I’d like to talk about relationships and MS, specifically romantic ones.
I feel that MS can be a ‘third wheel’ that puts pressure on relationships, which some people may struggle to deal with.
I know I do.
MS affects the way I feel as a woman
I face challenges in feeling attractive, sexy and basically as good as my female peers. When I think of being a woman and what it means to me personally, there is so much that MS has affected.
There’s the obvious symptoms: the way I drag my leg, the fatigue, the bladder and bowel issues (err, soooo not sexy!), being in a wheelchair or having my Zimmer frame to move (painfully slowly and incredibly ungracefully). Not being able to put my own pants on sometimes… And, my all-time favourite, wearing Velcro shoes. No high heels that give my leg that sexy shape I used to love.
Then there’s the weight gain from not exercising as much or as hard and muscle loss through spending long periods in bed or on the sofa. The mobility aids which never really seem to go with my outfit. The eyepatch when optic neuritis has hit...Hmmm, bit too Pirates of the Caribbean really!
Chipping away at my confidence
All these things over the years have made me feel like crap at some point. Made me feel unattractive, less womanly, stripped of sexuality which women are supposed to exude.
They’ve affected the way I feel about myself. I’m sure this is the same for men too (not the heels probably, unless it floats your boat!), but feeling less attractive and strong.
It chips away at your confidence at an alarming rate.
And when your confidence is low and your self-esteem takes a bruising, this can lead to many other problems mentally. You can start to feel a bit worthless.
This can affect relationship intimacy too
Sometimes you’re not well enough or too exhausted for intimacy. And then there’s the stuff you can’t do anymore because your body no longer works properly.
This can also be really hard for your significant other. It’s me who has MS, but it affects pretty much every aspect of my partner’s life too, which can cause huge problems and big divides.
This can possibly even lead to relationship break downs and divorce. My ex partner was incredibly angry at the situation he found himself in. It wasn’t what he signed up for or wanted from his life.
Communication is key
We need to listen to one another’s frustrations and feelings, and be able to acknowledge the reality from each other’s perspective.
If you’re in a relationship, MS doesn’t just happen to one of you. It affects you both. Each person will have their own feelings about how MS has affected them. I think that by understanding each other’s viewpoints we can begin to understand what the other person feels about what’s happening in a relationship.
When you start working as a team love, caring, understanding and patience can be regular visitors to your relationship. And intimacy often comes back because of the stronger position you’re both in.
Intimacy comes in many different guises
Intimacy can include sex, cuddling, having deep conversations, doing things together that you both enjoy, and taking and making time for the other person.
Intimacy doesn’t just have to mean sex. But it is important to talk about sex, be honest about how you feel, what you can and can’t manage, what you’d like to have a go at etc.
Once you are talking, openly, freely, respecting each other’s feelings around their struggles with MS, you will hopefully find you can begin to ask for what you’d like or need
It’s very easy to sometimes feel discarded when you’re disabled or have a chronic illness, just as it is for a partner who now views themselves as a carer and nothing more.
You can feel detached from the real world at times.
But you’re not. You’ve both been dealt a card which you never asked for or wanted. But you can remember your love for one another and make a difficult situation work for both of you. It is possible. It really is.
Find what works for you – and remember support is out there
Honesty, openness (even when it’s super hard to say things out loud) crying about things, laughing about things, reminiscing about things, these are all ways of being intimate.
Good luck! Remember there is always loads of support from the MS Society and MS forums. Speak with your GP if needed. And maybe you might need a bit more support and counselling together could help.