After she was diagnosed with MS, Birgit Bauer noticed how her marriage went through several stages – like the "love styles" described by the Ancient Greeks. Here's how she uses this philosophy to strengthen her relationships.
Some days ago, a person asked me how long I'd been married to my husband. This year we will celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary and 36 years of relationship. The person was surprised because this is such a long time, and I agree.
My husband and I have a typical life, with ups and downs. One of these downs was in 2005 when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
At that moment, our lives were destined to become very different. We both had to start again, as our old way of life was incompatible with the new.
I like to think we did many things the "right" way. Today, I'd say we worked on our relationship the same way the Ancient Greek philosophers did. They defined six variations of love and what love is, known today as "love styles":
- Ludus (playful love)
- Eros (romantic love)
- Philia (deep friendship)
- Agape (caring, altruistic love)
- Pragma (practical love)
- Philautia (self-love)
Ludus and Eros: the pink clouds of our love
My husband and I were very young when we first met. Together, we thought about our future. Our love was like a pink, fluffy cloud, and we wore rose-tinted glasses.
As time went by, Ludus morphed into Eros: romantic love. With my future husband, plans, ideas, and wishes seemed achievable and easy. And they were for a long time. We lived together, got married, and were happy.
Then MS came along, and the pink cloud left us for a while.
When I was diagnosed with MS, Eros took to its heels
When you get diagnosed with MS, it's easy to think your lives are over. Yes, both of your lives - because it's not just the person with the diagnosis who has MS. The partner has it, too, albeit in a different way.
Sometimes, the partner without MS may be overly careful with their loved ones. "Don't touch!" could be the "motto" for this precarious part of the relationship. Eros, named after the Greek god of fertility and passion, may feel like it's getting the cold shoulder and will move out once chronic illness moves in.
This is understandable, but how do you move forward with intimacy when you don't know how to live with MS? Is sex still "allowed" when a partner has MS? Will you ever enjoy it again?
The answer to both questions is yes, of course! Sometimes both of you may need more patience and understanding than you're accustomed to (especially in the heat of the moment). Still, it's very possible to have a satisfying sex life with MS. Just listen to each other, see what you're comfortable with, and do it.
Our love matured from childlike to grown-up and sensible (Philia)
Over the years, our love became more serious. Ludus left us, and our relationship became a trustful partnership. The friendship between us became more intense, too, and Philia came in.
We had to make decisions - about my MS, how to manage it, and our future together. Some of these conversations felt natural, and some felt incredibly difficult. We had to be conscious of not hurting one another's feelings and reach compromises when we weren't on the same page.
Making these decisions was something we needed to do together. Life isn't always a game or in the Ludus phase, so we had to be pragmatic.
Life took another "matter of fact" turn (Pragma)…
My MS diagnosis affected our marriage very badly for a while. Our way of speaking to each other became pragmatic (Pragma). Pragma is about patience, tolerance and sustainability in a relationship. We often didn't make the most "informed" decisions, but they were based on what we needed at the time.
One decision was to leave my husband out of my medical appointments. I found them stressful, became emotional, and it was all too much for me.
Instead, I found a friend to accompany me, making me feel much better. Having a "neutral" party come to appointments helped calm me down. I could listen to what the doctor was saying and take notes.
My husband shouldered a lot of my care at first, but I said he needed to tell me if he wasn't feeling okay or if the stress was getting too much. After my appointments, my friend and I would write down all the critical points my husband needed to know. We’d discuss them when I got home, and my husband felt like he was being kept in the loop.
… And my social life changed (Agape)
Another practical decision was how to tell other people about my MS diagnosis.
I'm sad to say that many of my friends' and acquaintances' reactions were unpleasant surprises. Many of the people I thought were close to me have incorrect and harmful views about MS.
I quickly decided to say "goodbye" to the toxicity in my life.
It was too much for me. I couldn't excuse the inexcusable from such people.
I now realise the importance of self-care and self-love (Philautia)
Even with people around you, sometimes it feels like you're struggling all on your own.
Self-care, compassion, and love are SO important when it reaches this point. They are NOT selfish. They are necessary.
Self-care helps you to become resilient throughout adversity and shows yourself some much-needed appreciation. Loving yourself can also do wonders in your relationship. Everyone needs to have their own lives.
I finally reached the "Philautia" or "self-love" stage a few months after being diagnosed with MS. I practice self-care by meeting my friends for coffee, knitting new projects, and binge-watching my favourite TV programmes.
My husband, meanwhile, likes to meet up with his friends at the fire station. He's a firefighter, and he and his pals are very into technical things.
MS gets left behind for a few hours when we engage in our self-care rituals. We don't talk about it or think about it. Then, when both of us are home, we have something lively to chat about beyond my health condition. Our projects allow us to be ourselves and pursue our passions.
The happy end: Eros always comes back
The first few years were tough; I won't deny it. But at some point, we began to feel like a couple again. Just Hubby and Birgit. We have dates; the pink cloud is back, and it has a soft glow.
Ludus means we can have fun together, while Eros' presence brings plenty of affection.
At the time, I wasn't aware of the Ancient Greeks' philosophy on love, but my husband and I went through all six stages subconsciously. We had to start our lives entirely anew. It was a challenge but worth it. There's a fine line between bouncing back and failing - but there is a line, and we found it.
Over the years, our relationship became stronger, which I am very grateful for. Our love is more intense. Very often, we don't need to use words to say something.
I know that having a diagnosis like MS can harm both people in the marriage. We were in crisis mode for a while, and it was difficult.
But MS is not the end of the world for couples. We both have so much life to live - together and on our own - and we should live it.
NPS-IE-NP-00692 January 2023