Maintaining Intimate Relationships with RA


Cindy Kuzma

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What About Sex?

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, having a good marriage can help your health. A recent study found that people who were happily wed had less pain and were less disabled than those who were single or in a distressed marriage.

But that doesn't mean you're doomed to worsening illness if your relationship hits rocky times. After all, all marriages go through ups and downs, and coping with a chronic illness can put a strain on even the most blissful couple. Fortunately, there are ways you can work to achieve—and maintain—a close connection.

Team Up

Two heads and two sets of hands are often better than one. Give your partner information about your condition so he or she can work with you to manage it. As you collaborate to face challenges, you'll practice empathy, communication, and patience.

Of course, teamwork isn't limited to dealing with your illness. Whether it's a decision about parenting or where to go to dinner, making it together can help you feel more connected to each other.

Talk More

Talking is the most important thing you can do. Let your partner know when something is wrong—and ask him or her if there are problems that need to be discussed.

It can be difficult to talk about some issues. But getting them out in the open can address both partners' concerns and bring new insights to light. For instance, you may worry that your partner doesn't find you attractive, when he or she is actually afraid of causing you pain during intimacy.

If you're having trouble talking, try new communication techniques to bridge the gaps. For instance, create a scale—say, of one to ten—that you can use to easily tell each other how you're feeling or to bring up difficult subjects.

Touch Tenderly

If your RA causes difficulties in the bedroom, it may be helpful to know it's a very common phenomenon. In a recent survey, about half of men and women with the disease reported some level of sexual dysfunction.

If mobility is an issue, explore different positions or methods of sexual expression to help you connect without pain. You might also find relief by taking pain medications, trying muscle relaxants, or applying hot or cold compresses before or after sexual activity.

Make Time for Each Other

When you're not feeling well, it can be easy to neglect the everyday gestures that make a marriage work. Make time to kiss, touch, and talk with your partner regularly. Remember what it was that made you choose to spend your life with that person, and tell him or her what you appreciate about your partnership.

Also, make time for fun. At least once every two or three weeks, take a trip to the flea market, go to a football game, or do any other hobby or activity you both enjoy. Smile and laugh together.

Get Outside Help

Medical professionals can help with both the physical and emotional challenges of marriage with RA. It can be difficult to talk with your doctor about problems with your relationship or with intimacy. For example, many women with RA experience decreased moisture in the eyes, mouth, and vagina (Sjogren syndrome). But surveys show that doctors and nurses recognize that it's an important component of your care—they just don't always know how to bring it up within the time constraints of your appointment. Solutions exist once you and your doctor identify all of the problems.

There are good reasons to get the conversation rolling. Physical therapy and other treatments may help make intimacy more comfortable. In addition, sexual dysfunction, especially among men, can be an early warning sign of heart disease. Telling your doctor can help you get the care you need to stay healthy—and healthy together—for years down the line.

Key Takeaways

  • Coping with a chronic illness can cause marital stress, but you can still achieve—and maintain—a close connection.

  • Talking is essential. Give your partner information about your condition so he or she can help you manage it. Get difficult issues out into the open.
  • Tell your doctor if your RA is interfering with intimate relations with your partner.

  • Explore different positions or methods of sexual expression to help you connect without pain. You might also try personal lubricants, pain medications, muscle relaxants, or hot or cold compresses.

  • Make time to kiss, touch, and have fun with your partner regularly. 

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 10, 2017

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Medical References

  1. 5 Tips for Managing Chronic Illness in a Marriage. Arthritis Foundation.
  2. A Healthy Marriage is Good Medicine. Arthritis Foundation.
  3. Dating with Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.

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