In 2012, my husband and I both celebrated our 36th birthdays. That year, we also celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. At the time, we were both happy with our jobs and happy with each other, and respected what each one brought to the table.
Unfortunately, 2012 ended poorly. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November that year. With the diagnosis, my long- and short-term plans were dashed. If not for MS, I would now be halfway through a doctoral program. The clock ticks as I miss other opportunities. Meanwhile, my husband will be celebrating 15 years working for the same company. Slowly, I feel the equality in my marriage vanishing, and see myself diminishing from partner to dependent, while my husband evolves from partner to caregiver.
Reading a recent study on divorce rates due to chronic illness gave weight to my concerns. It showed that divorces are more likely when the wife has a chronic illness, than when a husband has a chronic illness. One theory suggested that since caretaking responsibilities are not socially expected of men, it can lead men to feel unqualified to be a caregiver and/or women feeling they need more support than the men can give.
This scared me, even though there has not been any evidence of my husband leaving me.
Later, I found myself searching online for the other side of the coin. I found encouraging personal stories of couples living with various disabilities, MS included. I found helpful articles with advice based on a solid foundation for any marriage, built with honor, trust, respect, and love. Communication is also key.
With all this in mind, I talked to my husband. I thanked him for everything he has done for our family, and for shouldering many of my former responsibilities to the children and our home. I apologized for being a burden, especially when my MS symptoms are triggered, and he is put in the position of taking care of me, too. I also shared my disappointment and sadness at not being able to work, and putting us in the bind that we are in.
My husband turned the tables on me and asked,
“If I was the one who was sick, wouldn’t you do the same for me?”
I was surprised, and I replied that, of course, I would do the same for him. I realized he has already been operating from the foundation on which solid relationships are built. He is honoring our marriage vows, he trusts that I will be there if he ever needs me, he respects my limitations, and he is doing everything he can because of his love for our family.
As daunting as the divorce rate might be, I should also move towards a more positive way of viewing my marriage. Despite MS negatively affecting other parts of my life, I will practice honor, trust, respect, and love, for the sake of my marriage.
For starters, I will stop calling myself a dependent and I will stop calling my husband a caregiver. We have been, we are, and we shall always be, simply partners.
How has your marriage changed since your MS diagnosis?
Shortly after earning her MSW degree from Columbia University and starting a career in psychiatric social work, KM was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She stopped working in 2013 and became active in the MS community. She joined team Park Pedalers for Bike MS: Coast the Coast in 2014 and she will be riding with them again this year. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and her nursemaids—cat, Mali, and dog, Moby.