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.