A diagnosis of
multiple sclerosis (MS)
can present profound
challenges to a relationship. After a companion's diagnosis,
a partner may experience his or her own grieving process and may
even feel guilty about his or her own good health.
Communication is a key component in dealing with the added
stress MS may create in a relationship. Openly discussing feelings and thoughts can help couples avoid frustration and
alleviate some of the strain they may be experiencing.
A person with MS will experience fatigue, from general tiredness
to extreme exhaustion. Fatigue may be triggered by physical
exertion and improve with rest, or it may take the form of a
constant and persistent tiredness. This has an effect on
Activities that once seemed simple—like grocery shopping,
vacuuming, or walking the dog—may now seem overwhelming. If
possible, hiring some temporary help may be the answer. If
not, reallocation of chores and using time wisely will help reduce
the stress and enable couples to work together.
Another difficulty a couple may encounter is a decrease in
commonly shared activities. As the severity of symptoms
increase, couples may have a hard time finding things they can do
together. More rigorous
activities, like bike riding or hiking, may be too difficult.
It is important to not stop shared activities though—try taking a
walk 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. The National Multiple Sclerosis society has a resource guide for caregivers. Keep in mind you are not alone and help is available.
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.
Prior to the onset of MS, couples saw each other in numerous
roles—friend, lover, confidant. An important step in keeping
a relationship strong is accepting how these roles may change with
the introduction of MS. A partner who was once independent
and outgoing may become reclusive and even
after an MS
diagnosis. Recognizing how this may affect a relationship,
determining the potential weaknesses it may cause, and developing
appropriate responses will help strengthen the
Dealing with each situation as it arises will help the couple
from feeling too overwhelmed. Set reasonable goals and have
realistic expectations. Life with MS will be different, but
open communication can help. Both partners will need to be
patient, supportive, and understanding. In addition, support
groups and counseling may help people with MS and their families find
ways to cope with the changes MS may bring.
A guide for caregivers. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/NationalMSSociety/media/MSNationalFiles/Brochures/Brochure-A-Guide-for-Caregivers.pdf. Accessed January 6, 2017.
Boland P, Levack WM, Hudson S, Bell EM. 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, 2017.
Intimacy. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Family-and-Relationships/Intimacy. Accessed January 6, 2017.
Multiple sclerosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116285/Multiple-sclerosis-MS. Updated March 4, 2016. Accessed January 6, 2017.
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.
Last reviewed January 2017 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 1/6/2017