Marriage holds so much promise. Multiple sclerosis can shake the foundation to its core. When this happens, sometimes the vows once taken get lost in all of the medical and physical needs of the patient.
This is a message for those spouses of MS patients who may give in to the frustration and anger more than they probably want to or should.
Dear Spouse of an MS Patient
This diagnosis is a curveball for both partners. There is no way to prepare for it, and no one ever thinks it is going to happen to them. Even if you have discussed other health issues, there is no known list of items of what MS will actually do to a person, or to the marriage. MS is not a disease that comes in quietly and stays confined only to the person diagnosed. It affects every aspect of their life, and in turn affects the people around them – mainly you, the spouse.
As you and your spouse start to face your new normal, there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period. There are now things that you will have to factor into your everyday plans, and your long term plans will undergo drastic changes. As you face this new reality, both of you will have many internal and external issues to contend with leaning on each other is essential. For all of the fear, doubt, anger and disbelief you are feeling, please try to remember that your spouse is feeling all it too – and more. They feel guilt and an overwhelming sense of despair.
Early on, there will be the feeling that as long as you are together, this too will be just a minor bump in the road. Eventually, MS will make its presence known in an undeniable way. When that happens, the true test of the relationship will begin. Though it is not fair, your spouse will look to you to be their comfort while they deal with pain, fear, anger and depression. You will often not want to have to be the one who shoulders the burden of not only your own life, but theirs as well.
Please try to remember that your love and support can be what makes or breaks your spouse’s life in more ways than a normal relationship ever could.
The fact is, when you have MS, you need all the support you can get. The spouse is the primary support system – mentally, emotionally and physically – it can make the worst day with MS bearable, and make the good days even better.
Anyone with MS will be fighting an internal emotional battle every day, and often they will be fighting physically against their own body. If you feel frustration mounting, please fight the temptation to take it out on them.
It is hard to be ‘the healthy one’ in a long term, committed relationship. We see that the bulk of responsibilities fall on your shoulders. Someone who isn’t in your position can only imagine how that feels.
You might not get the ‘thank you’s that you deserve. You might not get the credit, or have anyone truly understand you day in and day out basis. What is important for you to understand is that though it may not always be shown, you are your spouse’s superhero. Holding onto that may be hard, and frustration is sure to rise on occasion. Be the rock your spouse needs more than ever.
The golden rule
As hard as it may be, please keep in mind that if you lash out at your MS-riddled partner, the added stress makes the condition worse. Where words of love, encouragement and support can build them up and give them the push they need to go forward on bad days, your frustration can cut deeper then you can imagine. In a world where they can’t even count on their own bodies, your anger and frustration will hurt more than in the past.
This is not to suggest that you will never fight in your partnership. It is still a working relationship with issues that have nothing to do with multiple sclerosis. Money, family, bills, lifestyle--these are all things that will have highs and lows in every relationship, and will be dealt with by each couple in their own way. What partners of those with MS have to keep an eye on within themselves is the reasoning behind their frustration. Is it really money, or are you frustrated at your partner’s disease?
If you say something wrong, when you calm down, you will realize what you said or did to your already sick and hurting spouse. So this letter is a plea. Please think always before you speak. Please understand what you are frustrated with, and keep to those topics. If you have frustration towards your partner’s illness, write it down, vent it to a friend or family member, or get involved with a support group. Just try not to lash out.
Remember how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. If you were the one locked in continuous battle with your own body, would you want to be built up by the one that you love the most in the world, or torn down?
It may be patently unfair to ask this of you. But it is being in a partnership that stays true to "in sickness and in health." It is what you would want if you were the one suffering, so keep that in mind always. Try to remember that person underneath the sickness is still the person you loved when you took your vows.
The spouse with MS gives you trust, love, faith and the belief that when they can’t take care of themselves, you can. Be that person they can believe in and let your love guide you through it all.