Does your partner cope with the ups and downs of your arthritis by keeping his or her frustrations and fears on lockdown? Does he or she try to micromanage problems away? Understanding your partner’s coping style can make you both happier and healthier.
Understanding what’s behind your partner’s behavior can be an important step toward a stronger relationship, says Nancy Ruddy, PhD, a clinical psychologist at McCann Health in Mountain Lakes, N.J.
Couples can get locked into unhelpful patterns that negatively affect health, but strengthening your bond makes for a happier relationship and can improve your health. For example, research shows people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who are in well-adjusted marriages have less pain and better function than those in unhappy marriages. Caregivers also benefit; studies have shown people feel better about themselves when providing emotional support.
Here are a few problems that may come up with partner, and tips for getting back on track together.
Problem: Ignoring issues. Your partner may hide his or her feelings because they’re trying to protect you. “People may feel guilty about feelings of sadness and resentment,” Ruddy says. “They know it’s not their partner’s fault, but they’re still upset their life together gets upended by the illness.”
- Solution: Acknowledge the problem. “Often, once people realize they’re in this pattern, they can make a conscious decision to tell each other when they’re struggling and to manage things together as best they can,” she says.
Problem: Making it all about arthritis. Your partner may come to see everything about you through arthritis-tinted glasses, constantly grabbing the grocery bags and encouraging you to rest. Research suggests that may be because he or she hates seeing you in pain.
- Solution: Limit the space arthritis takes in your relationship. Ruddy says, “Agree on some times and places where you’re no going to allow arthritis to be a central focus. For example, you might decide you won’t have lengthy discussions about it in the bedroom or at meals.”
Problem: Being isolated. Arthritis can take both you and your partner away from social activities. But maintaining friendships and staying socially active is important for your mental and physical health.
- Solution: Compromise and adjust. “Try making plans with the caveat that you’ll join in if you or your partner is up for it,” says Ruddy. And rethink activities. “Maybe you liked to go hiking or dancing with friends, and that’s not easy anymore. But there are still things you can do to keep connections with others.”
Emily Delzell for the Arthritis Foundation