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Did RA Fatigue Kill My Relationship?

Did RA Fatigue Kill My Relationship?

Fatigue is one of the most difficult RA symptoms to treat, and over the last year and a half, it has been my most pernicious symptom in dealing with my RA.

It was also one of my now ex-boyfriend’s chief complaints.

He was annoyed that we couldn’t be more social because of my fatigue.  I encouraged him to do what he wanted and told him that he could attend things without me, if he really wanted to go and I wasn’t feeling up to it.  I didn’t try and hold him back from being social because I couldn’t be all the time, but I know my body well enough to know the things that will just totally zap my energy and aren’t worth the effort.

He was also annoyed because our sex life suffered because of my fatigue.  And I’ll be the first to admit that it did.  But when I was so tired that you could poke me with a stick and I couldn’t even be roused, that’s not the most conducive time to try and get frisky.  I don’t think that would have been good for either of us.

It seemed like it would come in spurts.  We’d go two or three weeks without having sex, and then as soon as I would seem to get enough energy back, I would get my period, which in my relationship was off limits for sex.

We never went more than a few weeks without having sex, and while I know for some people that is unacceptable, it could have been worse.  Plus, we both knew that it wasn’t for lack of want or desire, but was simply an unfortunate reality for us while my fatigue was really an issue.

I understand that it can be frustrating to deal with someone who has limitations due to their health.  I understand that in a relationship, you want a partner in life who you can do things with.  But there’s a big difference between simply not rising to the occasion, and not being physically able to do so.

In reality, I know that it wasn’t just the fatigue that led to the demise of my three and a half year long relationship.

But I think that it is every chronically ill person’s worst fear to think that their illness or illnesses could be a factor or the factor that ends a relationship, especially a long-standing one.

So in the back of my mind, there is this nagging worry that my illnesses could kill future relationships.  And that scares me because there is nothing I want more than to fall in love, get married, and have a family.

I know that it takes a certain kind of person to walk through the illness journey with us.  It’s not for everyone.  But it’s sad to think that something I really have no control over is what contributed to the end of my relationship.  It means that the relationship probably couldn’t have been saved and probably ultimately never would have worked out because my illnesses aren’t going anywhere, and while I wanted to be optimistic that my fatigue would improve, I couldn’t provide that assurance to myself or anyone else.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • melmason
    4 years ago

    I think you touched a nerve for a lot of us who struggle with RA. I am lucky enough to be married to a wonderful man for 14 yrs, have been with him over 17 yrs. I was diagnosed with RA about 4 years ago, but struggled with symptoms for quite some time (a couple of years with a fibromyalgia diagnosis that did not respond to treatment) before I was diagnosed. All this to say that my dear husband has been living with me and my chronic illness for several years now. I’m definitely not the vibrant, energetic, fun loving woman he married anymore, and have gained a lot of weight due to inactivity and medication side effects, and being post menopausal. I worry that someday he’ll get tired of dealing with my illness and his needs not being met because I’m just too tired & in too much pain. He tries to understand what I’m going through, and he’s pretty patient with me most of the time, but he just doesn’t get it. I’m an RN by training, but have put that aside to be a SAHM to our beautiful almost 12 yr old daughter for the last 7+ years. I worry about the effect all of this has on her, too. I’m tired of having to say “not today, honey, mommy’s not feeling good”. I worry about how I would support her if my husband did indeed get tired of all this & bail on our marriage. I worry about how she would be affected by a divorce (that hasn’t even happened yet) because she’s so close to her dad.

    I guess the bottom line is this…it’s not your fault your BF left. Despite our feelings of guilt and inadequacy, we can’t help having a chronic illness. All we can do is do the very best we can to control our symptoms so we can function somewhat more normally. If that’s not enough, and the person we love bails, as painful as that is, we’re better off without them. I recognize that it’s hard to release that guilt, I think we all have a hard time with it. Sometimes we just need to be reminded by someone else that IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT to be able to regain some perspective. You didn’t ask for this, and if your BF chose to bail, that’s on him, not you, and you’re better off without him. Even though I worry about my hubby someday leaving, the reality is, he hasn’t, and for that, I’m grateful. It IS possible to maintain a relationship when one of you has a chronic illness. And someday you’ll find that man who loves YOU…the real you that is still there hidden underneath the pain and fatigue. As for right now, you’re better off alone than with the wrong person. Take this time to take care of YOU, & fight to get better. My prayer for you, and ALL of us is a cure, or at least remission, and less pain and fatigue, AND someone who will love and support us through the process. ❤️

  • Jillian S moderator
    4 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Even though it sounds like sometimes your husband may not always understand what you are going through, it seems like he is really trying! And from what I can tell just through this post, you do a wonderful job of explaining. I love that you are able to recognize that those who truly matter will stay by your side despite a chronic illness. I thought you might enjoy reading this article written by Kelly, one of our RA contributors on her husband’s perspective on RA
    Jillian ( Team)

  • Barbara Vincent
    4 years ago

    Hi Leslie, You are better off without that guy. I had the same symptoms as yourself and when I told the doctor he did some blood tests. the results were, very low thyroid T3 and T4 levels and high TSH,0 levels of testosterone (we girls also need some testosterone, but not as much as men)and Perniceous anaemia. The results reflected the fact that my antibodies were attacking my thyroid and also causing the anaemia. Once these were treated, I was back to normal. I was very lucky that I had a husband who knew that it wasn’t normal to be like that and encouraged me to go to the doctor.

  • Nikki003
    4 years ago

    Chances are this guy would not have been ” the one”. I was 35 when I was formally diagnosed and things have gone down hill since ( I’m 45). I’ve been married for 22 years. I can’t say this disease hasn’t tested my marriage over and over again, however, my husband never gave up on me, on us. He’d rather sit home with me and be intimate when my body allows than live without me. To me, that is what marriage is about. If some guy bails on you due to circumstances that are just out of your control many times, perhaps he wasn’t husband or boyfriend material. You will meet someone who loves you more than he hates your disease. It gets tough I know but keep your head up. Your man is out there somewhere waiting to meet you. :).

  • mp44sturm
    4 years ago

    Leslie, Don’t second guess too much.

    It sounds like this guy was a bit self absorbed and what he wanted to do rather than giving consideration to how you were feeling had more priority than you.

    If you didn’t have fatigue, I think your ex-boyfriend would have found something else like your job, the time you want to spend with your friends, to be the reason for the breakup.

    I am aware of my fatigue and the way it affects the relationship I have with my husband in this way:

    there is this awkward dance where
    he wants to help, but then I feel like he’s
    treating me like a fragile object and
    excluding me from some activities he does because
    he doesn’t want to put me in a situation where I might tire out.

    Then, at other times, he stands back so that he’s
    not coming across as treating me like a someone with a physical problem with fear that he will offend me.

    I think that I’m going to try to give this RA fatigue a code word: “hibernate” with hopes that our communicating about my physical state will be easier:

    I’m hoping for a short conversation like:
    DH: do you need to hibernate?
    me: no! The sun’s out and I want to (fill in blank)

    or hoping to send a text:
    I’m leaving work early. Gotta hibernate. Please pick up some food from (fill in blank). I’ll be happy with the Asian salad with sesame dressing and a frosted lemonade.

  • Cassandra Bird
    4 years ago

    Massive hugs to you Leslie and massive kudos to you for being so frank about a very real situation for many of us. My ra journey began at a time where I’d been resolutely single and celibate for several years after a few botched relationships. I really thought I never wanted a partner again. Then I got very ill and my 4 children and 1 fostered child were my only source of support and sadlt have had to take on many Responsibility’s due to my very rapid onset of severe rheumatoid arthritis, within six months they went from 100% dependent on me to 100% me dependent on them. I thank God daily for having them to see me through what has been a horror story in my life, I often wish I hadn’t been so determined to stay single as we all could have used another adult to depend on in this time, sadly that hasn’t been the case and with how severely RA has affected me, my looks and my ability, I doubt very much anyone would ever look twice at me in that way now. It hurts but I guess it would be worse to have someone I need only for them to desert me because I didn’t fit the bill anymore. My 18 year old son has become more of a man due to my disease than anyone could have imagined, I respect hugely that he’s stepped up to the mark that so many would have walked away from. Though it’s been an awful time, its really shown to me what is important and what is not. Best wishes to you hun I hope you find that knight in shining armour you deserve x

  • Lisa
    4 years ago

    You described how I feel perfectly Cassandra! Hugs!

  • Jbennett74
    4 years ago

    I’d like to begin by saying…
    “I’m sorry you’re suffering from the subsequent backlash of living with (RA).
    As you know, living with an Invisible Illness, an Auto-Immune Disease, and/or Chronic Pain- comes with some Extremely Difficult Realities that seem to be a Cyclical Domino Effect; Recycling ‘One Frustration after Another.’
    We’re all Aware of the Unavoidable Physical Pain, and the Fatigue that’s a Direct Result of being Forced to Live in (Constant Pain) -with often Little to ‘No Relief.’
    Unbeknownst to those who haven’t had to Live/Suffer in Silence; the Hassles associated with these type’s of Diseases, are Endless, and Defeating.
    Beginning with unexplained pain, the treacherous journey to justify the pain, and (if you’re lucky) find a Doctor who’s willing to take you seriously & diagnose your symptoms; with hopes that you can “Legitimize the Burden You’ve Become” to your Co-Workers and Loved Ones…and perhaps gain access to more appropriate types of treatment. (Unless You’ve Already Exhausted All of Your Resources During the Trial & Error Phase of this ‘Guilt Stricken, Shame Game’ called -“I’m Not Lazy, I’m in Pain!”
    None the Less, something you said in your article stuck out to me.
    The ‘Nature of The Beast’ is often a collective sense of Failure & Worthlessness- that Leads to a State of Reclusion.
    You mentioned withdrawing from Social Events due to issues caused by your disease.
    Whether it’s pain, fatigue, or other associated symptoms- it’s a factor.
    My sort of… “(Ah-Ha Moment)” was when you verbalized this aspect of the consequences surrounding these types of conditions.
    If you’re anything like me, the overwhelming amount of (Guilt) and Self-Doubt- is often -(All Consuming).
    You can only hear- “hang in there,” “it’s all in your head,” or any variety of those maddening & insensitive insults…
    -So Many Times- before Bitterness & Resentment begin to Reside in your “Things that have become Normal in My World,” existence.
    Although intermittently, I personally Volley between Anger/Hurt, and Guilt/Self-Doubt.
    When I read about Drug Seekers, Drug Addicts, etc…the Similarities between that type of Behavior, and the Behavior of someone (Us) with a Valid Need for certain Medications in an effort to merely Survive with Minimal Daily Torture…it sounds All Too Familiar.
    #You’re a Drug Addict-
    (If)…You’re Withdrawn.
    (If)…It Effects Your Life when you don’t have your medication.
    (If)…Your life has become Negatively Altered since you began taking certain Medications…
    You get the idea.
    Well, Yes, those All Apply to Me. Does that mean ‘(I’m at Fault),’ and I (should) feel guilty for needing and (depending on) medication that’s nothing but a nightmare to obtain, to get through the day(?)
    This escalates into a blend of Bitterness & Feelings of being (Un)Worthy of living a life -(Free From Debilitating Pain.
    Is that what they’re saying? I, (We) don’t deserve to find relief? We’re ‘Not Worthy?’
    That’s what it sounds like to me -when I’m struggling with pain, and gaining access to relief.
    People who haven’t experienced Relentless Pain & Fatigue -have (No Idea) how their lack of understanding & highly insensitive suggestions significantly (negatively) effect our lives.
    So you’re suggesting that “My Behavior” and desire to escape any amount of Pain…is Burdensome, and (Isn’t) Something that Warrants Regular Relief?
    Well, anyway… 🙂
    I think somehow, inadvertently, your account of detailed events (social decline) -have given me a bit of Clarity.
    It (Is) “Normal” isn’t it!(?)
    Thank You! I apologize for taking the Scenic Route. It just occurred to me that this has plagued me with Immeasurable Guilt, but your words have somehow comforted me in regards to that aspect.
    Best of Luck to You with Future (Romantic) Endeavors.
    My advice on that matter is potentially unrealistic, although -it does have some substance.
    Would you rather be with someone who’s (So Self Centered) they “can’t be bothered with an (imperfect) Companion…” (Which is- Ahem, Obviously Not Out There)
    Someone who’s willing to Love & Accept You for Who You Are, Not What You Have?
    The (Right Character) won’t Jump Ship just because ‘Your Battle,’ is somehow “Less Convenient”- than Theirs.
    No one comes without baggage.
    Look for Sweeter Suitcases:) I’m Sure You’ll Find One that ‘Suits You’ Perfectly! 🙂

  • Susan M
    4 years ago

    YES..I am dealing w/ the “It’s all in your head” deal w/ people close to me right now. Just got recently diagnoses w/ this a year ago, so am still trying to understand this disease it’s really difficult trying to get other people to understand it as well. Can be really frustrating. I feel like I’m having to fight this battle alone. Being single & no kids doesn’t help much. I think I’m going to call my Rheumatologist & see if she can refer me to some local R.A. support group. I don’t mean to sound like I’m whining, but some days it’s really hard to put on the stoic act, you know?

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thank you for your comment.

  • Shankar
    4 years ago

    Hi my wife had ra. Last year she suffered a lot. We tried lot of English medicine. Nothing helped. I read a book from jindal naturopathy hospital. We followed vegetarian diet. No amimal protein. Fresh fruit juice without sugar or sth. Buy a slow juicer. Have morning and night. Give hot pack and cold pack using terky towels. 2min and 30 secs respectively. Before bed. Then 3-4 oil massage on effected wife is almost normal. She doesn’t take any medication now. And no pain from ra atall. Try it for 3weeks. You will see improvement. Its fully natural. Doesn’t hurt you if you give a try. I am sure you will recover. Don’t loose hope. You can fix yourself

  • Cassandra Bird
    4 years ago

    I do all this anyway, nothing, including extreme meds has made any difference to my ra until they put me in enbrel, I’m still only 10% the person I was before RA. Healthy living is ideal regardless of condition, but if it was a cure, not one of us out here would be suffering, when the pain gets as bad as RA, you would simply do anything to relieve that x

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    I’m glad to hear that this has worked for your wife, but please note that everyone with RA is different. If the things that you are suggesting actually worked, we would all be doing it. But many of us still need mainstream medications in order to survive RA.

  • Carla Kienast
    4 years ago

    Leslie: Your article really underscores that RA affects all of us which, in turn, affects those around us and our relationship with them. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to lose something so precious over something you can’t control. But as you know from being part of the RA community, it’s possible to have long-term, loving relationships. You are such an incredible person I have no doubt that will also happen for you. Thanks for being so open about such a personal topic.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks, Carla!

  • Michelle
    4 years ago

    Thanks for posting something so personal. Fatigue is very challenging and definitely makes things harder in relationships. I’ve been with my wife for 18 years, 12 of them with RA. Feeling limited by pain or fatigue can be frustrating and does have a direct affect on being social, cooking, cleaning, activity and sex.

    I am lucky to be with someone who is very patient but that isn’t to say it is not a challenge. I have been in a bout of fatigue that is really rough these past few weeks and am literally falling asleep on the couch after work and fighting myself to get up in the morning. I want to be more fun, I want to be more social and active, but taking a shower this morning was enough to make me lay back down for 10 minutes before I could even finish getting ready for work. It’ll pass…but I am sad about it. I have found that communicating helps; letting her know that even though I am fatigued and feel like I am walking through pudding, I love her and think about her and want to be with her. I know it doesn’t satisfy the physicality immediately but it helps.

    It is absolutely possible to have a successful relationship with RA and all that comes with it. RA and all the symptoms are part of your whole, just like personality, looks, experience, desire, passion, dreams, goals, etc. There are wonderful patient people out there who will appreciate you as a whole package and not in spite of your RA. Wishing you all the best.

  • Leslie Rott moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks, Michelle!

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