Romantic Relationships with IBD
Last updated: February 2020
It is no secret that relationships are hard work in general, but when you add a chronic illness into the mix, it can change a lot of things. Some for the good, some for the bad, and others that are just flat out different than what the couple expected.
We all know every couple is unique in so many ways. The way they choose to handle their relationship is always individual. The priorities they both share and how it is decided things will be balanced is unique. The communication (or lack of) that occurs between the couple is different for everyone. The extra stressors that enter the relationship. The health of each person impacts the relationship. The expectations vary. I could go on and on.
Sharing about relationship issues
I want to share a little about my relationship and some of the things I have learned. I believe a lot of these “issues” or subjects come up between a couple and most people feel like they cannot or should not express those things to others in order to respect the relationship. And while I firmly agree, I also think it is important that people don’t feel alone and can possibly pick up some tips (which then may turn into ideas of their own) along the way.
Living with a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is so difficult in so many ways and our romantic relationships are a huge part of a lot of our lives - or at least, what most of us hope to have one day if you haven’t found the right partner yet. The more we talk and share, the easier we can make it on each other. I say this with the intent of also respecting the relationship and your partner’s right to privacy. There is a way things can be said in a general sense, without airing dirty laundry in intense detail, if you catch my drift.
Being vulnerable in a relationship
The relationship I am in now is the first time I feel like I have a true partner. I have had relationships in the past but I never let the other people in in the same way as I do now. I have truly never been more vulnerable with anyone (aside from my parents) than I am with the man I am with now, which is a great thing.
Showing vulnerability is beyond hard for a lot of people, myself included. We want to come off as together and strong. There are far too many times when someone who is suffering from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis is losing control of their body, their dignity is being thrown out the window, their emotional state is not what it normally is, they are sleep deprived, the agony is becoming unbearable which causes issues in other areas, and we become scared.
Scared of what will come because of Crohn's or UC
Scared of what is happening to us. Scared of possibly needing the emergency room and/or being admitted to the hospital. Scared of needing another test, procedure or God forbid surgery. Scared of how our disease and the weeks/months ahead will impact our loved ones. Scared of missing work and potentially getting fired. Scared of the impending medical bills. Scared of having to go through more physical and emotional turmoil and wondering how to get through it AGAIN.
We have a billion reasons to be scared and finding someone who is willing to listen and truly understand the deep-seated reasons for feeling so much as IBDers often do, can be challenging but certainly not impossible. There are good people out there...
Things I have learned from my relationship
- Being able to be vulnerable is key. If not, it won’t allow your partner to get the true picture of what it is you are going through as someone living with an invisible, chronic illness (which helps with understanding) and it won’t allow you to truly be yourself.
- Communication is so important. It may sound cliche but my boyfriend and I are constantly talking about things. We are constantly sharing. It not only helps us to get to know one another more deeply but it allows us to possibly see things from the other person’s side.
- Understand that we all come with baggage and relationships aren’t about judgment. They aren’t about telling the other person what to do. It is about accepting ALL of your partner and what he/she comes with and doing your best to support him/her with whatever decisions they make (if that is the arrangement.) Or, being willing to work as a team to handle whatever situations or issues come up.
- Be clear with your needs and expectations in the relationship. Leave no room for any misunderstandings. Be as blunt as possible to ensure both of you are on the same page.
There is no shame in asking for help if things in your relationship aren’t going the way you want them to. Share with your partner first but if you don’t find yourself getting anywhere, reach out to a trusted friend, family member or even professional.
What has been the most helpful for managing IBD symptoms?