What does “intimacy” mean? For many people, the term is simply another word for sex—in other words, being intimate with another person means having a sexual relationship. A satisfying, intimate relationship, however, rests on a much broader foundation—of trust, open and honest communication, shared goals and expectations, and mutual respect and concern. So intimacy refers to all of the ways, both verbal and non-verbal, in which partners connect with one another and enjoy their unique closeness.
A chronic, unpredictable disease like MS can challenge a couple’s intimacy in a variety of ways:
Barriers to Communication
MS affects everyone in the family—and both members of a couple are likely to have strong feelings about the unpredictable changes it brings to their lives. Finding comfortable ways to talk about the disease and its impact can be very difficult, at times leading to miscommunication or even silence. Learning how to share feelings and concerns is essential to maintaining intimacy.
Shifts in the Partnership
When the symptoms of MS temporarily or permanently interfere with a person’s ability to carry out his or her daily activities at home and at work, the roles and responsibilities within the family are likely to shift. If, and when, the relationship begins to feel too unbalanced—or one member of the couple begins to feel more like a caregiver than a partner—closeness and intimacy can be threatened. Identifying ways to maintain balance in the partnership is critical to maintaining an intimate partnership.
Added Stresses and Strains
MS can add to the normal challenges of everyday life by straining essential family resources, including money, time and emotional energy. When daily activities feel increasingly stressful, time-consuming or overwhelming, people may have little energy left for maintaining their emotional and physical partnership.Learning to manage everyday stresses and strains effectively can allow more time and energy for staying connected emotionally and physically.
Changes in Sexual Feelings and Responses
Sexuality is an important aspect of intimacy for most couples. And while MS can affect sexual feelings and responses in direct and indirect ways, sexual intimacy does not have to disappear from a couple’s life when one partner has MS.
Fortunately, a disease like MS can also bring people closer together. Many couples report that facing the challenges of MS has allowed them to connect with one another in new and powerful ways—finding an intimacy that was stronger than any they shared before.