Creating and sustaining both emotional and physical intimacy (closeness and affection with another person) in any relationship can be difficult. For people living with a chronic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – an autoimmune disease of the joints[i] that impacts 1.6 million people in the United States[ii],[iii] – it can be even more challenging.
In fact, a study of those living with RA revealed that more than half feel that their disease places limitations on intimacy and more than a third say that living with RA has strained their relationship with their partner.[iv]
For many people, browsing the self-help section of a book store, an internet search, or picking up a women’s magazine can help provide some suggestions for how to build or repair intimacy. However, for those with RA, help and advice is more limited and there’s a real need for support for those with a chronic disease looking to address intimacy challenges.
So, let’s start here. The best first step to addressing any challenge — whether it’s related to RA or not — is to take a look at it from a higher perspective and evaluate the bigger picture. When we step back and look at relationship “issues,” the first thing we realize is that when it comes to relationships, “normal” doesn’t exist. There is no one way to define a healthy relationship.
Once you’ve accepted that there is no “normal,” you can start to focus on redefining your relationships in the face of a chronic disease, like RA. Here are a few tips that may help address intimacy with RA:
If you have a chronic disease like RA, it’s important to remember that it does not define you and there are steps you can take to better manage lifestyle challenges as a result of your condition. With a little research and communication with your rheumatologist or other healthcare professional, there are ways to prioritize your health, but not sacrifice your relationships and ability to enjoy life with the people closest to you.
For more tips on relationships while living with RA from intimacy and relationship expert Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., visit www.Arthritis.com.
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[i] National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. Handout on health: rheumatoid arthritis. August 2014. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp. Accessed May 2016.
[ii] Sacks J, Lou Y, Helmick, C. Prevalence of specific types of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the ambulatory health care system in the United States 2001-2005. Arthritis Care Res. 2010;62(4):460-464.
[iii] Howden L, Meyer J. 2010 U.S. Census Bureau results --- U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census Summary File 1.
[iv] Hill J, Bird H, Thorpe R. Effects of rheumatoid arthritis on sexual activity and relationships. Rheumatology. 2003;42(2):280-286.