In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our May 2011 issue, a reader with rheumatoid arthritis asked WebMD's rheumatology expert, Scott Zashin, MD, why her husband doesn't help her more.
Q: I have severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and I'm finding that my husband isn't very supportive or helpful. In fact, he gets angry when I'm not able to do more housework. Is it normal for RA to impact a marriage this way?
A: It is not at all unusual for marriages (or entire families) to be affected when a spouse develops RA -- or any other chronic illness. Both partners' roles change, and the healthy spouse may express anger due to the pressure of additional responsibilities. The anger might also be a result of your spouse's anxiety about what further changes are around the corner.
Sometimes, too, a new diagnosis can highlight pre-existing problems in a relationship. Your husband may not have been very supportive before you were diagnosed with RA, but you weren't as aware of it because you were able to do so much yourself.
Whatever the case, what's clear now is that you need some help and he needs a better understanding of your limits. Having him go to your doctor's appointments might help him get more educated and feel more involved in your health. It sounds as though couples counseling might also be in order, as well as, perhaps, a support group for you.
It's important to address this situation. Marital stress can make your RA symptoms worse and may put your husband at risk for health problems of his own.