Relationships & Illness: A Chronic Problem?

Relationships & Illness: A Chronic Problem?

“The divorce rate for marriages when one spouse is chronically ill or disabled is 75% — that’s 25% higher than the national average in the United States. And on average, men are 6 times more likely to leave a sick partner than women are.”

I saw this quote the other day on a fellow RA advocate’s Facebook page, although she didn’t cite a source so I’m not sure where she acquired her information (someone should really check on this). Even if the numbers are off, reading it still made me stop and notice and think–Oh wow, I really hope that’s not true.

If it is true, why do you think that is? Are women more nurturing or loyal caregivers than men? Are men less equipped to take care of a sick spouse? And does having a partner with a chronic illness or disability really affect the divorce (or relationship break-up) rate that much?

After a quick Google search, I found this mostly-depressing article from 2011 on CNN.com about this very issue: “When Spouse Gets Sick–Who Leaves?”

I’m really interested, and a bit afraid, to hear others’ thoughts on these statistics and their personal experiences. Sadly, I’m not surprised if the divorce rate is higher when one person in the relationship has a chronic illness. It’s not easy being single while dealing with sickness, never mind trying to take care of yourself and your illness when another person is involved. Living with chronic pain and RA is really hard, but being a caregiver for someone else is hard, too, I realize. Despite how difficult and stressful it can be caring for a sick partner, it’s extremely sad to hear stories of people suddenly developing serious illnesses who are then dumped by their spouses or partners. As a woman myself, it’s especially disappointing to learn that this happens to more women than men.

Admittedly, I’ve had a lot of rotten luck when it comes to dating and relationships ever since I was diagnosed with RA at age 18. To some of my friends I try to laugh it off and say that I’m “cursed” in this department, but it’s not that funny.

Has having RA significantly affected my dating life? Has it affected it at all? I’m really not sure, and I hope that it hasn’t. During all of those years of my youthful singleness (I’m still single by the way, just maybe not as youthful), I tried very hard to live life normally, especially when it came to my social life. I fought to keep up with other people my age, regarding going out with friends, making new connections with people, and navigating the often confusing and stressful dating world. I didn’t think that my RA was getting in the way of me having and keeping healthy relationships, yet what was the problem?

Looking back, I do recall situations where things became awkward and stressful with someone I was dating (or wanting to date), mostly due to miscommunication problems. I remember a lot of tension occurring and then the ultimate break-up happening with one guy in particular when I was dealing with some mood swings, most likely associated with the medication I was taking. This was several years ago now so I can’t remember exactly what happened, but it was more than likely a communication issue–me not communicating enough or effectively about my disease and him not understanding what I was going through.

Dating while living with RA can be a lot more challenging compared to a healthy person trying to do the same thing. One of the main challenges that’s usually right in the beginning of a relationship or potential relationship is making the decision about disclosing to this person that you have RA. Do you tell him/her? If so, when is the right time to do it? How much do you tell?

On one hand, you want to be honest with the other person about your situation, especially if anything “weird” might come up in the future: pill bottles lining your purse, frequent “sit-down” breaks, an array of wraps and braces for various body parts, inexplicably ugly shoes for a 20 year-old (or a 30 year-old), your refrigerator looking like a science lab holding biologic medication, sudden flare-ups that require the cancellation of plans, mood swings due to the nasty effects of steroids, that fatty lump on the back of your neck, passing out during the middle of a movie, and the list goes on.

On the other hand, you don’t want to freak out your partner by any of the things in the above list.

My usual method of disclosure veers toward saying less than more, and the more I think about this, I wonder if it’s been the right approach all of these years. While I don’t think it’s a great idea to blab your entire RA history and story right after you first meet someone, I think there is also a risk in not saying enough, or downplaying the seriousness of the disease.

Saying that, I don’t think I downplay my RA, I just think that when I’m trying to date someone I want things to move along without RA having to be a big deal. But sometimes it is a big deal and if you want to have a healthy, honest relationship with someone, he (or she) needs to know that. It’s a tricky balance. So if anybody has good answers and insight about how to deal with it, I’m all ears. And don’t worry, I’m free for a chat–it’s not like I have a date or anything tonight. I’m too busy lying here with bags of frozen peas on my feet.

Oh, the wild and crazy RA single life.

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