"I don’t feel attractive or desirable when I am gassy or having frequent bowel movements".
"My family and friends don’t understand IBS and think it’s all in my head".
"My boyfriend is supportive, but I don’t know how much longer he’ll put up with my anxiety".
Do you sometimes feel like that, too?...
People living with IBS often experience additional challenges when navigating interpersonal relationships, like when you want to cuddle but are struggling with cramps or when you're worried how someone might feel if you cancel plans again. IBS can pose challenges that may be hard to talk about with the people you love, but you can help open up healthy communication again by clearly stating what you need.
Read on to discover a few tips on how to talk about IBS with a loved one or how to be more supportive as a partner, friend, or family member of someone with IBS.
Relationships and IBS
Research shows that relationships can have an impact on your IBS condition experience—and may even aﬀect your response to treatment! To help prevent problems before they arise, try to become aware of any areas of tension in your relationships and address them early.
Many people benefit from finding a person they can talk to openly about their issues. This doesn’t have to be your immediate circle of friends or family. Hypnotherapist Kerry Jeffrey, who has three autoimmune conditions herself, explains:
When the people around you don't understand or don't seem to want to listen to how you feel or even worse, accuse you of constantly complaining, you can feel hurt, betrayed, rejected and abandoned
People with IBS sometimes find the necessary emotional support in online groups that include their peers going through similar things. You can also seek help from a trained professional, such as a hypnotherapist or a psychologist.
How to talk to your loved ones about IBS
To make your relationships easier to manage, try to:
- Be specific about your needs and restrictions and explain them clearly to those around you. You probably already have a few strategies that work for you so share them with family and friends. Don’t feel resentful if they can’t grasp it all. It’s probably new territory for them, so you will need to be assertive.
- Set healthy boundaries. Doing that will diminish the negative effect other people’s expectations and judgements can have on you. This will help you protect your health and well-being.
- Practice self-care in the relationship. If you are in the middle of a flare, make yourself comfortable and don’t feel guilty if you can’t participate in what others are doing.
It’s important that you don’t feel less worthy of a loving relationship because you have IBS. You are good enough just as you are (tummy problems and all).
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What can partners, family, and friends do?
If your partner, friend, or family member is struggling with IBS, then one important thing you can do is take the time to learn about the condition. By educating yourself about IBS you will be better able to understand what your significant other is going through.
You can support healthy communication in your relationship by:
- Respecting the other person’s boundaries and trusting them when they tell you what works for them and what doesn’t. They are the expert when it comes to their body.
- Supporting the other person without being patronizing. For instance, avoid suggestions such as "You should/shouldn’t eat this”.
- Accepting that IBS is an unpredictable condition, so you may need to be okay with changing plans at the last minute. A flexible attitude can help manage a stressful situation and diffuse tension.
Another thing you can do is to refrain from telling stories of people who had the same/similar condition and got better. You might be trying to put a positive spin on it. However, every person’s health journey is unique and making out-of-context comparisons is not always helpful.