I Have IBD, My Husband Doesn’t
It may seem like a funny title, but this week I’m going to talk about how IBD has affected my relationship with my husband. I guess this is in my mind because we’re about to embark on a two-week road trip, and it just shows how far we’ve both come in learning to live with my gut.
When I met my husband 19 years ago IBD was not a part of my life. I worked, I traveled, I played, I was athletic, and never ever did I think about my gut, or bowel movements, or where a bathroom was, or what I could eat or drink. No, none of that came into my every day thought process until seven years later after we’d been married about a year and a half.
It was in 1997 that it seemed like whenever we took a trip, anywhere, my gut would erupt and I’d either spend the first few days in the bathroom and sleeping, or we’d just abort the trip altogether and return home. Things I’d eaten or drunk a million times before all of a sudden seemed to send me running for the bathroom. And then there were the times when for no apparent reason at all I’d spend hours or days on the toilet pooping out my insides. It’s no wonder that after a year of this and many interrupted trips, dinners, nights out with friends, sex, and work both I and my husband got frustrated and angry.
It was during an anniversary trip to St. Barth’s that my usually patient and even-tempered husband finally blew up. We were forced to rush out of a restaurant before finishing our meal when my gut erupted. The restaurants only bathroom was out of order and as my husband paid our bill I ran down the street to the ice cream shop to use their restroom. We then drove back to our island bungalow where I spent another hour in the bathroom. When I finally exited the bathroom my husband was furious.
“What is wrong?” he demanded. “Why can’t we just go on a trip without this happening?”
After bursting into tears I answered him, “I don’t know. It’s just as frustrating to me as it is to you. I don’t understand what’s going on either. I wish I did. But I don’t.”
“Well, you better figure it out because I won’t do this anymore. I feel like you don’t want to be with me, and when you are, it makes you sick.”
“That’s not true and you know it,” I told him. “I love you.”
“Well, then figure out what your problem is or I’m not sure I’ll be here much longer.”
While I was stunned by his declaration I couldn’t stick around to discuss it with him further, I had to get to the toilet again. I spent the rest of the night shuttling between bed and the bathroom. And by the time morning came I was exhausted. But, we were leaving the island that day and so I had no choice but to pull it together and get home. I took four Imodium and made my husband the following promise:
“If you’ll just help get me home I’ll do anything it takes to figure this out. Just give me six months to do it.”
“Fine,” he answered in a curt tone I’d never heard him use before.
Scared that my health could ruin my marriage I saw every doctor possible once we got home – general practitioners, a holistic doctor, two gastroenterologists, and a psychologist. After three months I got my answer, IBD. I had also convinced my husband to come along to some of the sessions I had with my psychologist and he even attended a series of sessions on his own. The combination of understanding what was medically wrong with me, how the disease was affecting both of us emotionally, and also learning some new communication techniques from the psychologist set us on a new path together.
My husband’s sister had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer at about the same age I was when my gut issues first started – she died two years after her diagnosis at the age of 34. And in his subconscious he was scared that I, too, had cancer and that he would lose me. It was the fear he felt at losing me that manifested in his anger and frustration. This realization, along with my actual diagnosis, made us both feel calmer and more in control of the situation.
As I learned how to control my symptoms better, he and I learned how to communicate better. This may sound simple or silly, but really it helped quite a lot. The psychologist also helped us to learn that no situation is every just black and white, there’s a lot of grey space in the world and if you can embrace that grey space life can seem a lot easier.
Here’s an example: I used to be an all or nothing kind of person. If we planned to go for a hike on Saturday and on that morning my gut was crazy and I couldn’t get out of the bathroom then I’d get angry and frustrated and just tell my husband to go on the hike alone and leave me behind at home. This would put my husband into an uncomfortable position – he didn’t want to leave me, but he did want to get some exercise and fresh air. So, the black and white solution would be: either cancel the whole thing or have my husband go alone. But the grey side solution gave us many more options to choose from: give me an hour or two to see if I could get my gut calmed down then go on a shorter hike together; or, let my husband go on the hike alone – guilt-free – and when he got back home if I was feeling better we could go to the beach and spend some time together outside; or, we could change the day’s plan altogether and do something outside around the house, like garden, so I could stick close to a bathroom while we both got some fresh air and exercise, just in a different way than we had planned.
Knowing that I had options took a lot of pressure off of me and I now find that nine times out of ten I’m able to participate in the activity or trip or dinner or outing that we had previously planned. Just knowing what we’re dealing with takes a whole lot of pressure off of both of us in a general day-to-day way.
There are so many other facets to explore when it comes to living with IBD and relationships that I’ll have to continue this discussion in another blog some time in the future. Or, if you would like to read the whole accounting of our trips to St. Barth’s, Death Valley, Arizona, and Orange County pre-IBD diagnosis you can read my book, Living with IBD & IBS: A Personal Journey of Success – www.ibdandibs.com.