Fibromyalgia, a chronic condition marked by pain, fatigue, sleep issues, and cognitive disruptions, affects women disproportionally more than men — about 80 percent of fibromyalgia patients are women. And that means that many men are in need of education about the condition, along with coping strategies.
Jeffrey Gorelick, MD, an internist and clinical assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, has an interesting perspective on this issue. Not only is he a medical doctor who specializes in treating fibromyalgia, but his wife, Lisa, has combated fibromyalgia symptoms for 29 years.
“It’s not always easy, but we have worked hard to manage the condition and have a solid relationship through the years,” says Dr. Gorelick.
One of the biggest problems with fibromyalgia is that many people still don’t believe it exists. Not being able to outwardly see that anything is wrong with your wife or partner can make the condition difficult to accept, Gorelick says. “That’s why trust is so important. For the partnership to work, there has to be belief and trust in each other.”
One thing that can help you better understand fibromyalgia and fibromyalgia symptoms, suggests Gorelick, is to read up on the disease so you will know what your partner is going through. “Luckily, as a specialist in the disease, I already had this part covered,” he says, “but I suggest it to many of my patients.”
Fibromyalgia treatments have improved greatly in recent years, and there are now several drugs that can be prescribed for fibromyalgia symptoms. But, there are still some doctors who don’t believe the disease is real. Considering this, one of the most important things you can do not only for your spouse’s health but also for your relationship is find a doctor who is a willing partner in helping find real solutions for dealing with the illness. “I was not my wife’s doctor, but we went to great lengths to find good specialists that can help her manage the condition,” says Gorelick.
With fibromyalgia, plans can change, events can get canceled, and sometimes you may find yourself housebound when you had an important task to do. Gorelick has coped with these realities by keeping his plans flexible and going with the flow as much as possible. “One thing that’s true about fibromyalgia is that you’ll find out who your true friends are,” he says. “I never worried about losing friends over fibromyalgia though. To me, if they are our true friends, they’ll understand what we’re going through.”
Depression and mood changes related to a “bad fibro day” are common when your loved one has fibromyalgia. Again, you need to develop a mind-set that allows you to accept that these days will come. You’ll have good days too, so patience is key here. Help your loved one cope with the bad days in any way you can.
Even the most understanding husband or partner is going to need his own support network of friends or family who can act as a sounding board for what he is going through. “I am fortunate in that I have a group of close male friends that I can speak quite openly to about the issues I am facing,” says Gorelick. “For others, a more formal support group might be more helpful.”
It’s also very important to have your own interests and activities so that you are not always wrapped up in the world of fibromyalgia. “I am an extremely active cyclist and swimmer, and my wife has been very supportive of me continuing these activities,” says Gorelick. “It was our hope to be able to do these activities together as we got older, but unfortunately that hasn’t been the case.”
Aversion to touch and low sex drive are two common fibromyalgia symptoms, and they quite naturally can be frustrating to the partner of someone with fibromyalgia. Work together to find out what kinds of touch feel good and what hurts — maintaining intimacy is vital to your relationship when possible, but you may need to be patient.
The key to staying together as a couple is keeping the lines of communication open.
Encourage your partner to let you know how she is feeling, and you need to express your feelings as well. By doing so, you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your relationship healthy despite the challenges fibromyalgia can present.