Multiple Sclerosis and Divorce

The Unspeakable Bits; From A Life With MS

Having multiple sclerosis does not preclude one from susceptibility to other ailments. In fact, it could be said that – due to some of the many symptoms and complications of the disease – people with MS should be a bit more vigilant in the face of “other” health issues.  So too can it be said of MS complications in a marriage.

There is no need for me to list the reasons that marriages fail. We have all been near enough to friends, family or our own situations to know that these things happen. What is worth noting is the ugly fact that many marriages in the USA end in divorce. The actual rates vary by factors of age, income, length of marriage, etc.
While some studies show the divorce rate for couples with MS (and chronic illness in general) slightly elevated, many others show rates surprisingly near the same as (if not a little lower than) the general population.
Did you know that? I didn’t. I assumed that our rates would be significantly higher.
That said, it may be that a divorce hits a person living with MS a little bit harder – not that anyone goes unscathed by the emotional impact of a “disillusion” (Ha! Who came up with that legal term for divorce? Talk about a truism, “disillusion”).
According to Dr. Rosalind Kalb, in her book, Multiple Sclerosis; A Guide for Families, the divorce rate may be a bit lower for people with MS than the general population because of a few reasons:

1. A person with MS may stay in an unhappy relationship for fear of being alone with the illness.

2. “Well” partners may stay in the marriage through a sense of commitment or obligation.

3. Couples may stay married in order to maintain insurance coverage for the person with MS.
A study I read in Discover magazine about divorce and illness had a rather shocking figure as to gender distribution. In research done by Dr. Marc Chamberlain, it appears that the gender of the partner with the illness (he studied patients with either MS or cancer) makes a massive difference in the rates of divorce.
The divorce rate for marriages in which the man had MS was as low as 3%, while nearly 21% of couples in which the woman had MS ended in divorce.
It seems some men may not have the same “sense of duty” women have…
One factor that hasn’t really been studied is how “happy” the marriages that ended were beforediagnosis. This seems like a difficult variable to study because, by the time a relationship is in that place where divorce is being considered, “happy” seems like a distant memory.
Child custody can be a major sticking point for divorce in general.  Throw MS into the mix and things can get ugly in a hurry.
The Society recommends Through the Looking Glassfor those families where disabilities play a role.  They can offer legal programs that assist parents, advocates and professionals in the legal and social services system when they are involved in custody litigation involving the child of a parent with a disability.
I’ve also been reading unfortunate comments on my Everyday Health blog and the Life With MS Facebook pageabout marriages and partnerships with MS that support Dr. Kalb’s first point and that really bothers me.
I see a growing number of people admitting that they are not being treated well by their husbands (and to a lesser extent, by their wives).  Some partners who stick around after diagnosis seem to feel it’s within their rights to belittle, neglect and even abuse their partners who have MS.  Equally as concerning is when I read about someone sticking around because a bad marriage with MS is better than being alone.
Just because you have this disease, it does not make you a lesser person or partner. We should neverstand for neglectful or abusive behaviors--from anyone. To that; we’ll chat about abuse and neglect in September’s Unspeakable Bits blog.
But before we go “there,” let’s have a discussion about MS and divorce.
Wishing you and your family the best of health.
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Trevis Gleason, Blogger

You can follow Trevis via, his Life With MS Facebook Page on Twitter and on the “Life With MS” Blog. And also, check out his bi-monthly blog for the UK.  

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  • Alex Hunter   Sep 2, 2015 4:33 AM
    I am just divorcing from a woman with MS. We had a lot of other stress generating issues in our lives but I always wonder whether her emotional volatility and sensitivity are heightened by the lesions that MS causes.
  • Thomas Boehlke   Feb 21, 2016 4:23 AM
    Was diagnosed back in 83, we're going to celebrate our 41st wedding anniversary this year. My wife still loves me and take good care of me. I have from the beginning made sure i never took the "ms" out on her. Still help as much as I can around the house (in wheelchair)
  • Jeff   Jan 3, 2017 10:20 AM
    I am separated from my wife, she has MS and our marriage has had troubles in the past.
    We fight all the time and it really has added stress to both our life.
    I have a lot of guilt over leaving.
    I even tried to stay just because she needed me, but she could sense that and was not happy with the relationship.
    I believe the MS has added more difficulties to our marriage that was already troubled and I don't see a way to fix it.
  • JB   Feb 20, 2017 9:00 PM
    My wife was diagnosed last year with ms and I think now that I see how she is , I think she had it for few years , we had many fights over everything, from house work to how to discipline our teanage kids, our daughter for example has been very difficult to deal with, even more since her mom has been diagnosed. Myself , well I used to do 100% in our house and now I think I do 125% , I am tired and I should say exhausted . We need help, we tried but some say , they are too busy , but we are running out of time .
  • BH   Jun 21, 2017 8:25 AM
    I appreciate this article...and I wish there was more open discussion of this issue because it can be very outside tbe norm to be in a relationship with someone witb MS. Not every relationship is like "The Notebook" and with the changes in your spouse with MS can come someone you never expected...a stranger really...amd with intimacy...emorional or physical. As a have your own emotional and physical needs without which you actually may not last long as the caretaker you need to be...but...our ridiculous society has trouble with those seeking those needs outside of marriage due to the label and fantasy of puritan marriage. Being a caretaker when the spouse with MS has become someone angry and/or entirely different than the spouse you married (and the thing is you completely understand the changes!) a very lonely act indeed...certainly not the level of the struggle of your spouse...but...what needs to always be discussed is that MS is shared and has massive impact on caretakers. The more we discuss the reality of this type of relationship maybe we can help couples cope better and allow both to shed the guilty shackles of the norms of a traditional marriage...(where both partners are typically healthy) honest about needs...which may lead to less divorce. It's complicated...hence the need for more open discussion.
  • richard Gibbs   Jun 30, 2017 4:00 PM
    I am interested in the spousal rights of divorced women with MS.
    this article does not touch this subject. I would like a comment or reference on this subject
  • richard Gibbs   Jun 30, 2017 7:14 PM
    I am interested in the spousal rights of divorced women with MS.
    this article does not touch this subject. I would like a comment or reference on this subject
  • Anonymous   Jul 13, 2017 9:16 AM
    I am also interested in the spousal rights of divorced women with MS and raising a child with mild autism,this article does not touch this subject. I would like a comment or reference on this subject. Thank you
  • Joshua Chaney   Aug 28, 2017 9:28 PM
    I had MS before I married my wife. She came for me and I explained we could be friends but nothing more because I am ill. She convinced me that she would be by my side. I loved her. After marriage and planning for our baby she became very evil. I'm going threw the divorce now and I have been left all alone. I finally recieved disability but it has taken all my back pay to pay for my divorce with child.
  • Janet Hill   Sep 6, 2017 8:18 PM
    I have been physically abuse, sexually and emotionally, I have also battled MS since 1994. We need to educate MS patients regarding emotional abuse. I suffered flare up which my Neurologist could not figure why my symptoms weren't indicative of MS. I finally told him what I noticed after days on end of emotional abuse at the hands of my caregiver husband, I would get a major attack from the stress! He finally put it together that's what it is!! I knew there was something wrong, you have all the symptoms! Thru the tears, I asked how many are there of us? Thousands he said. This abuse shows no outward scars but mentally we can't even make a minor decision. I have been with my abuser 38 years! looking back I honestly believe my MS would have stayed benign if I would have got out sooner! Please educate clients of this mind killing abuse!
  • Bill   Dec 6, 2017 3:50 PM
    I lost my wife to MS. I considered divorce for about a year when her symptoms got really bad but we did not know the change in personality was due to MS. I remember we were in couple's therapy and I said "I feel like she is a stranger now." The true is as I learned, she really was a stranger and her cognitive functions were changing. Basically, I was married to two different women who just happened to share the same body. Pre-MS and Post MS Karen. All the MS literature does not really share or tell just how impactful MS is to your emotional/cognitive functions. Once she hit rock bottom, I actually felt better because everyone around could see it was not me, that she really was sick. Even she finally realized just how bad she was.

    You really want to hear something worse. I am in and out of a relationship with another person who was just diagnosed with MS. The patterns were too similar and I tried to tell her months ago but she thought I was being hyper-sensitive due to my first wife. No sure what I am going to do this time. I got a gold star the first round but it nearly killed me (I actually had a heart attack).
  • Mike Cramb   Mar 26, 2018 12:58 AM
    My wife has had remitting relapsing MS for nearly 30 years. We have been together for 40 years. She has a few physical problems with balance & is slow walking etc.
    its never worried us that much until recently. She now has very bad mood swings & gets angry at me. I could put up with this until recently now I find im getting anxiety attacks when she starts yelling at me. These attacks ate getting worse I go for a drive & it takes hours to calm down. Then when I get home she starts again . I have begged her to stop but she makes out that Im puttting it on. I cant live like this . I had a short 2 week break from her & my health improved dramaticaly . I was walking every day , eating well . I lost weight felt great & has no anxiety . As soon As I came home it started again.
    Its so sad she used to be a very nice person kind & loving biut that person isnt coming back .
    Im going to have to make the hardest decision of my life .
  • Michele Schaff   Jun 28, 2018 10:56 PM
    I have been married for 32 years. My husband having internet relationships with hundreds of women and exchanging naked pictures. I was diagnosed with m.s, 25 years ago. I have had ups and downs including a stroke, seizures, memory loss, bladder problems and the list goes on and on. But I have also been very blessed and after working over 28 years with the phone company, I have always been a hard worker. My husband on the other hand has always been a taker and not a giver. I have always been the one to provide medical, dental and vision insurance for our family. My husband spent the first part of our marriage laid off. Now, he wants half of pension after I have worked so hard. He is spending thousands of dollars on these web sights to talk to these women. I will be having my third MRI in six months because of a scare of a large area of white matter on the brain and possible of a virus. Needless, to say I am going to be retiring soon and my medical insurance will change coverage and I will be needing to take care of my prescriptions, etc. is there anything I can do legally to keep my pension. I cannot stand to see all I have worked so hard for and my soon to be ex-husband spend it on his web sights. Please tell me your thoughts on my rights.

    Michele Schaff
  • ae   Oct 27, 2018 7:50 AM
    I'm in the UK. My husband & I love each other very much and he is very supportive but we are being driven to breaking point by my illness and the lack of help I am getting or entitled to because we are married.
    My husband works full time in a very demanding job I do not want him giving up work for me as that is his only outlet away from me,
    I do what I can do but if I am honest am virtually useless, and a danger to myself when trying to do anything.
    I cant even get in a shower or bath on my own or make a hot drink.
    It is not fair that we are being penalised for being married and that he is not only expected to take care of me but pay also for me.
    We are already one wage down because I am too ill to work and although he earns money its not enough for 2 & to pay carers and for adaptations plus his son from a previous marriage,
    I paid into the benefit system via tax & NI for nearly 30 years yet I can't claim any benefit help as they say there is too much money coming in the house hold.
    Apparently we are just over the threshold.
    Ridiculous as I say we are one wage down yet still have to pay the same bills for everything.
    Married couples should not be penalised for being married or assessed together as a pair as it is neithers fault one has become to ill to work and causes more financial pressure and divorces.

    If we divorce I would be entitled to everything with the mortgage . housing benefit , benefits, social care OTs the lot.....How fair is that?
    The disabled person should be entitled to help whatever they're marital status as they need this help & it is discriminatory to say the least.
    I think due to this issue my husband and I are heading to divorce, for no other reason that I can't take the guilt of watching him break his back anymore tring his best to help me!
    I hope this Government is happy and why has nobody else ....esp " disabled ministers" brought this issue up to the House of Commons?
  • Dawn Carter   Nov 28, 2018 2:22 AM
    My husband says he doesn’t like to talking to me because I repeat myself and I don’t talk about anything else other than ms. I no longer work and most people, so all I have to talk about is MS I don’t know what to talk about
    I ha
  • Kristi   Jan 30, 2019 1:20 AM
    My husband is an angel. He deserves the best life. I can’t afford to get diagnosed. I’ve been hiding it, until now. I can’t hold my bodily fluids. There is no concealing that. Hub would do anything for me, but is it fair to put anyone through this illness?
  • Gregg Towne   May 30, 2019 9:23 PM
    My wife has MS. She wants to divorce me because she thinks she is ruining my life. I love my wife very much and can't see myself leaving her. I can't make her understand that life without her would not be worth living. I am 62 she is 50, she was diagnosed a bit over 2 years ago. Her neurologist believes she has had this terrible disease for probably 20 years at least. He still calls it relapsing, we both think it is progressive now. Doctors are very reluctant to put that in your records in fear insurance won't cover the medication. She uses a walker around the house and an electric wheelchair when we go somewhere. She requires assistance with most everything from dressing to bathing. I don't mind doing this ,while it can be exhausting at times I dont think any facility will care for her with the love and thoughtfulness that I have. She is concerned because I snap at her on occasion when I'm stressed. I don't believe that divorce is justified. I can't abandon her. What do WE do?
  • Coralie Koop   Jan 4, 2020 2:03 AM
    Ive been married for 34 yrs & have MS. My husband wanted out of our marriage. So we separated. He's with another lady. It has wrecked our family. Im still having counselling to manage the different stages of grief & to get my life back. I am getting stronger.