Relationships can be difficult at the best of times, but add to that a chronic condition such as arthritis, and it’s understandable why many partnerships and marriages face a battle for survival.
Living with arthritis places a huge stress on any relationship. Physically, there’s pain, discomfort and fatigue, but psychologically, there are perhaps some major obstacles to get through.
In any relationship, how and what you are feeling will determine whether you enjoy sex, or even want it. A big part of living with a condition such as arthritis is self-image, and if you have visible signs of arthritis, such as swollen joints or operation scars, you may be reluctant to share any sort of physical relationship.
Although changes to your body can create some negative feelings, they do not change the person you are. It should be possible to work through these feelings by communicating with your partner.
Ask your partner how they feel about your arthritis and the changes in your body. What concerns do they have? They may feel that sexual activity will cause you discomfort. Share your feelings and concerns as well. Misunderstandings can occur in any relationship through lack of communication, so it’s vital that you are open and honest with each other. Arthritis can bring you closer if you can discuss any problems openly and find solutions together.
Not all couples consider sex important. Even without the factor of chronic illness, sexual needs vary from person to person, and at different times in a person's life. Discuss with your partner the level of sexual relationship that will meet both your needs. If you find it difficult to talk openly about your needs, consider discussing options with your doctor or therapist.
Although spontaneous sex is good, your love life may be even better if you plan ahead.
With or without an illness, as a single person, it’s sometimes difficult to find a suitable partner. If you have scars or joint swelling from your arthritis, these visible reminders may also be playing havoc with your self-image.
One of the effects of arthritis is that people may avoid social contact, or you may be restricted by your arthritis and find it difficult enough to go out, let alone form a new relationship. For anyone, and young people in particular, this means not going, or being able to go, to places such as pubs and clubs to meet new people.
Continue to keep up your contact with workmates, friends and family. People tend to meet through shared friends or interests. Don’t accept it if people try to stereotype you by your condition — it’s not your problem, it’s theirs!
Even long-standing relationships have their ups and downs and as important as communication is in any relationship, it is the key in a relationship where one person has a chronic condition such as arthritis.
Talk to each other, discuss any problems you may have with pain or if certain movements or positions are making you uncomfortable. Also tell your partner what is pleasurable, and which positions are comfortable.
If you have problems talking to each other, ask your doctor for advice or a referral to a third party. If you’re not already in a relationship, keep up your social contacts and your self esteem: you never know who’s just around the corner.
Last Reviewed: 29 July 2009