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Maintaining Intimacy and Romance with MS

Reading time | 4 mins

We have a tradition every time we’re in an elevator by ourselves: We kiss as soon as the door closes. A quick peck if we’re going up or down just a floor or two. Longer when there’s more ground to cover or if the lift’s moving reeeeaaally slow.

Yes, we both have MS, but one thing we’ve realised over the years is that the love we have for each other is more important than the chronic illness we share.

It’s uncertain how we started this cherished custom. Perhaps it was the initial thrill of stealing a kiss in public, or maybe we’re perpetually paying homage to the moment that started our relationship more than 16 years ago.

After meeting at an MS event in 2002, we became fast friends and talked on the phone for at least an hour most nights to bridge the 101.3-mile distance between us. Back then, we were just getting to know each other; we weren’t sure what would become of our budding connection. But when a severe MS exacerbation landed Jennifer in the hospital, we found ourselves having an honest, face-to-face conversation about where our relationship was going.

And it was there, from her hospital bed, that Jennifer made it clear in eight words: “I think I want you to kiss me.”

One kiss was all it took to ignite our fire that still rages today, in spite of our MS.

Let’s face it: MS is a serious chronic condition that often can take centre stage in your life. So how do you keep it from upstaging your marriage or committed relationship? How can you and your partner maintain your emotional intimacy and keep your romantic spark alive?

Through our experiences as a couple living with MS, here are some of the ways we’ve found to help you and your significant other keep the primary focus of your relationship on the love (not the disease) you share.

Embrace your intimacy — and each other

People often think “intimacy” is synonymous with sex, but it’s so much more than that. In fact, in defining intimacy, Dictionary.com offers eight different definitions. Only one of those mentions anything about sex. Most relate to intimacy as “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate and loving personal relationship with another person or group.”

Isn’t this the kind of closeness that made you a couple in the first place? Remember this special connection you share as you live each day and work through the challenges you face together.

But don’t get us wrong — sex and physical affection are important components of healthy intimate relationships. We often comment that without it, we’d simply be roommates.

Stop. Breathe. Kiss.

Without saying a word, a kiss can express the otherwise immeasurable levels of love, trust, commitment, loyalty, and understanding you have for your spouse or significant other.

Take the time to appreciate the significance of this special moment and make each kiss count. Sometimes just pausing to purposefully kiss reminds you that this is the person you chose to be with and the person who chose to be with you.

Rekindle the romance with a date

Whether you go out somewhere or decided on a night in, going on a “date” is a sure-fire way to make your relationship a priority. These are the moments where your sole purpose is to spend time with, and focus on, your significant other.

And these don’t have to be elaborate excursions to expensive places. One of our treasured moments happens when we’re driving home from an appointment with Jennifer’s neurologist, whose office is two hours away. Rather than grabbing fast food and eating it while we’re on the road, we actually stop and have a parking lot picnic. Sure, we could get out of the van and eat in the restaurant. But for us it’s more fun to get our food, park in the space furthest from the building, and focus on each other as we eat our sandwiches and split an order of French fries.

An intimate moment, indeed.

Show the love

Never underestimate the significance of a small gesture that shows you care and are thinking of your special someone. These actions help to shift the focus away from MS and concentrate on the commitment you each have to your partnership.

Nothing puts a bigger smile on Dan’s face than when Jennifer returns from the grocery store with one of his favourites: a bag of cherry liquorice. It’s a sweet way, both literally and figuratively, to show she’s thinking of him. And Dan never tells Jennifer “goodbye” when he leaves the house or “good night” before going to sleep. Instead, he makes sure that “I love you” always is the last thing she hears.

Remember that you are partners first, caregivers second

MS can quickly blur the line between being a partner and being a caregiver. It’s important that you both take the time and work together to ensure that caregiving is a compassionate component and not the primary role of your relationship.

Anybody can be your caregiver. But there is only one person who can be your significant and intimate other.

UK/MED/18/0332 November 2018