kieran was born in 2007 and Lewis just under two years later.
I didn’t get my diagnosis until some years later. It was infuriating for me as I knew I wasn’t right. Despite all these challenges we got married in 2017.
“It’s difficult to express how awful I feel some days.”
I have got much better at communicating as I have got older. I used to hide my pain a lot.
The mental battles remain locked in my head and opening up is something I’m still not good at, even though I have improved over time.
Finding the right describing words is difficult as most of my symptoms are invisible.
“My wife has an eagle eye now and she picks up when I’m bad.”
My two boys are tuned into when I feel bad, together with my wife. There are times I need to be alone and rest, then other times they encourage me to do a bit. I’m beyond grateful to all three of them.
I prefer to write how I feel, although I do share how verbally much more. As a family, we sit at our table at dinner and discuss things, including how I’m doing. I think the dinner table helps as there’s no distractions.
“The boys are at an age where life is hectic.”
Kieran does athletics and Lewis is playing football. As with most families it’s difficult squeezing everything in. We try to do something most Saturdays, even if it’s something simple together, like a bite to eat.
My family understand that when I say no to activities, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to do them, it’s because I can’t do them. I know it’s hard on my wife and boys, but knowing they understand makes it a bit easier.
“My advice to others would be...”
When you have arthritis, openness and communication is key in your relationship. As is patience and understanding too.
There really is no blueprint as we are all different, but it’s so important to share how you are all feeling.
“I met Lauren over two years ago on Tinder.”
Georgia, 27, was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis at 23. She shares how humour helps her and her partner Lauren strike a balance in their relationship.
“On my Instagram bio, I mention my arthritis and Lauren asked me about it when we first met”
I talk about my psoriatic arthritis openly online and when Lauren wanted to know more, I explained what it is as many people don’t know.
The hardest part for me is saying how my arthritis feels sometimes, as one day you can be fine and other times you feel worse.
When we first met. I was doing ok, I didn’t have much swelling and my symptoms were mostly under control.
“I don’t look ill and sometimes you have to remind people how you really are.”
Things change and when my fingers got swollen that was something new, and it can be easy to forget when you go to hold hands.
I try to be light-hearted about it as I am aware people might not know I’m ill. Everyone with arthritis is different and it is a hidden illness. For that reason, it’s hard for me to get annoyed even if anyone occasionally forgets.
I have learnt to adapt to what I need, I go to the gym regularly and I eat an almost vegan diet. Lauren’s had to adjust and she’s open to trying more vegan foods.
“Now our relationship is more intuitive.”
We’ve been together for almost 2 years and we know what we each need. For example, I can’t open jars and Lauren knows this and will just do it for me. I joke that I am still the muscles who will carry the shopping though!
In our getting to know each other stage, I’d have to say things like, I can’t do ice skating and it’s not that I don’t like it, it’s because it’s difficult.
Lauren is so supportive, if get thinking about the past and how I loved working in the theatre and styling wigs, which I can’t do now because of my hands. She reminds me of all that I have achieved with my business and how I am still being creative.
“Sometimes I just want to be on my own.”
There are moments where I need space to chill out and other times, we have our light-hearted moments. Lauren doesn’t pander to me, even when I’m in pain. She will do something practical like make me a cup of me tea and a hot water bottle.
Humour is a massive part of our relationship, and we take the mickey out of each other. Arthritis will always be a horrible disease and for me, being daft and laughing helps.
“My advice to others would be...”
When you have a hidden condition, it’s important to be open and honest with your partner. Try to have humour even though it’s not a nice situation, taking a light-hearted approach can sometimes help ease the pressure.
Try to support each other. It will take time to adapt to living with arthritis. It’s a massive change but if you can work on getting out of that ‘the world is falling apart’ mindset, it can be very powerful.
Own your condition and how you are feeling. And remember how ever you are feeling is valid.
Communicate when you need to as we all have our limits and be yourself - this will help you and your partner.