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5 Relationship Tips for Reconnecting with a Partner after a Relapse

By Matt Cavallo

My wife and I are coming up on our 16th wedding anniversary. For all but three of those anniversaries I have been a person living with MS and she has been my caregiver. I have relapsing remitting MS, so I will experience relapses followed by a period of remission. In my periods of remission, I need her less as a caregiver and more as a partner. However, relapses can be sudden, dramatic and seemingly come on overnight. It is during those times where she has an innate ability to flip the switch to caregiver mode.
 
Luckily for me, my wife is a natural caregiver and has been from the first moments I experienced symptoms. Even when I tried to push her away because I did not understand why or what I was going through, she refused to give up on me. My wife is also an excellent mother and there have been times throughout my MS where she has had to balance both a relapsing husband and two babies in diapers at the same time.
 
After all of my many relapses, it has been important for my wife and I to re-establish the connection we had before the relapse. Reconnecting isn’t always easy after a relapse bur here are five tips that can help.
 
Five Relationship Tips for Reconnecting with Your Partner After a MS Relapse:
 
1. Celebrate Remission – Relapses are tough, intense periods of time where your partner may have to help you with the activities of everyday like bathing, toileting and dressing. These activities can turn a relationship from being an intimate one into a nurse-patient relationship. Once a relationship evolves, it is hard to turn back the clock. Setting a date to celebrate the remission period allows both of you to consciously make the effort to transition back to the intimate relationship you had before the relapse. Do you have a favorite restaurant? Reserve a table and go there to have a conversation about an awesome memory that reminds you both of you what your relationship was like before the relapse.
 
2. Communication is the Key – Celebrating that you are feeling better is not enough to turn back the clock. You also have to tell your partner where you are in your progress. This is especially important for cognitive issues. Maybe physically you can bathe, toilet and dress on your own, but there might still be some residual brain fog.  For me, I have shared with my wife, “I’m OK getting dressed on my own, but I’m having trouble with my memory and finding words right now. If I forget or seemed distracted or distant, it’s not you. It is my MS.” Some of the symptoms of an MS relapse can be invisible to your partner, so making sure that they understand that you are still recovering can make all the difference.
 
3. Acknowledge Their Help – One of the toughest things to do in life is to ask for help. Many of us can be especially stubborn when it comes to receiving help. However, one of the ways to transition back from a caregiving to an intimate relationship is to acknowledge the help you received from your partner. An example would be, “Thank you so much for helping me get dressed when I couldn’t. You know, it was really difficult for me and I was so appreciative that you were there for me when I needed it. I’m doing OK now, so I’m going to try to take on this task myself again. I know you’ll be there again if I need it and I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”
 
4. Acknowledge Their Struggle – What often gets lost in the shuffle is that the relapse affects both people. Caregiving is an extremely selfless act. It is also an extremely stressful act. The burden that an MS relapse can put on your partner can be both painful physically and mentally. Over time with increased frequency of relapse, your partner may even become resentful of what MS has done to your relationship. During a relapse and after, it is important to check in with your partner to make sure that they are OK. For example, “I know that it is hard to lift or move me, how are you feeling?” or “I know this has been hard on you. Do you want to talk about it?”
 
5. It’s Not Their Fault – It is hard to manage emotions in the middle of a relapse. There are things happening to our bodies and minds that we don’t understand. The frustration that builds up during a relapse may have us unwittingly lashing out at our partner. Or, instead of lashing out, some of us may retreat within. Both can have a negative effect on your relationship. Reassuring your partner that it is not their fault can help. You can never give too much reassurance, especially when the symptoms aren’t visible. For example, “I know I have been really withdrawn lately. It isn’t you. I am having a real hard time with how I feel about me and my MS. You’re the best thing I have in my life.”