In contrast to the patient, his wife took in the diagnosis immediately. A female friend of hers had developed multiple sclerosis, and she had always been afraid of getting it too. At the time of diagnosis, the wife saw the disease more clearly than the patient himself. This difference in accepting the illness may be because the patient himself blocked out the diagnosis and kept pushing it away. For any patient, the most effective coping mechanism may be to deny the diagnosis and remain strong. Family members, however, are expected to show their emotions—otherwise they would appear to have a heart of stone.
During the acute phase of the illness, close relatives are often asked to give more support than a single person can provide. A patient's wife needs other companions—for example, the couple's children—to help her cope, physically as well as emotionally.
If the disease progresses fast close companions have no time for their own reappraisal process. The need to return to everyday life does not create time for this either. The result: repressed feelings. For relatives, the work-up or acceptance of the diagnosis therefore often takes longer than for the patient. Sometimes it is much harder for them to accept the illness at all.
After the acute phase, everyday life may be complicated by new problems that one would not think of immediately. We experienced fatigue, sudden emotional instability of the patient, more complicated ways of thinking, and sexual—and therefore emotional—problems.