Advice for Partners of People With IBD

Being married to someone who has inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is going to have a certain amount of ups and downs. This is no different than any other relationship, but Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis can bring some unusual situations. Here is some advice on how you can work together to have a loving, rewarding relationship, despite the IBD.

Telling Others About Your Spouse's IBD

Laughing friends in discussion in backyard on summer evening
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Telling others about your spouse's IBD can be a tricky subject to navigate. You'll first want to check with your partner that they're going to be alright with your bringing up IBD to others—you don't want to mistakenly do the wrong thing. In many cases, IBD doesn't need to even come up, but there are circumstances where it might just be easier to explain, such as when your spouse is hospitalized. However, it's not necessary to explain in detail, but just giving a general idea of what's involved with IBD might be enough. Be prepared for some questions that you might find irritating, but look at it as a chance to educate someone who might not know anything about IBD. Anyone who is very close to you will want to know about your spouse's health and will want to help you both deal with the problems that IBD brings.

How to Help When a Flare-Up Hits

When a flare-up happens—and it will—you can be your partner's best advocate and helper. However, it may be very hard on you at times because you will need to manage the household while your spouse is recovering. You will also need to take a deep breath and be patient with your spouse's frequent need to use the bathroom. The more you can find it in yourself to be understanding and to help your spouse recuperate, the quicker he or she will recover and get back to being themselves. Things that you can help with are household chores, managing children, coming to doctor's appointments, and staying on top of the medication schedule.

What Happens Before and After Surgery

Surgery for IBD can be a big test for your relationship. If your partner relies on you during a flare-up, it will be even more so in the days and weeks after surgery. Be prepared to be the person who needs to make some decisions in concert with doctors and other ​healthcare professionals. Educate yourself about the type of surgery that your spouse is having, what recovery will be like, and (most important of all) what resources are available to your family as you navigate the recovery process. If at all possible, find help with day-to-day household chores and find out if you are eligible for a visiting nurse to come to your home.

Sex and Body Issues

A challenge for both you and your partner is going to be in the area of physical intimacy and body issues. IBD is going to bring a host of insecurities and worries surrounding the body, and one's ability to be attractive and physically intimate. There are many compounding factors that include fatigue, medication side effects, and weight loss and gain. The most important point to remember is to keep in constant communication about these issues, even if they are embarrassing for one or both of you to talk about. If you each don't know how the other is feeling, it can lead to misunderstandings. If you find that the problems become too complex to tackle on your own, seek out professional help. Your partner's gastroenterologist may even be able to recommend someone who is skilled in helping people with IBD navigate the problems that come along with the digestive disease.

Things You Shouldn't Do

As you can imagine, there are going to be challenging times as you deal with IBD. It may be helpful to know what you shouldn't do. Don't:

  • Criticize or ridicule how much time your spouse spends in the bathroom.
  • Criticize or ridicule your spouse's body image.
  • Tell your spouse to "hold it" when he or she needs a bathroom.
  • Be embarrassed by your spouse's condition.
  • Tell your spouse to "just relax."

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.