As I sit perusing my social media feed, I see several of my fellow MS warriors share a wonderful post from another MS website about a couple battling the disease together. She the afflicted one and he the doting, faithful partner. It’s a love story (and I confess, I’m a sucker for a good love story), saying how much they love each other, and how accepting he is of her disease. She talks about how she realizes divorce rates are elevated for those with a chronic illness but that they are doing great. It’s uplifting. Until I see a great picture of them after finishing a 30 mile MS Bike race together. At that point, I realize, while they’ve no doubt had challenges, they’ve only experienced the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential MS-related relationship problems. I see posts like this often, the happy, “all is well despite the disease” couple. While that is great and hopeful, it can also sting to see, if you’ve been in the opposite situation. Where things didn’t work out. So I felt it was time to write about the other side of the coin, to show that having a relationship with a chronic illness is not easy and that it doesn’t always work out.
It’s not my intention to write a depressing article here, but I want to be realistic. While some people need to read about ideal situations and positive messages, some prefer to hear about everything, the good and the bad. The realities of life, no matter how rough they might be. I’m one of those that needs that, I need to see that other people experience the rough times like I do. I find some comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one. This topic of relationships and MS hits home a bit as my marriage has ended. I waited some time before diving into this because I needed time to reflect. I wanted as clear a mind as possible about the subject.
Did MS ruin my marriage?
Longtime readers of mine know Aimee, I’ve interviewed her and she’s even talked on video with me about MS and how it’s affected our lives. Many have praised her handling of life with my disease. To this day, I’m thankful for all the help she’s given (and still gives) me. Living with someone in my situation can take its toll though (as it has with other women I’ve lived with prior to Aimee). I can’t stress enough that it’s not any one person’s fault, at least not in my situation. I do think, however, that the stress and situations we’ve dealt with because of my MS did alter our relationship. Requiring help, constant memory issues, being seen in pain, being seen when I’m very vulnerable, mood swings, not being able to do the same things and attend the same events. The list goes on, and they all contributed a bit. I’m not the same person I was when we met, physically or mentally.
All of this took a toll on me, as well as on her. Over our time together, my condition slowly worsened, I fell out of shape, and I began a constant battle with the demons in my head. Being on disability has left me feeling inadequate in so many ways. As I’ve said previously, I was raised with a strong work ethic, I’d built a successful career, and it was a big part of my identity. Since that was suddenly stripped away, I’ve been lost. All of that had a massive impact on my marriage. So many times I would tell her how she deserved better. I put her on a pedestal, and so many times I felt guilty being with her because I felt like she deserved to be with someone who was her equal, someone better than me. In many ways, I pushed her towards this, I pushed her away constantly. I even encouraged her to be with the person she left me for, because I wanted her to be happy, and because I felt (ok, feel), like I don’t deserve that happiness (though I didn’t expect this particular outcome). As cliche as it sounds, I can’t help but feel like I did something to deserve my disease and everything it’s brought (and with that, that I didn’t deserve her). Even though I’ve counseled so many people with MS and assured them that they shouldn’t think this way, I still fell into that trap myself.
So did MS ruin my marriage? Not directly, but it ruined me, and then I ruined my own marriage. I’ve always felt that you can’t really be happy with someone until you’re happy with yourself first. When I met Aimee, I was very happy with myself (confidence hasn’t normally been an issue for me). By the time things really ended (and this was many months back now), I was very unhappy with myself. That kind of change can happen for a lot of reasons; for me, MS played a big part in that. So my feelings about myself, coupled with not physically being the same person where a perfect storm.
Well, my life goes on. Despite all the bad it’s done to me, my life with MS has made me strong, it’s made me a survivor. The first few months were rough, but I’m soldiering on and trying to build a life. I am still close with Aimee and I’m very friendly with her girlfriend. I meant all of those things I’d said, I’ve always just wanted her to be happy, and she seems to be. That truly does bring me some joy.
It may seem a little self-serving to talk about all this, but I do it because I know others might have something similar happen to them. Trust me, even many months later, it’s still not the easiest thing to talk about. Life with MS can have negative effects on relationships, not just friendships, but marriages too. Just know you aren’t alone. It’s not easy. If your relationship hasn’t been all wonderful and inspirational, that’s ok, and a lot more common than we’re all led to believe.
Thanks for reading!