Reality-star couple and Arthritis Foundation fundraisers Meg Maley, CBS’ “Big Brother” Season 17 houseguest and person with psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and Mike Holloway, winner of CBS’ “Survivor” Season 30, share the real deal of their experience dating with arthritis as the third wheel.
Be there for each other and ask for help
For a person with arthritis – or any chronic disease – revealing it and even talking about it, means complete vulnerability with another person. For a partner, learning that someone they love lives with a chronic disease is also incredibly difficult.
It can be stressful talking about pain with a new partner and worrying about how he or she will react and how that could impact the relationship. And that partner worries about how to help, understand and be there – on the good and bad days.
“Having arthritis used to embarrass me, and I never wanted to talk about it,” Meg shared. “Once I opened up about how I was feeling, our understanding for each other deepened. Now, when I have flares and my hands can’t grip much, Mike will open several water bottles for me and place them throughout the house.”
Tip: It’s easy to feel helpless when something as seemingly simple as opening a water bottle is challenging. Offering to and asking for help with the small tasks can add a new layer of trust to a relationship.
When Meg first told Mike about having arthritis, he was confused and asked, “What do you mean? I thought only ‘old’ people get arthritis. What does arthritis do to you?”
Immediately, Mike wanted to learn more about Meg’s arthritis and what he would do. With more than 100 different types of arthritis, he quickly learned to Google less and ask Meg more.
“Don’t turn to Google,” said Mike. “The best answers happen when you ask questions and talk to your partner.”
Tip: Online searching can add unnecessary stress, create misconceptions and cause confusion. Instead of trying to find the answers, cozy up and go straight to the source.
Don’t try to solve the problem
Like many partners, Mike felt helpless and frustrated that he couldn’t “fix the problem,” but he quickly learned that being there by Meg’s side was all he needed to do.
“I’m a fixer, and things are usually solvable, said Mike. “But with arthritis, you just need to be there to love and nurture – because you can’t physically do anything to change the disease.”
Tip: It may not feel like it’s helping, but just being present for a person with arthritis can ease their pain.
Be okay with a constantly-changing schedule
Needing a break isn’t fun and can feel shameful but learning to roll with the ebbs and flows can create more control and empowerment over arthritis.
“When I’m having a flare, or my meds aren’t on track, my energy levels can’t keep up,” said Meg. “Once on a trip with friends, I had zero energy and needed a break. While I felt ‘lame,’ having the confidence to tell our friends that I needed to rest put me at ease and helped me relax.”
Tip: There will be days when someone with arthritis is not capable of doing what they would like, so respect their limitations, communicate with family and friends, and have a backup plan.
Make the most of every day – the good and challenging ones
Mike and Meg work to make the hardships of Meg’s arthritis as easy as possible. When Meg has an infusion day, Mike brings her lunch. Thoughtful acts like this make the treatments and pain more bearable, and the couple has learned to savor the pain-free days and stay positive on the bad days.
Mike sums it best: “There are two words: love and patience. Let love be your guide and be patient with your partner and yourself because there are times you can’t do anything but just being there.”
Tip: No matter what, just be there for each other – and small gestures go a long way.
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