Relationships & MS

senior couple A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) can present profoundchallenges to a relationship. After a companion's diagnosis,a partner may experience his or her own grieving process and mayeven feel guilty about his or her own good health. Communication is a key component in dealing with the addedstress MS may create in a relationship. Openly discussing feelings and thoughts can help couples avoid frustration andalleviate some of the strain they may be experiencing.

Fatigue

A person with MS will experience fatigue, from general tirednessto extreme exhaustion. Fatigue may be triggered by physicalexertion and improve with rest, or it may take the form of aconstant and persistent tiredness. This has an effect onday-to-day life.Activities that once seemed simple—like grocery shopping,vacuuming, or walking the dog—may now seem overwhelming. Ifpossible, hiring some temporary help may be the answer. Ifnot, reallocation of chores and using time wisely will help reducethe stress and enable couples to work together.

Activities

Another difficulty a couple may encounter is a decrease incommonly shared activities. As the severity of symptomsincrease, couples may have a hard time finding things they can dotogether. More rigorousactivities, like bike riding or hiking, may be too difficult.It is important to not stop shared activities though—try taking awalk or reading a book together.Attempting to continue normal activities as best as possible is important. There may be times when the person with MS may also not be able to carry out the activities she or he once were able to do. This may mean that the partner may need to help out. This may cause strain on the relationship, especially if the partner begins to feel more like a caregiver. Therefore it is vital to find balance in the relationship in order to preserve closeness and ease strain. Realizing and coming to terms with the changes MS brings will help both partners accept the situation. It is important to always keep in mind that MS need not be the focus of a relationship, but just one aspect of it.

Sex Life

Many couples will encounter sexual adjustment problems. Men may experience impotence, and women may have problems with vaginal dryness. A doctor can help. If possible, the couple should talk to the doctor together, which will help both partners feel more comfortable. Many of the problems can be treated with medications or other remedies.

Changing Roles

Prior to the onset of MS, couples saw each other in numerousroles—friend, lover, confidant. An important step in keepinga relationship strong is accepting how these roles may change withthe introduction of MS. A partner who was once independentand outgoing may become reclusive and even depressed after an MSdiagnosis. Recognizing how this may affect a relationship,determining the potential weaknesses it may cause, and developingappropriate responses will help strengthen therelationship. Dealing with each situation as it arises will help the couplefrom feeling too overwhelmed. Set reasonable goals and haverealistic expectations. Life with MS will be different, butopen communication can help. Both partners will need to bepatient, supportive, and understanding. In addition, supportgroups and counseling may help people with MS and their families findways to cope with the changes MS may bring.

RESOURCES

Multiple Sclerosis International Federation
http://www.msif.org

National Multiple Sclerosis Society
http://www.nationalmssociety.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Osteopathic Association
http://www.osteopathic.ca

Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
http://www.mssociety.ca

References

Boland P, Levack WM, et at. Coping with multiple sclerosis as a couple: Peaks and troughs—an interpretative phenomenological exploration. Disabil Rehabil. 2012;34(16):1367-1375.

Dealing with MS in your important relationships. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Family-and-Relationships. Accessed January 6, 2015.

Intimacy. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Family-and-Relationships/Intimacy. Accessed January 6, 2015.

Intimacy and multiple sclerosis. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/neurological%5Finstitute/mellen-center-multiple-sclerosis/patient-education/hic-intimacy-and-multiple-sclerosis. Accessed January 6, 2015.

Multiple sclerosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 9, 2014. Accessed January 6, 2015.

Pakenham KI, Samios C. Couples coping with multiple sclerosis: A dyadic perspective on the roles of mindfulness and acceptance. J Behav Med. 2013;36(4):389-400.

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