An inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) diagnosis can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride – for the patient, and for their family. It’s common for chronic health conditions to have an impact on sufferers’ lifestyles and self-esteem and these have implications for their personal relationships, especially intimate partner relationships.
If your partner or spouse is diagnosed with IBD it can be tough to watch them make the lifestyle adjustments needed to manage their condition, as well as to make the adjustments to your relationship. Relationships are never static; they evolve with the passing of time, new experiences and changes to health and lifestyle. In short, your partner’s IBD diagnosis will change your relationship, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse.
With some education and a concerted effort to support your partner (in sickness and in health!) you can be their greatest ally on their IBD journey, and your relationship can become even closer. As with all relationships, communication and trust are the keys to positive growth and mutual love and respect.
They may not want to discuss it
It’s not uncommon for people to experience feelings of anger, embarrassment, sadness, denial or confusion following their diagnosis. It can take time for individuals to work through these feelings on a personal level, to know where they stand and how they feel about their condition.
At first, as your partner confronts these issues they may need some time and space to move through their feelings on their own before they feel ready or confident enough to discuss their condition with you. Give them the time and space they need. Communicate with them gently and respectfully – let them know you are there for them when they’re ready to bring the topic into your relationship for discussion.
Get an education
If your partner isn’t ready or feels uncomfortable discussing their IBD openly, that doesn’t mean you need to stay in the dark. Education and communication make for the best armour against misunderstanding. If the communication thing really isn’t flying just yet (it’s ok, these things take time), then education is your best fall back.
Speak with doctors, see a counsellor, do research online. This is your chance to learn about the symptoms of IBD and what you and your partner might expect in terms of changes to your lifestyle. Research can also shed light on the psychological implications of living with a chronic illness. Knowledge now can make you feel better prepared and more confident about the future. Tick Yes Proprietary and Confidential Page 10 19/09/2014
It’s not uncommon for the partners and family members of a person recently diagnosed with IBD to experience a sense of frustration, fear and uncertainty. Doing your research and speaking with healthcare professionals can allay your anxieties so you’re in a better frame of mind to support your partner.
Join a community
Never underestimate the power of people united. Sharing experiences with others and seeking advice from those who’ve gone through similar situations can help you feel supported and reduce feelings of isolation and stress.
The IBD community thrives both online and in real life with patients and their families sharing stories and seeking support from each other by providing solidarity. There are specific forums, blogs and organisations out there for partners and family members of people living with IBD and these can be a great resource for you. The people in these communities have been on the rollercoaster, they know all about the crests and troughs on the horizon and are willing to share advice or provide the odd shoulder if you need a bit of a cry.
Managing your sex life
If your partner’s recently been diagnosed, or they’re in the middle of a symptom flare-up, getting busy in the bedroom might be the furthest thing from their mind. That said, sex is an important part of intimate relationships and a healthy sex life can do wonders for self-esteem and closeness between partners (not to mention providing some stress relief!)
It’s important to communicate openly about sex in your relationship, how your partner’s health may impact this and how you’ll manage this as a couple. As with any discussion about your sex life or health, broach the topic with sensitivity, mutual respect and a healthy sense of humour. It may take your partner a while before they feel comfortable discussing their IBD and the best thing you can do is let them know you’re ready for the conversation when they are. Be supportive and respectful and keep in mind that their health needs to come first.
19/09/2014 IRIS number AU-REM0326