Different patterns of illness-related interaction in couples coping with rheumatoid arthritis

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To learn more about the effect of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) on couples' relationships and how couples manage the illness within their dyad.


Eight women with RA (ages 31–60 years) and their partners, and 4 men with RA (ages 43–75 years) and their partners were recruited from the rheumatology case load of a hospital in the UK. Interpretative phenomenologic analysis was used for data collection and analysis. During semistructured interviews, couples were asked about the effect of RA on their lives and relationship.


This study found clear differences in the way couples managed the illness of one partner and in the nature of their illness-related interactions. Based on these differences, the couples were allocated to 1 of 3 groups: the shared illness management group (SIM), the ill partner in charge group (IPIC), or the conflict over management group (COM). In the SIM group, both partners attended appointments and shared decisions about illness management. In the IPIC group, the ill person claimed and was conceded the right to make autonomous decisions about illness management. In the COM group, the well partner was dissatisfied with the way the ill person was managing the illness, and conflict resulted.


Heterogeneity exists in the intradyad management of RA. Identifying each couple's style of illness management could make medical consultations and education programs more responsive to the needs and preferences of patients and their partners. Dissatisfaction of either partner with illness management and resulting conflict could be addressed, with benefits for both partners and possible improvement in disease management.

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