Marriage, Commitment, & Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis and Marriage Tips

Is Your Relationship MS Ready?

ms-marriage-lisa-dasisRelationships are never easy but throw in a chronic debilitating disease called Multiple Sclerosis, and it can really throw a wrench into things.  Having spoken to several different people who have MS and asking the personal question, “How is your spouse dealing with all of this”, their responses have all differed.

My husband and I married 15 years ago with him knowing I had a chronic illness but we didn’t have the diagnosis at the time.  I was working full time as a nurse manager but was having a great deal of difficulty keeping up not only with my responsibilities at work but also at home. Fatigue was probably my main complaint at the time but of course I kept thinking it was because of having 1000 irons in the fire all at the same time. There were those period of times when my body just would not let me get out of bed and then there were time when my legs and arms felt like I had a ton of weight on them preventing me from walking properly or lifting and holding objects for any length of time. As time progressed, all the symptoms became more frequent and also lasting longer lengths of time with new symptoms appearing such as falling and dropping things. Then there was the debilitating migraines that would stop me in my tracks. I am sure you are very familiar with all of these things, and as a nurse, I kept searching for answers. When finally receiving the diagnosis, there wasn’t much surprise and almost grateful that a name had been given to the symptoms. My husband and I accepted the news but by this time, I had already given up my career and was pretty much home bound. Fortunately, SSD was approved rather quickly so even though I had a major cut in income, there was a little bit coming in.

For many couples though, you both were healthy when saying the “I DO’S” so neither of you knew going into the marriage that this was something you had to deal with. Many people don’t, so when you marry and have your life planned out, where you are going to work, when and if you will have children, where you will live, and all the happily ever after stuff, a chronic illness wasn’t in the plans. Now all of a sudden you have this disease for which there is no cure that you will live with the rest of your life, and you have to not only get used to being sick but how this will affect not only you but your spouse and your family. That can really upset the apple cart, not only financially from possibly not being able to work and the loss of income, but along with this comes the burden of the cost of treating the MS. Difficult finances alone have caused even the happiest of marriages to break up. Then you have the healthy spouse now becoming the care giver which was unexpected.

How many really take the marriage vows to heart? We promise this when saying it, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, but again we think this is way, way out in the future, like when we get old. Whether you are male or female this disease makes no difference. This is when we find out what our marriage is really made of. For some, the healthy spouse/partner wasn’t able to deal with the news from the start, and could feel an immediate cold shoulder, unable to talk or discuss it with their partner which caused a divorce. Others have described their experience that their spouse was loving and caring for a couple or more years but ultimately was unable to stick it out. Then there are some like myself, whose spouse became true to the marriage vows and not only became the ultimate caregiver but that this brought them even closer than thought possible. There are a few who are in a marriage wishing the healthy partner would leave because they have become a burden just by staying. They are the one that feel they can’t leave because what would people say? The love is all but gone but the pressure for them to stay by other family members or by their religion has made it all together difficult for the one with MS.

It is sad that in this day and time that divorce is so easy and often a stress added to an already difficult situation with living with Multiple Sclerosis. No one will ever know if it is really the disease itself which caused the breakup or the good excuse one needed to get out of a marriage. Some stories have left me heart broken when parental rights are question due to health issues. It is bad enough to have a marriage end, but when the children are used as a tool to hurt an individual because of their illness and their rights taken away, I have to think what a crazy judge and a horrible person that had to be to do that to an already grief stricken, unhealthy parent. I do believe in karma though, and feel what goes around comes around. A good parent, healthy or not will be recognized by the child and one day will learn the truth about what happened.

As with any marriage, whether an illness is involved or not it is important to have great communication, patience, and a giving spirit. Treat each other the way you want to be treated. Give the caregiver space and time to themselves for unwinding and to just take a breath. Allow them outings with their friends to do things that you two can’t do together. Try and put yourself in their shoes, and promote a healthy existence outside of your disease. By doing this you are allowing them time to rejuvenate and come back with a clear head and willing soul to be there for you. Stress impacts each of us but can really add up for the ones who have to take up our slack from finances, to other responsibilities that we can no longer do. Make the quiet time you have together be enjoyable with laughter and love, only speaking about the “bad” stuff at limited times and when necessary. This will help them not dreading coming home each day and hopefully revitalize the marriage.

Below is a couple of tips that I have used over the years which seem to help make my relationship better. Maybe these tools will work with you as well.

  • You have MS, don’t let MS rule your life, live outside of this disease by keeping yourself as healthy as possible by eating right, and keep moving!
  • Don’t bombard your spouse with bad news when entering the house from work
  • Make to-do-lists simple, keeping shopping list current of what is needed to avoid multiple trips to store. Do as much personal shopping on-line as possible. Ask for help from other sources if possible
  • Do as much as you can for yourself to prevent over using their hospitality
  • Keep a smile on your face even if it is difficult or when you feel bad to avoid them always seeing a frown on your face
  • Keep subjects about MS limited to only certain times so it doesn’t become the center of your existence. Promote open dialogue with your partner when they need to talk or ask questions
  • Allow them whatever time they need being away
  • Keep your marriage alive with special moments to yourselves
  • Surprise your spouse/partner every so often to lift their spirits
  • Remember to say thank you!  That one goes a long way
MS Blogger and Multiple Sclerosis Activist shares her journey living with MS, tips for others living MS and her husband, Steve, offers his insight as a caregiver for MS.