Marriage & MS: The Ultimate Relationship Exam
Last updated: January 2023
So I’m sitting here, just flabbergasted that it’s happened again. For the third time in just this month, a fellow MS Warrior has confided in me that their significant other is leaving them because of their disease. This is not a new occurrence, I’ve had many people reach out to me with similar stories, particularly after I wrote about my own experience with the subject. Many platforms are quick to share stories of wonderful relationships that endure despite MS, but it’s clear that many times, things go a different way. In fact, every breakup that I’ve heard about was often a “solid” relationship until it wasn’t. Being the partner of someone with MS, especially as the disease progresses, isn’t for everyone. A chronic illness is the ultimate test of a relationship, a test that not all will pass. I’m here to remind you that it’s ok when this happens, that you aren’t alone, and that life is far from over if that test fails.
In sickness and in…
When it comes to marriage, people are quick to point out vows, and how they often explicitly mention this scenario. It’s right there right? “In sickness and in health” A vow is forever, right? Well, yes, that’s the idea. But in practice, it doesn’t always work out that way. Let’s face it, a lot of people break vows. I’m not saying that’s ok, I’m just pointing out the reality. No matter how much you believe in vows, you can’t always be prepared for what it takes to be with someone with a chronic illness. When you take those vows, your intentions may be great, but you simply can’t understand what life might be like. How many people have been tough guys during training but have gone to war and were suddenly not-so-tough once the bullets started flying? I’m guessing many. It’s always easy to point to vows and say, “but hey, they promised”. The truth is, none of us can say what we’d do in that situation. Many of you are saying, “oh, I’d stay by them, I’d stick to my vow”. Well, yea, I say that too, but, I also know that, until I’m in that situation, I can’t really be sure what I would do.
It’s not for everyone
Living with a chronic illness like MS is very hard. Despite all of the pain and problems I have, I would say it is much harder to be on the other side. I have some experience: my grandfather had MS and my family cared for him. It’s not easy to witness someone you care about having increasing difficulty. I simply can’t imagine if I had a significant other who was struck by disease. I’ve always been happy that I’m the one who had the disease, because I can’t bear the thought of someone I love having it. I can’t imagine what that would do to me. I can’t imagine the frustration and sorrow that would cause me. It would eat me up inside. Watching someone we love change so much, it’s painful, it wears out your soul. That’s something to remember when we judge those who leave us. Some people can’t handle that level of sorrow, that level of helplessness. Everyone has a limit.
Of course, there are those that also can’t handle the logistical part of being with someone with a chronic illness. It’s a lot of work for a partner. You have to do more, run more errands, do more housework, be on top of everything. It’s hard, very hard. That level of work will wear some people out. Not everyone is capable of being a caregiver, the best caregivers are among the hardest working people in this world. So much work, with all of those aforementioned emotional struggles on top of it. Caregivers are the real heroes of chronic illness and we don’t do enough to acknowledge that. Anyone who has witnessed it, really lived with and helped out with someone who needs care, you know that it is almost impossible work.
The final exam
A relationship is a series of tests, if you make it till “death do us part” then maybe you’ve passed. If you don’t, well, time to change majors I guess. Having your significant other have a chronic illness (and really have some progression) seems like the biggest final test to me. It’s among the hardest tests anyway, and not everyone will pass. No matter how long they’ve been studying that subject, some people aren’t cut out for it. It sucks when they fail, especially when you’ve been with them for a very long time. The thing is, not every relationship gets that test. People will live their whole lives together without a true test like that. For those that get the test of chronic illness and get through it with their partner, well, they know something many don’t. Theirs is a love that can stand the test of time. So many people will never know that, they’ll never know what their partner will really do when that “in sickness and health” exam comes along.
It’s not the end
When our loved ones leave us because of our illness, it’s hard. It’s baffling. How can this happen? All those years, were they wasted? What’s so bad about me? Did they ever really love me? I’ve been through it, I know. Even understanding it, I still have times where I feel like garbage because of it. It feels like there can be no bigger betrayal, but it also makes you feel low, so low. There’s being broken up with, and then there’s being left because of your disease. Something you’re always fighting, something you can’t change. It’s so easy to think, “well, no one will ever pass that chronic illness test, no one will ever want me, I’m not good enough”.
That’s not true though, because many people pass that exam, all the time. I see all sides, for every person that can’t handle being with someone with chronic illness, there are those that can. I always think of a man named Teddy, who is active on our forums, and how he dealt with his fiancee. How, no matter how difficult it was, he was there for her, all the way to the end. People like Teddy exist, they’re out there. Real love exists. I’m a little bit of a romantic, I don’t believe in a god, but I very much believe in love. We can all find love. Our journey to finding it may not go the way we expected, but I believe we can all find it. We can all find our Teddy, the person who not only loves us but can handle the rigors of chronic illness. The person that loves us no matter what. Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m foolish, but I believe love is out there for all of us, no matter what our condition.
Thanks so much for reading!
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