Does having Tourette Syndrome affect your relationship?

Does having Tourette Syndrome affect your relationship?

In one word, yes.

Tourette Syndrome is not something you can pretend does not exist. For most of us, it is quite difficult to hide, which means our loved ones, friends, co-workers, etc.  also experience our TS, though one step removed. What does this mean for our relationship?

Well, simply put it means (for example) when I am sitting on the sofa beside my wife and I clear my throat for 6 hours straight (yes, this is one of my many tics and it sucks!) she has the joy of sitting there listening to me clear my throat for 6 hours straight. She could get up and leave the room, however that would make me quite sad since I do this tic daily and I would never see my wife! She handles it well, for that I am thankful. Occasionally I can see that it is making her crazy, but she also understands that it is my TS and not intentional and she works through her frustrations. It does impact her though because it is annoying and loud.

My wife also gets to watch me hurt myself 1000 times a day with tics! I have so many overuse injuries and parts of my body are even starting to break down. I have medical treatments to try and paralyze some of my muscles because the are always in spasm. If I have a sprain, strain, break, etc. my TS cannot ignore it and it will try to twitch/tic that body part repeatedly instead of letting it rest and heal. My wife has a lot of empathy and so watching this experience every single day takes an emotional toll on her.

If we go out in public and I am having noticeable tics (throat clearing, coughing, jerking, making faces) and people look at me/us or comment? She also has that experience. She has had get comfortable with knowing people might stare or comment if I am having a bad tic day, and she also tries to be prepared if I need a bit of extra emotional support in a moment like that. Luckily, people stare but do not often comment, and just as luckily, I am a very strong person who will STAND UP for myself if someone is shitty.

We also get to laugh together and bond over some of the insanity that my TS introduces to our life. It is not all gloom and doom! We have a lot of inside jokes, silly moments, and compassion for each other. I believe that my TS and the challenges we face as a couple have helped us to grow together and to connect more deeply than many relationships do.

We have found ways to live with my TS. We have jokingly given it the name Shawna (named after a dear friend who has some neurodiversity as well, her brain is REMARKABLY similar to my TS “personality”). When I am having random tics my wife will often say “Hi Shawna!” as a way to lightly acknowledge that something was clearly a tic, and typically a funny one when I get the Shawna reaction ? This has helped us to lighten the mood and be able to acknowledge some of my tics without it feeling so heavy.

Sometimes, we do need to acknowledge the heavy tics too, especially some of the more challenging ones that can be upsetting, cause harm, or cause hurt feelings… and that is done with some careful discussion because sometimes it can feel difficult to separate ME from my TS.  My TS and the tics caused by my TS are not something I can control, my tics are in no way indicative of what I think, feel, (they are not my innermost hidden thoughts and feelings), etc. they are a misfire from my brain, which is still a part of me.

If you are dating/married to a person who has TS you are awesome. Enjoy the ride! It really is not THAT different, and success will be found in how you handle it together. Love, acceptance, compassion, humor, communication, advocacy, and strength will be your best tools.