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How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Your Life

Tips on working and living with RA.
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Love and Marriage With Rheumatoid Arthritis

In sickness and in health: old vows take on new reality for couples affected by RA. Rheumatoid arthritis creates unavoidable stress in any relationship, experts tell WebMD.

"There will be challenges in the relationship because of pain," says Yvette Colon, PhD, spokeswoman for the American Pain Foundation. "People with RA, or any chronic pain condition, can feel self-conscious or damaged. They might resist emotional intimacy with their partner," adds Colon, especially during disease flares.

That loss of closeness can take a toll. More than a third of people with RA feel the condition strains their intimate relationships, surveys show.

Missing out on social activities can mean losing quality time with your partner. Feeling like "the sick one" can build a dynamic of dependence or imbalance in the relationship.

Keeping a Relationship Strong Despite RA

Communication is key to coping with RA's impact in a relationship, says Colon. "Talking to and listening to a partner express needs and concerns can be scary, but it's necessary to help ease the burden of RA on the relationship," Colon tells WebMD.

The needs of the partner without RA must be acknowledged, as well. "Seeing one's partner in pain is emotionally painful," says Colon. Men may experience even more stress, from their desire to fix the problem.

Sex and Intimacy With RA

Rheumatoid arthritis has no shame at invading the bedroom, either. More than half of people with RA report limitations in their sex life, usually because of fatigue and pain.  

"A lot of men and women have problems being physically intimate when their RA is active," says Maura Iversen, DPT, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "It's sort of a silent epidemic among people with rheumatoid arthritis, because neither they nor their doctors tend to bring it up."

Besides the physical symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis can create feelings of depression and low self-esteem -- simply put, not feeling sexy. And disruption in a couple's sex life can spill over into other areas of their relationship, says Iversen.

Taking pain medicine before likely intimate encounters, or experimenting with pillows and different sexual positions, can all help make sex more enjoyable for both partners despite RA, suggests Iversen. Sitz baths and relaxation exercises prior to intimacy can also help.

Iversen recommends speaking up if RA is hurting your love life. Talk with your doctor, or the nurse or physical therapist. Health care professionals are aware of RA's impact on sex, and can offer helpful suggestions

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How does RA affect your life?