Keeping Your Relationships Alive: The Physical & Emotional Aspects of Intimacy in MS

A young couple is outside, the man has his arms around the woman. She is holding a thermos.

2 Dec 2015 | ~1:55 Engagement Time


Roz Kalb , Psychologist & Pat Kennedy , Nurse Practitioner

Intimacy Can Be Intricate

Intimacy isn’t just about sexual feelings and sexual activity (although it’s one important part). It’s also about effective communication, trust and respect, shared values and expectations, and a balanced give-and-take.  

Maintaining intimacy can be difficult in any relationship, but the stress of MS can challenge any couple.  

  • MS presents unpredictability, complex symptoms, financial impact, and a progressive nature that impacts your relationship over time.  
  • Meanwhile, feelings of loss, anxiety, anger, and guilt can interfere with communication, connection, and effective problem-solving.  
  • Plus, physical changes can interfere with everyday activities and sexual intimacy.  

With all these obstacles to maintaining healthy intimacy, where do you begin seeking solutions? 

Communication Is the Place to Start

You can talk about feelings you’re each experiencing, the daily problems you’re trying to solve, or the physical or cognitive changes you’re trying to manage. Communication is the most intimate act there is, and it lays the foundations for other ways to maintain closeness.  

If you need help jumpstarting the conversation, a counselor can help. 

Managing Symptoms Is Your Next Step

Work with one another and your healthcare team to identify symptoms that interfere with daily routines, shared activities, or physical intimacy. These may be physical, cognitive, or emotional symptoms. From there, working together to manage symptoms is a great next step.  

Every member of the healthcare team can contribute to your efforts to keep your connection strong. Symptoms that prevent you from doing the things you want to do are best managed by a comprehensive care approach involving the neurologist, nurse, rehabilitation experts, and mental health professionals.  

In the meantime, here are a few tips to get you started: 

  • Keep an open mind. You can keep your partnership active, interesting, and fun by being willing to use new tools and try new ways of doing the things that are important to you. 
  • Remember, a balanced partnership is essential to intimacy. Each partner needs to give and receive, care and be cared for. If your partnership feels out of whack, look to your healthcare team to help you identify ways that you can each contribute to your shared goals, regardless of MS limitations. 
  • Speak up. Sexual interest, activity, and responses can be affected by changes in the central nervous system, MS symptoms, and the medications used to treat them. But they can be affected most of all by people’s discomfort with talking about the problems they may be encountering. Start by talking to each other and then bring your questions and concerns to your neurologist or nurse. 

Always Keep Communicating

Share your feelings, your appreciation for each other’s efforts, your achievements, and your goals for the future. For any and every couple, this keeps intimacy alive and well.