This morning, I replied to an interesting post from someone in one of my support groups for psoriatic arthritis. The woman was looking for help as the spouse of someone with PsA. Her husband, 32 years old, is recently diagnosed and formerly very active, yet this has been significantly compromised due to the disease. She cited that he has been really struggling with this change emotionally and has become very depressed, irritable, and their relationship has been suffering as a consequence.
The post spoke to me, both because I can absolutely relate to the husband’s pain and loss of his former athletic pursuits, and I also felt compelled to acknowledge the wife’s bravery and proactive, compassionate motivation to find ways to better support him without feeling like he was letting his frustrations infiltrate their good bond. I got the sense from her post that he was yelling at her or criticizing her when she was simply trying to help and show support. The following is what I wrote in response:
This is a great post and question. I’m newly diagnosed even though my symptoms have been an issue for 6-7 years. I’m 31 too and a competitive runner, though, this is part of my identity I need to start letting go of. I can relate to your husband and I’m sure my husband can relate to you. When you’re in pain and depressed about it, it’s normal (unfortunately) to want to take it out on something/someone. Exercise is great for anxiety and mood improvement, but when that needs to change or it feels like it’s getting stripped away, it’s extra hard. Sometimes, we turn to those closest to us, just because they are there, and take frustrations out on them. While this may be “normal” or happen, it’s not right and it’s not fair. It’s the person in pain’s job to try and separate their pain (physical and emotional) from the clouding those they love. I have weak moments where I still occasionally yell at my husband, even though he’s just trying to help. I try to immediately apologize and thank him for his help. I’m in therapy too. I’m autistic, so I’m not the best communicator and I struggle with comorbidities with that, so the therapy helps there too.
Maybe what you could do is remind him that you love him no matter what and that even if he his health declines, you won’t love him less. You can try to suggest a new hobby you can do together (sedentary) when his pain is bad and he can’t be active. For example, I mentioned I run a lot, but I also love going to walks in the park with him and the dog. These are also not possible when I am in the flareup, like I am now. Instead of feeling more like I am missing out, we have tried to cultivate a few activities to do together. For example, we started playing two-person strategy board games. It sounds dorky, but you can pick things he’d like. Then it’s like a decent plan B. Also, this last tip is a stereotype and I’m inferring, so I’m not wild about it, but I thought I’d share: I think men in our culture want to be the provider, protector, the strong one, and the one to take care of you. It might make him feel less “manly” when it’s reversed a lot. No idea, but maybe. Perhaps it would help if you try to comment every so often and compliment him on other ways he makes you feel loved and taken care of. Not at the same time as an argument, but start sneaking it in every so often.
I decided to share this here on my blog because I think it can apply more universally to partners going through any sort of illness or change. I also think the post served as a good reminder to me that it’s easy to turn on the person who loves you most just because they are there and you need some sort of release. However, that’s not only unfair, but unhelpful, and always leaves you feeling worse and filled with guilt and regret. I’ve certainly said things to Ben in moments of fury, darkness, and intense pain that I wish I had never said. You can’t take them back. You can apologize, but the vibrations of those words will always be there. I never want to cause him pain or hurt his feelings because he only ever had my best interest at heart. There is a saying “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” I took an interest in learning about idioms and sayings when I started social skills therapy because I never understood these types of things that are thrown around in our culture. Your partner or loved one may not literally be the one feeding you or even figuratively supporting you financially, but it’s still critical to not allow your pain of any kind to emotionally injure the person who is simply doing their best to care for you and support you. In the past year, I’ve gone through a lot of changes and challenges, but I think I’ve become so much better at honoring Ben’s loving intentions and not taking my own anger or sadness out on him. It’s a process, like everything, but it’s my highest priority.