When one person is diagnosed with MS, many other people are involved and affected. And the changes brought about by MS can have an impact on those important relationships.
Healthy relationships depend on good communication, mutual respect, trust, and a shared concern for one another’s welfare. MS can challenge even the closest of relationships in a variety of ways:
• MS isn’t easy for people to understand or talk about.
• It may require a shifting of roles and responsibilities.
• The unpredictability of the disease makes it harder for people to know what they can count on from each other.
• MS strains resources, including finances, time, energy, and emotions.
Effective communication is the key to managing these changes and challenges, and the first step to establishing meaningful communication is to deal with potential obstacles.
• Invisible symptoms. Most MS symptoms aren’t clearly visible. Even the most loving spouse or caring friend can’t read another person’s mind, so the person with MS needs to know how to ask for help when it’s needed, and politely decline when it’s not. Family members, friends, and colleagues need to remember that what they see on the outside may be very different than what the person with MS is experiencing on the inside.
• No time – no place. Effective communication takes time and focus, and setting aside the time for important, distraction-free conversations is essential.
• Different communication styles. It’s important to respecting each other’s communication styles and find comfortable ways to broach even the most sensitive topics.
• Mood and cognition issues. Mood changes caused by MS can make conversations difficult, as can the problems with attention, memory, and information processing that can occur. Addressing these problems with the healthcare team can have a positive impact on your communication
People communicate in many ways – by talking, touching, e-mailing, texting, and so on. Body language is also a form of communication. However one is communicating, the goal is to convey messages clearly, respect the feelings of the other person, invite (rather than discourage) a response, and allow time/space for a response.
Tips for Talking
-Make time for talking
-Acknowledge differences in coping/communication styles
-Use “I” statements
-Give the other person time to think and respond
-Think before you speak
-Drip with sarcasm
-Engage in magical thinking—no one can read your mind
Tips for Listening
-Listen actively and confirm what you’ve heard
-Pay attention to your body language (eye-rolling, smirking, finger-jabbing, doing something else at the same time)
-Say “ouch” as a short-hand signal
-Interrupt or finish the other person’s sentence
-Jump to conclusions
Remember that silence is easily misinterpreted as not caring.