An autoimmune disease, RA affects multiple joints and tissues, causing pain and inflammation.
Previous studies have found that married people with RA show less disability and less progression of the disease than people who are unmarried. But the new study, which appears in the October issue of The Journal of Pain, illustrates that it's not just being married that helps, but the strength of the marriage.
Of 225 people with RA, 44 were in a "distressed" marriage, 114 were in a "non-distressed" marriage, and 97 were single. Marriage quality was determined via a15-question survey assessing happiness, levels of agreement between spouses on certain issues, as well as how the couple handles disagreements.
People in happy marriages reported less pain and psychological disability than their counterparts who were in troubled marriages.
"This study suggests that the association between marital status and health status depends on the quality of the marriage; only being in a well adjusted marriage is linked with better health status, whereas being in a distressed ... marriage is similar to being unmarried," conclude study authors who were led by Jennifer Barsky Reese, PhD, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Couples Therapy for People With RA?
In light of the new findings, study authors suggest that people with RA in "distressed" marriages may derive multiple benefits from couples-style therapy aimed at getting them to communicate better and engage in activities that are mutually enjoyable.
"We predict that such interventions will not only improve marital function but also improve health and functioning in RA," they write.