Maintaining Intimate Relationships When You Have MS


Gina Garippo

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Don't Shy Away from Intimacy

If you've been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), you know that the disease can affect almost every aspect of your life. Your relationships are no exception. It may take some time for you and your spouse or partner to learn how to navigate the physical and emotional changes that can come with the disease. But it is possible to maintain a strong, loving relationship by working together. In fact, some relationships grow deeper through experiencing shared goals and challenges. 

Here are some steps that can help you and your loved one.

Talk, Talk, Talk

It's natural to have relationship insecurities after a diagnosis of MS. You may wonder if your loved one still wants to be with you. Perhaps you think he or she resents your condition or feels held back in some way.

Whatever your feelings, it's important to be open and honest. Take time to sit down regularly and talk about how you feel. This includes your hopes, fears, and dreams. MS is an unpredictable disease, and staying in close communication allows you to plan for and manage challenges. It can also reduce stress and bring you and your partner closer together.  

Maintain Intimacy

Many people with MS experience changes in their sex life. Disease-related nerve damage can cause painful intercourse, inability to reach orgasm, or difficulty maintaining an erection. Common symptoms like fatigue, bowel or bladder problems, stress, and depression can also decrease interest in sexual relations.

Although it may not be easy, work to find ways to keep intimacy a priority. Communicate what feels good and what doesn't. Don't forget that intimacy doesn't always mean intercourse. Holding hands, cuddling, and giving each other backrubs can also keep you connected. If pain, numbness, or erectile issues are causing problems, talk with your doctor. There are medications that can help.

Keep It Balanced

If your spouse or partner has taken on additional responsibilities or has transitioned to being a caregiver at times, it may be time to evaluate your roles as a couple. It's important that you both contribute to your relationship and household. Balancing responsibilities can reduce feelings of resentment, and it's important to your self-esteem.

Talk through the types of tasks that need to be accomplished, and make sure they're distributed as evenly as possible. If your partner needs to handle more physical tasks like mowing the grass, you can pay the bills. Although your loved one may need to take on a greater role in the household, make sure he or she gets personal time away.  Don't forget that your partner's needs are important, too.

Have Fun

Dealing with the ups and downs of MS can be taxing—both physically and emotionally. You and your spouse or partner may spend a lot of time discussing treatment options, talking about symptoms, and trying to plan for future needs. And although these conversations are necessary, they can rob your relationship of fun.

Remember to let go for a while. Even if you can't do some of the same activities as before, be creative. Rent a funny movie. Play cards. Get together with friends. Laughing is great for a close relationship.

A Note to the Well Partner

Supporting your loved one with MS is a wonderful way to show love and gain an even closer relationship. But it isn't always easy. Your thoughts, feelings, and needs are important, too. Make sure you communicate them to your partner.

Also, take time for your own interests and activities. Being a good caregiver doesn't mean living for your partner's illness. Maintaining your identity is good for the relationship as a whole. Take good care of yourself. Your personal well-being must always remain a top priority. Otherwise, both you and your partner will suffer.

Key Takeaways

  • You and your partner can maintain a strong, loving relationship by working together through the challenges of MS.

  • Take time to sit down regularly and talk about how you feel.

  • Find ways to keep intimacy a priority and have fun together.

  • It's important that you both contribute to your relationship and household.

  • Make sure your partner has time for his or her interests and activities.  

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: May 6, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Rediscovering Intimacy. Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.
  2. Talking about Sexual Dysfunction. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  3. Emotional Changes. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  4. Sexual Problems. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  5. Intimacy. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
  6. Intimacy and Sexuality in MS. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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