Rheumatoid Arthritis – chronic illness and marriage breakdown


I’ve heard about it a lot.  I’ve read other people’s accounts.  I understand why it happens.  But I didn’t think it would happen to us.

My marriage has broken down.  We are separating.  Not permanently, perhaps.  But we are taking some time to think things through.

Is my disease the reason?  Not the entire reason.  But it is probably the main one.  It is certainly the catalyst.

The bottom line, fact of the matter, is that I am no longer the same person that my husband married.

The rules have changed a lot, and he liked me better the other way.  Yes, we all promise better or worse, sickness and health…but do we really think anything bad will happen when we take those vows?  Do we really know how we will react until it *does* happen?  Aren’t we making promises we have no way of knowing if we are capable of keeping?  We like to think we will step up, but we have no way of knowing until we are tested.

So I’m not angry at my husband (well, not most of the time – I’m not a saint).  I am in pain every day, and I guess talk about it a lot.  My life revolves around medications, side effects and which joint is hurting the worst right now.  I can’ walk very far, and some days I can’t really walk at all.  I swore than RA would not rule my life.  But it does, I guess.  I am not the person I used to be.

When I go into a flare, my husband walks away.  Literally, figuratively and emotionally.  He spends more time at work, at the gym, or just in another room.  Anywhere but with me.  So I feel very alone, and I tell him all the more that I am in pain and I need him.  So he feels even more trapped and pulls away more.  I can see the cycle, I just can’t break out of it.

And the truth?  If roles were reversed, how would I be?  If I could walk away from RA, and all that goes along with it…would I?  Or do I love my husband enough to stand by him no matter what?  It’s not a question I have to answer…I would stand by him forever, through whatever, no matter what.  But I’ve thought hard about it enough that I at least understand where he’s coming from.

He feels terrible about it.  He feels truly guilty that he can’t support me.  He feels awful about the fact just wants to get away from me whenever I’m in a flare.  He feels horrible blaming me for the negative environment in our house.  And blaming me for his own depression.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is forever.  Not all marriages are.  I understand that  he feels his whole life has been rearranged without anyone checking with him, that all of his choices have been rudely taken.  I understand how that feels…the fear, the uncertainty…the sense of the trap clicking shut.

I understand because I went through all of these emotions as well.  And I have the added distinction of actually living with the pain and disability as well.  But my lack of ability affects him just as surely. And his pain is there, its just a different kind of pain.

So I set him free.  And, irony of ironies, now that I have said ‘you’re free to go’ he doesn’t want to.  He wants to try again.  He is promising me the world to just give him another chance.

But I can’t trust him.  I can’t rely on him.  I don’t believe that the next time I have a full body mega flare, or an issue with my heart, or my kidneys, or whatever else, that he will be there.  That he will be my rock, that he can be strong.  That he will stand next to me, and put his arm around me and tell me everything will be alright.  Because he’s never been there before, he has always walked away.  And we’ve been around this issue for the last year or more.  I have told him its over,given him another chance…and around we go again.

No more.  I have to draw the line now. He has to go.  And if he loves me, if he really does, he will find his way home.



  1. Hello Lovely,

    I think we can all identify and our hearts go out to you and our own partners who have their own unique experience with this disease. Unlike so many marriages, my illness drew my husband and I closer and we have worked hard at being strong together. I know it is not always easy and we have some very dark storms to weather along the way, but I am glad we became such good friends through it all.
    In fact, Derek has started a facebook page for partners and carers called https://www.facebook.com/groups/822440767770193/ as we recognise the difficulties that they face in all this.

    Thoughts are with you dearest RA fighter!!



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