How Multiple Sclerosis Can Affect a Marriage

Addressing Caregiving, Intimacy, Money, and Children

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There are many challenges that marriages and devoted partnerships can face over the years. And while you or your partner being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) may not be the most difficult, the disease will likely have some impact on your relationship. While MS can be disruptive and emotionally draining for both of you, you can certainly grow closer to each other and learn how to support one another while living with this condition.

Be prepared with an understanding of the specific issues that MS brings to a partnership and create a plan to manage adversities as you continue to build a satisfying and healthy relationship.

The Caregiver Role

MS-related symptoms and disability can push the healthier partner into a caregiver role. When you have MS, some responsibilities that may fall on your partner's shoulders include:

  • Giving you injections and medications
  • Helping you when you are low on energy
  • Taking on the lion's share of the household chores
  • Being the primary breadwinner
  • Taking on the majority of parenting tasks
  • Helping you minimize your stress level
  • Being careful not to lean on you for emotional, financial, or practical support

This uneven distribution of responsibilities can shift you from feeling like equals into what seems more like a parent-child relationship, which is unhealthy for couples. Be sure to address the responsibilities that come with living as a couple, keeping in mind that you don't necessarily have equal levels of energy and physical stamina.

Both of you need to understand that the partner who has MS is bringing value to the relationship, even if that value can't be measured in dollars and heavy lifting.

The love, empathy, listening ear, and unique personality that a partner with MS offers the marriage and family life are just as important in building an emotionally healthy relationship as the more measurable contributions that the partner may provide.

That said, it can make sense to relax your standards when it comes to a meticulous home and a perfectly coiffed yard. Learning how to streamline, automate, or even eliminate some tasks from your life can help keep both of you sane.

Sex and Intimacy

MS can cause a host of sexual problems for both men and women. Issues can include diminished libido and lack of energy for sex in both men and women with MS. Men especially can also experience impaired sexual functioning, especially during MS exacerbations.

Additionally, you may feel less confident about your attractiveness to your partner, particularly if you developed your symptoms after you had already committed to your relationship.

All of these factors can lead to frustration and even perceived rejection from your partner.

Some sexual issues can be addressed with sexual aids, such as lubricants. Medications, including antidepressants, can help, but some antidepressants can impair sexual functioning. Practical solutions, like getting enough rest, can help as well.

The key to a healthy sex life is the same as with all couples—open, honest communication. If either of you have concerns, you should talk about what's bothering you in a constructive, solution-oriented way. Working with a therapist to facilitate that conversation can help.

Don't hesitate to seek help from a licensed professional. Sexual problems stemming from MS can be managed and you can maintain healthy sexual intimacy for the long term.

Pregnancy

If you're a woman with MS, this doesn't change your ability to have a healthy, successful pregnancy. In fact, pregnancy often provides temporary relief from MS symptoms, and most women can have a medication-free pregnancy.

That said, you need to carefully plan your pregnancy and postpartum period. You can't take MS disease-modifying medications while you're pregnant, which means you can't use them while you're trying to get pregnant either. You need to work with your doctor on a plan to discontinue your MS medications (and possibly other medications that you take) whenever you might become pregnant.

Another issue is that many women experience worsening symptoms or an exacerbation after giving birth. Disease-modifying medications may not be safe if you are breastfeeding, so you have to consider this as you make your decision about breastfeeding or resuming your treatment.

To navigate these periods well, it's best for partners to be on the same page about these realities so decisions, once made, can be fully supported.

During the times when you aren't taking medication, your chance of having an MS relapse increases. This means that you need to be prepared in case you experience an exacerbation during the months when you are trying to get pregnant or when you are taking care of a newborn baby.

Parenting

MS can create extra challenges when it comes to parenting, which can, of course, affect a marriage.

If you're the parent with MS, you may not have the energy to fulfill all your parenting tasks as you'd like to, which may put excessive pressure on your partner. Periods of relapse and worsening of symptoms can also impact your family plans and daily routines, adding to this stress and even, perhaps, breeding resentment.

Careful scheduling and developing a network of people who can help in a pinch can greatly reduce these negative effects.

And don't forget that parenting is about providing love, guidance, acceptance, and imparting values to your kids. What you can give your children in this regard is far more important in building their character and resilience than the things you might not be able to give them because of the limitations posed by your MS.

Financial Concerns

Financial concerns are also common when one partner has MS. The disease can interfere with your ability to work. This may necessitate taking a job with fewer demands, such as less travel or less demanding responsibilities, which may reduce the family's overall income.

In addition, medical care, medications, and other necessities may impose added costs for you. Good financial planning is essential.

That said, it may make sense to reframe your attitude about money. Maybe you don't need to live in the most expensive home you can afford, or maybe you can choose to drive an affordable car—in fact, if the partner who does not have MS can be relieved of the pressure to keep up with high expectations in terms of earnings and spending, this can help you both enjoy each other more.

Unpredictable Disease Course

MS is variable and not everyone has the same experience. There are different types of MS, and no one can predict your disease course.

Some symptoms are obvious, such as vision changes and muscle weakness, but others, often described as the invisible symptoms of MS, are more subtle. For example, cognitive symptoms, depression, and stress can all lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings, and tension in your relationship. Fatigue can lead to resentment and stress.

A United Front

If one partner has MS, both partners are living with MS. It helps if both of you are well-informed about the latest therapies and lifestyle strategies for managing the disease. Maintenance therapy and treatment for an exacerbation are different, and it is good to know what to expect in case a relapse occurs.

Of course, there's your shared life with MS and your life with MS in the rest of the world, too. When people hear “multiple sclerosis,” they often immediately think of being wheelchair-bound. If your symptoms are less apparent, family, friends, and co-workers may not understand how the illness affects your lives.

It's important to remember that most people don't mean to be insensitive or judgmental—they simply might not know what to say or how to act.

Sharing what you need to share (and want to share) about your MS is an important part of coping with your condition. As a couple, you may consider developing a short explanation of MS and why it impacts your life.

You can agree with each other when it comes to who you can lean on for help when you need it and how to ask for that assistance. You can also both be mindful of the difficult people in your life and be prepared to support each other if friends, family members, or colleagues are particularly hurtful when it comes to your MS.

A Word From Verywell

Without a doubt, MS can affect a marriage, but not always negatively. For many couples, the silver lining of dealing with MS is that it adds a deep perspective about what's really important, inspiring couples to take a more soulful, simple approach to living.

That said, through open, honest communication and good planning, your marriage can be strengthened by the challenges of MS.

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