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My Spouse, My Friend, My Care-Partner

Although I have lived with multiple sclerosis for over 15 years, I am not the only person in my household who ‘lives’ with MS. My husband is also affected by MS. Fortunately, we are not alone on this journey as MS tries to act like a third wheel in our relationship at times.

Sharing responsibilities at home

As husband and wife, Rob and I help to take care of each other. There is a fluid give and take that makes our household function smoothly. For example, Rob will carry the full laundry baskets down to and up from the basement where I choose to be the one to “do the laundry.” Rob mows the lawn. I take care of keeping on top of our medications and ordering groceries. And we both contribute to keeping clean dishes available.

These examples represent normal everyday activities that most any household deals with. What is unique to our relationship is how we watch out for the health and well-being of each other.

My husband watches for my MS warning signs

Rob has developed excellent skills as a care-partner who moves in to intervene when our third wheel tries to play its dirty tricks on me. MS has made me rather heat-sensitive and oftentimes, Rob will see its effect before I’ve realized I need to do something to counterbalance the heat.

He encourages me to rest and stay cool

If we are both working in the yard, Rob is the one who makes sure that we both have plenty of water available to drink. He often prompts me to take a break and drink some ice water even if I’m trying to “come to a good stopping point” first. When we are cycling and I start to get overheated, he usually encourages us both to stop and rest, cool off, drink more water, and wait until I can either see straight or feel my legs again. If I begin to have trouble with sensory overload, Rob will gently guide me to a less confusing and stimulating environment. There I can begin to think straight again.

His awareness developed over time

Keeping a keen eye out for my needs didn’t come automatically for Rob. It took awareness, time, patience, and careful attention. As we’ve grown in our awareness of the effects of MS on my body specifically, we have become stronger care-partners in averting some of those effects.

We care for each other

Care-partnering isn’t a one-way street. It isn’t set in concrete. The acts of care-partnering are fluid and can be changeable. That’s one reason I like to think of these acts as part and parcel of our partnership as a couple. If it weren’t MS and RA that I face, it would probably be something else. And no matter what, we still need to work together to make the household run smoothly.

Feeling guilty

Sometimes I feel guilty when I ask for help. But it’s important not to hang on too closely to that emotion. Here are a few things that I’ve noticed help me feel less guilty within our care-partnering relationship.

“How can I help?”

That’s a question that sounds so simple, but can make a huge impact. The question also demonstrates that you are not making assumptions about what a person needs, and it allows for the possibility that a person doesn’t want nor need help. But it’s also a question you should ask yourself, because sometimes we just need to step back and think about what we really need to do for ourselves in the moment.

A tip for the person receiving assistance

Another thing I recommend to the person who is the receiver of assistance is to avoid going into a long monologue about why you need help and can’t do something for yourself. The person offering help may already know the whys and simply wants to get to work so that more time can be spent enjoying a longer conversation about something good that may have gone on during that day.

A tip for the person providing assistance

To the person providing the assistance, I recommend avoidance of throwing doubt upon the level of need a person expresses. Please be aware that the admission of needing help in the first place may be harder to express than the effort it takes you to complete the task.

What makes a good care-partner?

No matter the circumstance, being a care-partner is an important part of any relationship that doesn’t take much skill. Mostly it requires communication, an awareness of your loved ones’ needs, and a willingness to make an effort to lighten the load for someone else.

Be well, my friends,

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