One of the greatest skills a person can learn is how to communicate effectively. There are lots of resources online for effective communication in the workplace. It is much harder to find resources for effective communications in the family unit. This is the stuff mental health professionals are made of, as they continuously teach people how to communicate with the ones they love, including friends and family members.
One of the first steps we need to take if we want to talk openly with our loved ones about our multiple sclerosis (MS) is to look within ourselves. We need to think about what we want to discuss. What is my greatest fear? What will be the benefit? Sometimes we may be our own worst enemy, but taking the first step may be the biggest one.
Unless you actually have MS, it is difficult to understand what someone living with MS is going through. Take for instance trying to describe the odd sensation that you have down your leg. We don’t have the right words, so we start to describe things that may be “like” the sensation. “It feels like I have hot oil running down my leg.” My guess is that we have never really had hot oil running down our leg, but we can get a sense of what that may feel like.
Talking about our feelings related to MS may be additionally difficult. Either we can’t find the right words or we’re just embarrassed about our answers. But being direct and specific can help you feel better and get your point across. “I’m not feeling great” may seem like an easy answer, but it’s not clear what you actually mean or how you actually feel. If we do not explain our experiences and feelings in more detail, then we are not properly answering their questions. It’s important to face these communication challenges head-on and really talk to loved ones about what’s going on and how you really feel.
Open communication is the foundation of all successful romantic relationships—both verbal and nonverbal. It helps us build a sense of trust and respect. This will take time and practice, but try to break down the wall and talk openly and deeply with your partner.
I often suggest to patients struggling with an intimate relationship that they should reflect on the time they were dating—explore each other’s feelings, thoughts, and dreams. When they ask me how to do that, I provide the following tips:
When working on your communication skills with friends and loved ones, it’s important to take your time and make an effort. If the issue is communication, work on it. If the issue is lack of understanding about MS, seek resources. If the issue is relational, consider counseling. Maintaining an open dialogue can help you open yourself to even more support.