Thursday, August 30, 2012

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 before diagnosis. 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 Glass for 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 page about 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 never stand 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.



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.


  1. My mother left my father when he was incapacitated with MS. It has affected my life in many ways but none so strongly as when I was diagnosed with the same disease only 8 years after his death. My husband wrote about my fears as he was being interviewed for a magazine article while stationed in Afghanistan.

    "I remember that afternoon like it was just last week. A cold, grey early winter in Germany at the military's largest European medical center in Landstuhl. Although it still seems like only days ago, it was the winter of 1996, still two years before our twin daughters were even born. Sharon had been experiencing numbness and tingling for a month or more as it began in her feet and slowly crept its way upward until she was numb and buzzing from the waist down. Stationed in Rota Spain, our Navy Flight Surgeon had exhausted his capabilities to diagnose or resolve the issue so sent us to Landstuhl for tests. Once there, with our 2 year old son, Tyler, Sharon went through a battery of tests to include an MRI and a spinal tap that went horribly wrong with leaking spinal fluid and horrid debilitating headaches for several days before finally being taken into surgery."

    "We were sitting in the neurologist's office, an Army Colonel, as he went over the test results with us. Oligoclonal Bands, lesions on the MRI, "You have MS." Not, "we think you may have MS," or "there is a good possibility that you have MS," but, "Mrs. Dodge, you have MS." I still get that same feeling when I think of that day, and have it again right now as I type this from Afghanistan."


    "I felt numb. We sat there in his office, and although his words were not unexpected (Sharon's Dad had MS and we had a strong suspicion that these symptoms were MS related as well) they were still a shock. So definite. MS. The same disease that had struck her father down and confined him to a wheel chair and lead to his death at the young age of 48. A man so full of life, like Sharon. A Navy carrier jet pilot and later commercial airline pilot, he had died only 8 years before that day in the Landstuhl neurologist's office. And now Sharon and I were hearing the same words that were told to her father when she was a young girl."

    "I was devastated. There must be some mistake. MS was not hereditary. There must be at least SOME chance that it wasn't MS. Even just a small chance that I could cling to. Still numb."

    "Later that evening, something I thought to be very strange happened. Back in our temporary Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) room, on the medical facility grounds, Sharon and I were sitting on the bed as our son played on the floor. She looked up at me with tears welling in her eyes but not quite coming out yet and said, "Please don't leave me."

    "Please don't leave me?" I had no idea what she meant. Leave her? Leave her where? In Germany? In the BOQ?"

    "Then it hit me. Like a truck. LEAVE her. Why would she say that? How could I leave her? Why would I leave her? I love her, she is my wife, the mother of my son."

    "The strongest woman I know was now extremely vulnerable. I had been severely burned on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier four years earlier and she stuck with me. Every day with me in the Burn ICU of the University of California San Diego Hospital for a solid month. My face, right arm, and leg disfigured. I had come close to death, and the accident had solidified rather than rocked our young marriage of two years. Leave her? If anything, this new challenge would only make our bond even stronger."

    "Leave her? Never. Not then, not now, not ever. She is stuck with me. I do now understand her fear, however, as she had lived through just that scenario with her parents' divorce as her father's health declined and MS put him into a wheelchair and stole from him his vitality."

    1. I am 12. My name is Annie .My dad got diagnosed with ms in 1998, the year before my brother was born, the same day as his birthday. my mum and dad split up in 2000 because my mum had had my brother who was 2, and my sister (twins) we were just born!I hate the fact my dad has this disease it really hurts me and the childhood im still in. Everyone is always saying
      "yeah i'm Going to play football with my dad!"

      I cant even do that ;( my mum is giving me pills to decrease the chances of getting ms. but its made my childhood misery

    2. I'm sorry you feel like this but instead look at the bright side because unlike many other kids, you do have a father and it isn't his fault his has MS. Show him all the love and affection you can while you still have him because this is a 'never know what's happening tomorrow disease'. I don't know why your mom is giving you pills "to decrease the chances of getting ms". MS is NOT hereditary, you have a chance to develop it like any other person whose family have nobody with MS. That being said, it is very good to avoid any type of auto immune disorder, including MS, if you make sure you have all the necessary vitamins in your body, do not consume too much red meat, avoid at all costs Aspartame (sweeteners) and make sure you are active and take regular sunbaths (Google for MS and these things I said plus MS x Vitamin D, which is produced by the sun). Best wishes for your and your dad.

  2. Sharon,

    You are, indeed, a very fortunate woman to have such a loving, caring, and enduring relationship. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. I hope it is shared and serves as a model for others in similar situations.

    All the best to you both, always.

  3. This article touches on so many points that are true! I hope anyone who has MS realizes they deserve nothing but respect from their spouse and should not settle for ANYTHING less!!

  4. Sharon:
    your post made me remember that dreadful day I was told the news I had MS. With not knowing anything about MS or anyone with it, I thought it was a death sentence. I remember being so scared and saying to my husband , please don't leave me, I'm scared. Like your amazing husband he said NEVER. That was 2001 and he still stands by my side. But now deep in my heart I sometimes have feelings , this stupid MS is not only hard on me but on him too, do I have the right to put him through this? The financial strain is killing us. And still refuses to leave me.

  5. 35 yrs. Of marriage. And was diagnosed 24 yrs. Ago. I am experiencing my own divorce now. Husband wasn't very supportive,in fact I believe he contributed to my many ailments! Yes I'm stressed out and have financial despair even lost my heath insurance and our businesses,but oddly I seem stronger without him and his negative and degrading comments and actions towards me. I finally stopped feeling guilty for being sick.

  6. Sharon, I wish you and your husband the very best. Your husband is awesome and clearly both you and him are keeping the promise and vows you made to each other! That's a rare and beautiful thing in this day and age. Happy for you, congratulations.

  7. In July of 2008, my then 17 year old son had a near fatal car accident resulting in a major Stroke, by the grace of God, he survived, and with a ton of hard work eventually recovered. (with the exception of slight paralysis on his right side. Three months later, I caught my husband of 12 years cheating on me, two months after I went blind in one eye and was diagnosed with MS. within the year I was diagnosed with PPMS. I stayed in my marriage because I didn't want to impede my sons recovery. One day I woke up and took a good hard look in The mirror and realized that if I didn't leave this abusive, cheating, uncaring man, that I would die and lived the last years of my life in misery. Fast forward 2 years and I am in a loving relationship with a great man who is so supportive and very loving. My ex however has been on a mission to ruin me from the day I walked out the door. He got himself fired from his Job which left me with no support for our kids and worse no health insurance, I didn't even have the option of cobra because he got fired for stealing. I got on state aid and it has been 3 months and I have yet to see a specialist. My liver and kidneys are failing and my ex refuses to divorce me because he wants my health to fail. he is blackmailing me with "I will give you the divorce so you can get married and get health care, if you forgive the five thousand dollars I owe you" and he is getting away with it. I have moved on with my life. My kids and I are in a safe and loving environment, but he is making my life a nightmare and using this disease that I fight every day, against me, just for a couple of bucks.

    1. Oh, Kristi, I am so sorry that he is being such a jerk to you and the kids. He has a special place in hell reserved for him!!!

  8. Ps....Sharon, your a lucky woman, and I am sure your husband is a very lucky man. He saw your worth before your disease and therefor sees it after. He is a real man and should be a example to all of the husbands out there. Bless you, your husband, and your marriage. And please gives him a thank you for all he does for his country and his family. The word HERO comes to mind.

    1. Kristi, I know Sharon and her husband. "HERO" is spot on! Cheers

  9. Newt Gingrich left his newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis wife for the woman he was having an affair with, Calista. They will be speaking tonight at the RNC discussing morals.

    1. I believe I read somewhere he actually told her he was dumping her while she was in the hospital. What a class act.

  10. Sadly, I have met a dozen of women who's husbands leave them after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

    I see no point of trying in a relationship because as a woman I do not need a man who is a coward and can't handle things when they are tough. I would much rather be alone.

  11. People come in all varieties. Some are strong and faithful, some are weak and shallow, men and women. But the statistics are sobering and seem to indicate that men leave and women stay.

    Whenever I find myself in a pity party over being single and having to face this disease alone, I try to remember the alternative could be worse.

  12. 22 years of marriage- I divorced him for a number of very good reasons, one of which was his comment to the lawyers that if I was so sick, I should apply for disability to get monetary support- he was unwilling to pay alimony or support to a sick spouse- and yes, he knew I had multiple disabilities early in our marriage- nice guy, huh...

  13. My husband left me and blamed it all on me. Said he couldn't take it anymore. You know the health issues, memory loss when he swore he said something I did not remember, the having to carry more weight etc....forgot to remember when I forgave him for cheating, forgave his parents interfering and trying to run our life and the fact until I couldn't work --I was the one who kept the job. Funny how life is.....

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  15. I'm lucky. My DH is my HERO. I took early retirement on disability from teaching starting Sept 1, 2002. With all of the trips to drs, med tests and treatments,etc that we all know, he had to take time off work often. Last Dec, 2011 he got final approval to take early retirement from his job in order to be with me full time and take care of me, not machines. He feels better about things and I am greatly relieved. Like I said, I'm so lucky and he's my best friend, only love, and still MY HERO. I wish the same for all of you.

  16. It's about time somebody addressed this issue. My wife of 18 years walked out because "I could no longer participate in the future she planned." (WTF) Right now, I really don't know if I'll ever be able to trust another woman.

  17. My husband of 17 years just left me and our 2 teenage sons because he can't handle all the "crap" that comes with MS. At least that is what he told me, then went back and told everyone he works with including my dad, that he would NEVER be so heartless and say something like that. I must be imagining things. He is trying to use the MS as an excuse to leave. He used to be extremely supportive until he started an online "friendship" with someone. Once I confronted him about it he turned the tables and said that it is my fault because I'm so "WRAPPED UP" in my disease that I don't pay attention to him. I'm like Bob except it's hard for me to trust anyone because my family actually believed him!!! Oh, well, I'm better off without all of them. As long as I have my 2 boys that is all I care about (well and my furbabies).

  18. Life is difficult without the complications that come with MS. I was diagoned four years ago and this was the turning point in a ten year marriage. The fact that was now faced with MS drove a wedge between my wife and I. Outwardly she was very supportive, with fund raising, and the walks, but at home all she could say was "Whats going to happen to me now, whoes going to take care of me?" She was my pricess and I did everything for her, and the possibility of that comming to an end divided us and she eventually left me for my best friend. The fact that he was married and his wife was pregnant with their second child did not stop her from going after him. In a drunken rage she confessed that she went after him and I left the door open for him to walk in. Imagine that, I left the door open because I have MS and still work close to 50hrs a week to make sure she has everything she and our two boys need. We are currently going thru a nasty divorce and she is using my disease as a reason for taking my kids from me. It seems that having MS makes me less of a father and apartenly less of a man. I just cant see it.

  19. After 13 years together, and me pleading with her to get her health issues fixed, and telling her how I felt like I was raising our boys by myself. I finally had enough and left. She still has never apologized for accusing me of not caring for years when I would forget things after 5 minutes. She also doesn't seem to understand how emasculating it is as a man to pee myself regularly and not be able to rough house with my boys the way that I want to. I was also working a full time job and a part time job, while she still couldn't manage to decide to go back to working full time. I got completely fed up with feeling like I was living with someone who wasn't willing to pick up the slack for what I couldn't physically do anymore. I'm not afraid of being alone for the rest of my life, and in fact my anger is gradually fainting and my stress has been reduced significantly.

  20. It's heartening to read about couples that understand commitment, sacrifice and love. My wife is packing boxes to leave me as I write this and her recent line that describes her reasoning is "I didn't sign on for this". I don't blame her and want the best for her. Having just received a bone marrow transplant 4 months ago to attempt to stop the MS progression it's quite challenging physically and emotionally to comprehend living alone.

  21. It is so good to find this info, whether good or bad, on the web for support. I was diagnosed 11 years ago and have been married 28 years and am now going through a divorce. It is extremely painful but I believe he held out until the youngest was 18 to avoid any child support. We have been best of friends for the whole time & he has been absolutely wonderful to me except for the fact that sexually I'm insufficient, before and after diagnosis. Not only is this painful and destructive to what self-esteem I have left, he chose to do this a few weeks after my mother passed. And now my oldest son, after serving a tour overseas, is going through a painful divorce as well. 2012 could possibly the worst year ever. It's good to know there are others out there experiencing similar issues and that I will make it through. Thank you!

    1. I am very sorry to hear you and your son's loss. Hopefully you both will find strength in each other and refocus on making great memories for the future. I, too, am at a loss. My husband was diagnosed before we married. He cheated on me soon after the marriage and I stayed. We have 3 children together and one from my previous relationship. He seems to be opposite than others I have read about. He began a party lifestyle and was verbally abusive towards me. I left for a year. Now he feels embarrassed by my choice and blames me for ruining our family. I don't want a divorce,that he is now trying to pursue, but I also do not want to be around his behavior with our kids witnessing it. I have been committed to being there for him when he relapses. But once he is better, he goes back to his old behavior. I feel committed to helping him, but sad that he has not, and still does not value me in our relationship.

  22. I pray that you will find strength with your son to make it through this season. Life can be very difficult at times. For me, my husband had been diagnosed with MS before we married. I do not know if this is typical, or not, but he cheated on me soon after we where married. I stayed and we have 3 children together plus my oldest from a previous relationship. He continued to live a party lifestyle, very egotistical, and verbally abusive towards me. I finally left last year. Now he feels embarrassed by me and blames me for ruining our family. He says I rejected him by moving out and wants to file for divorce. I still love him and feel committed to helping him through this illness. I do not want the divorce, but I also do not want the insecurities I feel when we live together. This, too, is a difficult time for us.

  23. My name is Rachel Mayers from USA, I was married to my husband for three years before we moved to a new location, there he had a new job and before I knew what was happening he started keeping late night and ignoring me and our son. Finally early this year he filed for a divorce, I was diverstated and helpless I cried but he showed me hatred, he brought in his new secretary as his new wife until I meet this great spell caster in a forum discussion, prophet Jumama and I contacted him via mail and he assured me that within three days my husband will come begging. It was like magic, a miracle before me I saw Rowland on the third day he came begging for me to come back...To cut the long story short, we are back together and I am so grateful to the great one. I have found out that we don't have to cry over crashed marriages and relationships when a man like prophet Jumama is around the corner, you can contact him today on He is real and this is my testimony.


  24. just want to share my experience with the world

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    and we lived happily until things started

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    almost every time… it got worse at a point that

    he filed for divorce… I tried my best to make

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