Multiple sclerosis can complicate a marriage, often forcing both individuals to adjust to drastic changes in expectations or marital roles — or it can bring you even closer together. Perhaps it will do both.
Maybe MS was part of the picture prior to the relationship or maybe it was diagnosed later. Either way, it has the potential to dominate every facet of your lives. It’s easy to become a little self-absorbed when living with chronic illness and, for the spouse, it’s normal to resent MS and the impositions it imposes. The trick is not to resent each other.
Whether you are in a traditional marriage or some other long-term committed relationship, it can weather many storms when treated as a true partnership and those storms are faced as a team.
Lack of communication can lead to feelings of isolation. It is truly a blessing when married couples develop a bond and can almost read each other’s thoughts, but when it comes to MS, nothing should be considered obvious.
The MS patient should be up front about symptoms that are interfering with the ability to function. To assume that your partner will instinctively know without being told is a mistake, and so is holding a grudge if they don’t. Even to the well-versed, sometimes the symptoms of MS are hard to detect.
Likewise, the caregiver/spouse must be able to speak freely about the extra responsibilities they face due to MS. Resist the urge to overprotect each other — that can lead to much bigger issues down the road.
Flexibility is a must. You may have the road map all laid out, but there will be detours. If you’ve got relapsing/remitting MS, the road may alternate between smooth pavement and rough terrain, with zero visibility. The willingness to alter plans and work around sudden change will serve you well.
Show your appreciation for the little kindnesses as well as major sacrifices. It’s not difficult to fall into a pattern of dealing with daily living while forgetting the niceties, but everyone appreciates acknowledgment of their efforts. No one likes to be taken for granted.
Nurture the relationship. The patient and caregiver relationship must peacefully co-exist with the husband and wife relationship rather than overpower it.
Romance is good for the soul. Whatever you do, don’t let that slide. It’s not so much the grand gestures, but the simplicity of a whispered, “I love you,” or an unexpected cuddle that will come back to you a thousand times over.
Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a multiple sclerosis patient, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2.com’s Reform Health Policy blog in Causes.