I would like to think that I know everything there is to know about being in a relationship while living with IBD. I was in a relationship when I was diagnosed, through my surgeries, and well into my recovery. I spent five-and-a-half years with this person, and while I would love to say he was a glowing example of a supportive partner, I would be lying through my teeth. The time that I spent with this person was some of the worst years of my life, not only because of the sickness, but because of the lack of support and understanding from my partner.
So let me be your IBD relationships spirit guide and fill you in on the things that you need to do and what you should expect from your partner.
Let’s start with the basics. Your partner should know the name of your disease, which part of your body it affects and basic information about IBD in general. It is your job as their significant other to also be educated about your disease and be willing to talk about it. However, your partner should WANT to know about what is plaguing you. They should WANT to Google it and be able to surprise you with their knowledge.
Face it, sometimes IBD takes you out for the count and that means missing out on activities, or even canceling them. Your partner needs to understand flexibility in terms of scheduling and also have the simple understanding that you’re not choosing to cancel plans, but rather that you need to for your health. Understanding IBD and the limitations that it sometimes poses is key to a strong relationship. Sometimes you need someone to lay on the couch with you instead of throwing you a peace sign and leaving to continue with previously made plans.
While it may seem obvious that your partner would be supportive of you, your disease, and all the literal and figurative “crap” that it brings, this isn’t always the case. For me, support means being educated and also understanding what living with IBD can be like. Support is picking up your prescriptions when you can’t leave the toilet; it’s helping you around the house when your stomach pain is so bad you can’t move; and, for the sake of all things holy, it’s visiting you in the hospital after you’ve had surgery. Support means being there when you need someone, need help, or just need to cry it out. And, someone that will still love you even when you’ve got your ugly cry face on.
Relationships are supposed to be based on love, right? Your partner should love you before your diagnosis, after it, during it, and when you’re in remission. If you find that you partner doesn’t think you’re very fun when you’re experiencing a flare, and then chooses not to hang out with you because of it, that’s not a real clear sign of love, in my opinion. Most importantly, love yourself. When you see that your partner is not meeting these simple expectations, love yourself enough to walk away and focus on getting healthy. The stress of an unhealthy relationship took a massive toll on me when I was having surgeries and in my recovery. I often think that if I had loved myself more, I wouldn’t have put up with all that I did. Love is vital for all relationships, and is even more critical for your relationship with yourself.
The bottom line
This may seem like a really basic list of things that all relationships should have, but you’d be surprised at how many relationships are missing these key elements. The reality is that dating someone with IBD can be a lot to take on and a lot to handle/understand/comprehend. It takes a strong person. If you have found someone who will learn about your disease, understand it, support you and love you, hold on for dear life
I made a lot of excuses for my partner because I was afraid to be alone when I was really sick, but the reality was that I was already alone. Instead of focusing on myself and healing, I spent my time trying to make someone else happy. Learn from my mistakes. If you choose to be in a relationship, make sure your partner understands that sometimes there is a third person in your relationship: your IBD. Once they learn about it, understand it and support it, I think you’re on your way to a happy, healthy relationship.
Jackie Zimmerman is a multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis patient and the founder and executive director of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has blogged her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community and pays it forward as Social Ambassador of the IBDHealthCentral Facebook page. In her free time (what free time?!) she spends time with her two rescue pups and plays roller derby. She’s online @JackieZimm.