We wanted to learn more about how multiple sclerosis (MS) plays a role in relationships, so we asked Jessica T. and her husband James for their insights. They have been married for over 12 years, and Jessica was diagnosed with MS over 11 years ago. Here’s what they had to say about living with MS together and working as a team.
1: What emotions did you experience when you were first diagnosed?
Jessica: I was very scared and anxious about what my future might look like. I also remember feeling sorry for my husband because we were newlyweds. A few months after my diagnosis, I opened a Christmas gift from my husband. It was a letter telling me that he would be there for me and with me no matter what my MS would bring. From that point, I knew that we would take this journey together. I was still scared, but I knew that I was not alone.
2. What emotions did you experience when Jessica was first diagnosed?
James: When my wife was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I had feelings of confusion about what the disease is and a strong desire to let her know that I would be there to support her. I mostly wanted her to know that she would not be alone in her journey with MS.
3. How has MS changed or impacted your relationship?
Jessica: I think that all relationships have challenges, and ours is a health condition. When I was first diagnosed, intimacy was a challenge because I was so anxious and scared about having MS. We amped up our communication during that time. MS has taught us to communicate better, to focus on the things that are most important to one another, and also to be accountable to one another.
James: My wife was diagnosed with MS during our first year of marriage. I feel that it has made us focus on the most important things in life as well as ways that we can support one another each day. Our relationship is no different from any other couple, with the exception that we probably spend more time than most working as a team to accomplish things.
4. How important is communication in a relationship in regards to dealing with MS as a team?
Jessica: It has been critical because my symptoms are mainly invisible. So I need to tell him if something is going on impacting my day. He knows that if I am telling him that it is happening even if he cannot see it.
James: Communication is one of the most important parts of being in a relationship where you are dealing with MS. You and your partner have to be open and honest about all aspects of life to be able to fully fight the disease as a team.
5. What does love mean to you?
Jessica: Love means the world to me, and so does my husband. I think love can look different when MS is involved. Sometimes for us love looks simple, like sitting beside one another and laughing together. Other times, love looks like having conversations about difficult things together. I think for us, love is represented in the careful way that we help each other and stand beside one another when things are uncertain in front of us.
James: Love is a big thing. It encompasses what you sacrifice to make one another happy. It also gives meaning to your life since you know that you both are codependent on each other and you actually enjoy it. Love is honesty, passion, respect, and happiness all rolled together.
6. Why is support an important part of any relationship, and how do you support each other?
Jessica: No one should have to do very hard things without some support or encouragement. About a year ago, it was my turn to support my husband with a career change. During that time I remember telling him, “We can do this TOGETHER.”
James: Support is a large part of what makes a relationship work. You have to know that your partner is there to help and encourage you when needed. I support my wife by organizing things, being optimistic, and encouraging her to do the things in life that she wants. She supports me by being an awesome mother, reminding me to do things, and setting a great example for our son.
7. What goes into building a strong relationship?
Jessica: Communication, flexibility, and acceptance. Showing up for one another even if you do not know what to do. Also, being aware that relationships are always a lot of work. They will continuously be tested.
James: Building a strong relationship consists of good communication, helping and encouraging one another, and learning to enjoy what life brings you. You have to understand that you will have challenges, but a strong relationship will overcome anger and disappointment.
8. How do you overcome challenges in your relationship?
Jessica: I would say we overcome most challenges by talking about it. We have a habit of lying in bed and asking questions. Ground rules are that you cannot get mad or upset, and you must be honest. This would be a time when we start to work through a challenge. Also, I have worked on letting go of things that are not a big deal.
James: Overcoming challenges is one of the hardest parts of a relationship. I always try to be patient and understanding when presented with a challenging situation in my marriage. That is easier said than done, but selfishness and anger can destroy a relationship.
9. How important is it to take time for yourself?
Jessica: It is critical for me to do things alone and pursue activities outside of my family. I need more social interaction than my husband and son.
James: I think taking “me-time” is very important for my relationship with my wife. I take time to watch baseball, fix things, and sometimes just listen to music that I enjoy. These things make me happy, help me relax, and enable me to be a good partner in my relationship with my wife.
10. What’s your ideal date night?
Jessica: We have a child, so our date nights look a little different than they used to. My ideal date would be to go on a hike or take a class together. However, these days we usually find a day or two during the workweek to eat lunch together. That is a great time to connect. I think we are actually overdue for a date night!
James: My ideal date night is doing anything with my wife that allows us to enjoy ourselves without thinking of work, things that need to be done, or any source of stress. It could be a nice dinner or going out to learn to do something new.
11. What advice would you give to another couple that is living with MS?
Jessica: Be gentle with one another. It is equally challenging, both for the person with MS and the partner. You will have other challenges, and MS gives you the opportunity to focus on the things that matter the most to you as a couple. Also, try to focus on other things besides MS.
James: The best advice I can give to a couple living with MS is to relax often, see the good in one another, and know that things are never going to be perfect. These are things that I work on every day.