It’s a question we are often asked as gastrointestinal specialists. It is understandable that people with IBS can feel anxious about its potential impact on their relationship – it can be a bit of a passion killer if your stomach is bloated and you are affected by bouts of recurrent diarrhoea or constipation… or both.
But most people can and do sustain a relationship despite having IBS and it is perfectly possible to manage your symptoms.
Being honest with your partner is important. Although it can be embarrassing, if you explain your symptoms and how they affect you, your partner will understand if you have to make sudden trips to the toilet or if you are feeling uncomfortable about social situations, or if you suddenly have to change your plans because your IBS has flared up.
If your partner wants to take you for a romantic meal, it is best if they know what sort of food is likely to trigger your symptoms so you can eat somewhere that is gentler on your tummy… or maybe even go to the cinema instead.
Stress can be a major contributor to IBS so if you are worrying about trying to hide your symptoms from your partner it may exacerbate them. The vast majority of people will be sympathetic and understanding if they are with IBS. It is a very common condition so they may even have some experience of it themselves.
At first, people tend to be curious so be prepared to answer some questions. It’s up to you how much information you choose to share, or not.
Often one of the questions people ask is ‘what can I do to help?’ It can be really helpful if you have some ideas about how they could help you. If the roles were reversed, you would probably want to help your partner if you could and understanding what to do will enable them to feel valued and included.
Here are some suggestions for partners of IBS sufferers:
- Be flexible and understanding – IBS can flare up at unexpected and sometimes inconvenient times. Try not to get angry or blame your partner as this won’t help.
- Listen if your partner wants to talk about IBS but don’t make it the sole topic of conversation.
- Try focusing on positives rather than negatives. Be encouraging if your partner is trying new diets or stress reduction techniques. Why not show your support by joining in?
- Lack of planning, disorganisation and overcommitting yourselves can increase stress levels and may result in your partner not eating as carefully as they should to control their symptoms. Try to plan ahead, eat regularly and make sure there is always a good supply of the right types of food in the fridge.
- Sometimes your partner may need just to rest with a hot water bottle or lie in a warm bath. Having a loving partner to make the hot water bottle or run the bath may be just what they need to feel better.