By Stacie Prada
Here’s the hard thing about relationships when you have a chronic illness. At any given time we’re at a certain place in how we feel about our lives and health, and we hope that those close to us can understand and be there with us. And it doesn’t always happen for our spouses, family members and friends when we need them. They aren’t always able to trust us and be dependable for us when we need them. They aren’t always able to promise or have the ability to be there for us for what we think may be in store for us.
These are good people that have been through tragedies and life hardships before. But sometimes something that isn’t temporary, isn’t going to get any better, and is most likely to get worse is beyond what they can handle.
We don’t sign up for being sick. They don’t either. The difference is they have a choice. And I’m grateful that it became clear before I desperately needed anyone that the relationship I was in wasn’t one that would support me in my probable decline.
I want to be wanted, not an obligation or sacrifice. I see other relationships where people get together after one of them has been diagnosed with MS. I’ve seen how they treat each other, and it’s shown me that it’s possible to have a relationship where hardship exists and it’s not perceived as a burden. The hard things that need to be done are treated as things people do because they love and respect each other.
I don’t want a caretaker. I want a partner. I want someone who will do things for me because they want to, not because they feel obligated. If someone isn’t up for it, the biggest gift they can give is to admit it and bow out.
I cringe when I see articles and comments describing friends, marriages and bodies as not “real.” My marriage was real. And it was good, really good for a while. We were strong and there for each other for a lot of excruciatingly hard times beyond our control. But dealing with what happens and staying around for what might likely come are different things.
For me I realized it wasn’t about whether someone would have me with my chronic illness, the question was whether I wanted them around for my future and helping me with my chronic illness. As I embark on a new relationship someday, I think the questions I’ll want to know the answer to are different and more specific than the first time I married. They extend beyond whether we want children and envision our futures and beliefs align. These are the questions I’ve compiled so far that for me capture relationship traits important for living well with MS:
- Can you be gentle and respectful to me when my health inconveniences you?
- Can you respect and appreciate me if it gets messy?
- Do I like how you treat me when I’m sick or not doing well?
- Do you continue to treat me as a partner when taking care of me?
- Are you there for me when I need you? Are you accessible? Do you respond to my texts or calls in a timely manner?
- Are you there for me because you don’t want to be the bad person or because you want to be with me?
- Will you go to doctor appointments with me and share my experience?
- Will you do things for me even if they don’t seem like a big deal to you but you know they’re important to me?
- How resilient are you? How do you handle stress?
- Will how I treat you be enough for you? Will you think being with me is worth the effort it takes?
These questions are reciprocal. Just because I know I have an incurable chronic illness, it doesn’t mean that my partner won’t need the same from me at some point. Nothing is certain, but hopefully building relationships that support unknown futures may be possible.
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/