It just hit me that my 12 year marriage anniversary is here. It’s not the fact that we’re still married I find fascinating, it’s that half of my married life has been with multiple sclerosis. MS has caught up with us. But not really. Caught up sounds like some sort of demise, when the fact is, it has only made us stronger.
I knew when my doctor said my husband would have to help me manage my MS, and my husband didn’t flinch, that our love was strong. He replied, “Okay, how?” When someone is willing to give you such a tremendous amount of care, and doesn’t flinch, that is LOVE. I remember thinking that as I watched it unfold.
Since that day I have watched a lot unfold between my marriage and my MS, and I figured I’d share with you not to gloat, but simply because we are happy. If this helps you and your relationship, then that makes me happy too.
Here are my six tips for a happy and healthy marriage (whether you have MS or not!).
1. Don’t expect mind-reading. I used to get upset or feel isolated when I was first diagnosed. I was in so much pain (all different kinds). My spine hurt. My head hurt from imagining the worst-of-worst case scenarios for my prognosis. I realised one day I was angry at my husband for not coming in and talking to me about what was ailing me, BUT I never told him. My husband is not a mind reader. The moment I started speaking, he listened and he’s help me through it. I had to learn to SPEAK UP.
2. Don’t isolate. In the early days after my diagnosis, I was depressed. I’d hole up in my room and commiserate (solo). Now, even if I’m laid up, I make sure I lay down in the busiest part of the house so I’m surrounded by the glory that is the loud and busy house of a young couple. Lie down, but have it be in the center of joy, and try to stay connected with your partner even when you’re not feeling your best.
3. When you feel well, go wild. I do an MS Dare a Day to remind myself to use my legs while I can, or to just wake up and be ALIVE. Of course I sprained my ankle on my last dare…so you may want to stay away from trampolines. Try a dare with your partner. For our birthdays, we went away on a weekend trip alone and just celebrated being together. Part of the celebration was to dare ourselves to do some really silly things and it was the best birthday ever.
4. Touch each other once a day. Even if it is just sitting on a couch and holding their hand, touch your spouse! Did you know that cuddling, hugging, touching your spouse’s neck…etc., releases oxytocin, a neuropeptide which promotes feelings of devotion and bonding in the brain? Try it! Even if you aren’t feeling it. Try it. I dare you. It will help keep you connected.
5. Count the lovelies. I used to blame my husband for certain things. I would count my resentments toward him in my own way without realizing I was even doing it. Then one day he did something so lovely and I thought, “Why am I counting the resentments and not the lovelies?” If everyone counted the faults in people, we’d all be running away, not only from our partners, but ourselves. Count the lovelies.
6. Focus on what you can do. I used to wish my husband would do certain things, like hold my hand more, or ask me how my day was. And then I realised, I didn’t do those things with him. So I started. I modeled the behaviour I wanted from him, and he reacted to it in the same way. He always holds my hand now. He asks how my day was. He cares. He wanted the same things I did. I just wasn’t showing him I wanted them too.
And one last thought. My friend is a musician and she says this in one of her songs: “Love is the benefit of the doubt.” That lyric, my gosh, it has taken me a long, lovely way. It’s taken me 12 years, six of them with MS, on a beautiful journey. I wish you the best of luck on yours.
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