Life with MS

Dynamics of an Intimate Relationship

By Robert E. Godsall, Ph.D.
There are few things in life that are more perplexing than our relationships with other people, and none more so than the relationship we have with our significant other. For some reason, when physical intimacy is thrown into the mix, matters typically become more complicated. These complications involve our relationship to self, others, and the interaction between the two. Intimate relationships often challenge us to examine ourselves in ways that other relationships do not. We all have deeply rooted feelings, fears, insecurities, and ingrained perceptions about ourselves in relationship to others. As these old feelings arise, try to observe rather than judge. This will allow you to acknowledge them, and in so doing, honor them in a new way. But how is cognition involved in this process?
Cognition involves our attention, visual abilities, language skills, memory, and reasoning. However, cognition also involves perception, and particularly in the case of relationships, self-perception. The experience of MS challenges a person’s self-perception. Few things are more dangerous than being alone with one’s self-perception, when that self-perception is shrouded in negativity and shame. When such thoughts and feelings are left unsaid, hurt feelings, resentment and isolation result.
Communication is the only way to bridge the gap. Initiating this communication is probably one of the most difficult things to do for it exposes our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, and our fears. This is precisely why trust is an absolute requirement for delving into our sexuality with another person. Sexuality is not simply about sex, it is also about us as physical beings. It is about our hopes and fears in connecting with another human being, and at some unspoken level, it is also about our ability to live. Ultimately, it is about life force.
Because MS can manifest itself physically, cognitively, and emotionally, it can impose various limitations on the dynamics necessary to achieve balance between the physical and emotional self of those who experience it. Therefore, it is even more important that communication be a part of this dynamic. If it is too difficult to initiate this communication, work with a professional, such as a psychologist, social worker, or counselor who specializes in helping couples communicate. Sex, after all, is simply another form of communication.
(Last reviewed 7/2009)