Any relationship from time to time may have its challenges. In this article, we’ll present the ongoing struggles and difficulties a person with chronic rheumatoid arthritis must live with on a daily basis, and address relationship and intimacy issues, along with persistent daily coping,
Meet Logan Levkoff, Ph.D.:
Logan is nationally recognized as a relationship and intimacy expert. She was on the TV series Married at First Sight, in New York City, and has beneficial tips and knowledge on maintaining intimacy and a healthy relationship while coping with a chronic disease.
Many Americans, single or coupled, may be concerned by relationship and intimacy pressures. We all struggle with these challenges, but they can be especially difficult for people living with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis and may include:
• How to cope with intimacy when you’re just not feeling up to it
• When to talk to a new partner about your chronic disease (2nd, 5th, or 10th date)?
• Explaining your symptoms without sounding like a drag
• Why it’s okay to keep some things to yourself in a relationship
There have been very few resources for people living with RA to consult regarding these topics – until now! Logan is sharing her insights on Arthritis.com; Here you’ll be able to find advice, tools, and inspiration to help manage daily life with arthritis. I highly recommend your taking a moment to peruse this extremely informational site!
In the following interview, Logan was kind enough to answer some questions regarding the chronic disease, intimacy, and relationships:
1. Can you please share some additional suggestions that a person with Arthritis might be able to utilize to ‘express and communicate’ not only their limitations but be able to move forward in life within a more uplifted mindset, as well.
LOGAN: Acknowledge the discomfort in having the conversation. You’re not alone; people don’t like to talk about potential challenges and limitations so take comfort in that. Also, regardless of these limitations or challenges, all of us are still entitled to have meaningful and fulfilling intimate relationships. But good communication is also about listening, too. Before we jump to conclusions, keep in mind that you partner(s) may have questions or concerns. We are not minded readers so give them space to fully understand your needs, too.
2. What are some of the challenges in finding love? Are there any additional considerations when you have a chronic health condition like RA?
LOGAN: There are always challenges in finding love. We have lots of expectations about how relationships are “supposed” to look. Many times, this fairytale model doesn’t mimic our lives or our realities. We also don’t always think about what we really want out of a relationship. What are our core values? What do we need? Until we give those questions some quality time, it will be difficult to find love. We can’t expect someone else to fulfill us if we don’t know what we need to be happy. When you have a chronic health condition, like RA, there are some additional challenges: when do we tell a partner about our RA? How do we explain what our limitations, at times, are? How do we allow a partner to take care of us without feeling like we are the patient, rather than the partner? These challenges are not insurmountable, but they have to be acknowledged.
3. When it comes to relationships and intimacy, what would you say is the most important thing for someone with a chronic condition should inspire to attain?
LOGAN: Pleasure – from physical and emotional intimacy – is an important part of our overall health, regardless of whether or not we have a chronic condition. We have the right to it as well the right to access information and strategies for how to navigate it best. Sometimes these issues have to be spoken about with our medical providers. Sexual function impacts us and our relationships, and there may be ways to assist in these areas. But of course, if you don’t talk about it, you’ll never find out the answer.
4. How can people living with chronic diseases like RA communicate their needs to their partner?
LOGAN: No partner can know what it is like to live in your body. Talking about what feels good (and also, what doesn’t feel good) is important for any partnership. But, like everything else, delivery is important. Using “I” statements, focusing on the positives “I really like it when you….,” and giving a partner space and freedom to ask you questions, is always the best strategy, whether you have RA or not.
5. Where can people go to learn more?
LOGAN: I have been delighted to work with Pfizer on the launch of Arthritis.com, where we are tackling gaps in information tailored to the arthritis community. People visiting Arthritis.com will now find information on self-love, dating with a chronic condition, communicating intimacy needs, talking about sex and relationships with a doctor, and more. In addition to the tough topics like intimacy and relationships, people with arthritis will find inspiration, advice, tools and disease information to help manage arthritis day-to-day. I’ll be working with Pfizer to post regular updates, so if you’re hoping I’m going to cover a certain topic and you don’t see it yet – don’t worry! Chances are it’s on the way. You can also sign up for email updates on the site so that you know when new posts are up.
Thank you, Dr. Levkoff for your time, and very informative answers to these questions. I know they will be extremely helpful to not only patients dealing with RA but their families as well.
Meet Rheumatologist, Dr. Ara Dikranian:
Dr. Ara Dikranian, a rheumatologist at Cabrillo Center for Rheumatic Disease and Sharp Memorial Hospital shared some very interesting information and statistics about Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis in the following interview:
1. What is RA? How many people in the U.S. have it?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes a range of symptoms that may include stiffness and swelling in the joints, particularly in the hands, feet, and knees. Approximately 1.6 million Americans are living with RA.
2. In your practice, do you find that Arthritis will often run in families, and if so, is it the same type of Arthritis?
Certain genes play a role in the immune system—for some people, genetic factors may be involved in determining whether they will develop RA or other forms of arthritis, but research is still ongoing. In my practice, I have seen cases of arthritis run in families, and it can be the same type of arthritis.
3. What is the average age of your patient’s diagnosis with Rheumatoid Arthritis & Osteoarthritis?
RA can occur at any time during adulthood, but it usually occurs between 40 and 70 years of age. The average age of the onset of osteoarthritis is around 50.
4. What impact does a chronic condition, like RA, have on the lives of those who have been diagnosed with it? What about on their relationships?
As a rheumatologist for more than 15 years, I have heard from many of my patients about the lifestyle challenges that people with chronic conditions like RA face, such as those related to relationships and intimacy. Based on my experiences in speaking with people living with RA, these lifestyle challenges can impact physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. These challenges can affect self-love and self-esteem, as well as relationships with a partner or family members. While it’s common for healthcare providers and people living with RA to talk about the typical symptoms of RA, other aspects of life with RA, such as relationships and intimacy, may not be discussed.
RA can affect every part of a person’s life, including relationships and intimacy. This may include pain, fatigue, stiffness, swelling, reduced function, vaginal dryness, and reduced libido. These factors are a part of overall quality of life for people with RA and should be addressed as part of managing their overall wellbeing.
5. What tips do you give people living with RA about managing their condition, specifically related to these topics?
If RA symptoms are inhibiting a relationship, it’s important for people living with RA to talk to a professional to figure out the best way to manage the challenges that come with a chronic condition, like RA.
From my experience, I believe that there is a lack of resources on these topics, and we need to do a better job of shedding light on lifestyle challenges while living with a chronic condition. Now, with the availability of some of this information on Arthritis.com, people with chronic diseases like RA have an additional source of information on these topics.
6. Can an open dialogue with their healthcare provider help a person living with RA with their personal relationships?
Having an open dialogue with a healthcare provider can help people living with RA determine an individual disease management plan that works best for them to address those challenges.
At times, people living with RA may feel uncomfortable saying how they really feel, especially when it comes to topics like this. I try to ask my patients proactive questions about their lives to get the conversation started, and I encourage my patients to come to me with any concerns related to their life with a chronic condition, like RA. It’s through conversations like these that I’m able to assess better how my patients’ symptoms are being managed and if a tweak to their care plan may be required.
7. Where can people go to learn more?
I encourage anyone who is living with a chronic disease like RA, or who knows someone who is, to talk to their doctor about all facets of their lives impacted by RA. They can also visit Arthritis.com for more information. Arthritis.com is a newly updated support site where people with arthritis can find inspiration, advice, tools, and disease information to help manage arthritis day-to-day.
Many thanks, Dr. Ara Dikranian, for sharing your time and expertise regarding RA, and encouraging ongoing communications with your patients to help keep their chronic RA in check.
(Any quoted or paraphrased information used in this article was obtained from a provided PR-Fact Sheet, and interviews with Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., Dr. Ara Dikranian, and the website: Arthritis.com )