Tag: <span>multiple sclerosis and marriage</span>

Hello Cancer, Goodbye Marriage: A new study shows that men are more likely to ditch their sick spouses, should really be titled, “Hello Illness, Hello Marital Stress”.

The authors, Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert, are reporting on an article in the November 2009 issue of Cancer, titled, “Gender disparity in the rate of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness”. Of course, the research article’s abstract begins by stating the obvious, “Life-threatening illness creates severe stress that may result in marital discord, separation, or divorce and may adversely impact treatment, quality of life, and survival.”

While the Newsweek summary of the findings focuses on couples where one partner has cancer, the original study is of 515 patients: 214 have a malignant brain tumor, 193 have a serious brain tumor with no nervous system involvement and 108 have multiple sclerosis. All were married at the time of diagnosis.

Because Newsweek has summarized the finding of the Cancer article, I’ll not do that again here. I’ll merely point out the obvious: caring for a spouse who has a severe illness is stressful and disrupts marital relationships. Unless one marries a partner who has already been diagnosed, it may be impossible to understand the implications for one’s future which is contained in the small phrase, “in sickness and in health”.

I may comment on this study again in the future because I think it describes a phenomenon that is so very important for multiple sclerosis caregivers to appreciate. And because I know it is possible to build a stronger marriage – even as the chaotic effects of Multiple Sclerosis bang against your marital relationship.

And as fascinating and accessible as the Newsweek article may be, the readers comments to the Newsweek article are worth studying all by themselves. People have a lot of emotion about the issue of spouse abandonment: http://www.newsweek.com/id/223079/output/comments

Caring for Yourself Living with MS MS Research

On a recent evening, my wife and I were sitting in the living room, both of us reading and sipping hot chocolate before we ended our day. She, snuggled in a dark pink sweater and wrapped in her light pink afghan, caught my eye as I sat in my chair. She smiled.

“I enjoy the peace of our life together,” she said, “and I enjoy knowing I don’t have to worry about you leaving me.”

At first I thought she was talking in reference to the novel she was reading.

I raised my eyebrow. “I didn’t know you had ever worried about me leaving,” I offered.

“I did. Not a lot, but I did. It was right after I was diagnosed with MS.”


I remembered her telling me about a lady in her MS support group whose husband left her after they learned she had MS. At the time I thought she was simply sharing information. And I remembered (about that time) she also mentioned she had read in a book about spouses who leave their partners after learning of an MS diagnosis.

I’d like to think my commitment to her has always been so blatant and obvious that she never would have wondered about me leaving her. But then again, after she heard of a husband leaving his wife, after reading a chapter in a book about it and after living with me and my disbelief about the neurologist’s diagnosis, I can see how the fear of me leaving may have felt very real.

We’ll soon return to our honeymoon cabin to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. I’ve never considered leaving. She’s been the center of my world and has always held my heart. She’s God’s best gift to me and is His most constant and present expression of grace for me. Theologians may quibble about that, but I have no doubt that God loves me: He gave me her.

While I wish she had never experienced the fear of being abandoned, I think I understand the emotional dynamics. And I’m certainly glad she navigated her way through her fear and enjoys our relationship without concerns.

How did I miss her fear? I think it was because in those early months following her diagnosis, I spent a lot of time trying to do what guys tend to do most when they feel like they’re losing control … I tried to fix things. I focused so much on the practical things required for us to handle MS well that I overlooked her fear. I spent so much time being a cheerleader that I missed her concerns.

(Besides, if I’m learning to give shots in her stomach, buying books about MS, and bumping up my life insurance so she’ll be taken care of if I die first, how on earth could she think I’d consider leaving?)

While I made good plans for the future, I missed some of the important emotional content she was experiencing. I assumed she, like me, looked into the future and saw us always together. But it wasn’t so clear for her then. I’m glad it is now.

I know husbands can disappear when their wives are diagnosed with significant illness. (And some wives leave when their husband is the patient.) Just this past week, I heard from a friend about a woman who’s husband left her after she learned she has cancer. It happens often enough that it may even be normal for someone who is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis or an other chronic illness to wonder if her or his spouse is going to remember the “in sickness” part of the marriage vows as well as they remember, “and in health.”

Caregiver’s Tip:

Even partners in solid marriages can be fearful of abandonment. If you think you need to reassure your partner that you’re in it for the long haul, do it.

MS Caregiving Theology of Caregiving

MS Caregiving