Family and personal relationships can have an effect on illness and on how well you will feel as you live with your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These interactions have been described by family medicine experts.
Here are some relationship factors, which are particularly relevant to IBS:
- Put the illness “in its place” – that means being concerned about the person with IBS without making the illness the primary focus of relationship life.
- Recognize the skills and strengths the person with IBS uses coping with this challenging disorder. For example, call attention to his or her strategies and skills used in managing urgency, pain, and distress.
What partners can do
- Consider the person with IBS as the expert in charge of his or her condition. Do not be over-watchful or over-protective. Asking, “Are you alright? Are you really ready to leave?” can actually provoke a bit of anxiety in someone with IBS, which affects the gut and can lead to a sudden sense of urgency or pain.
- Help create more regularity in home life and time management. Avoiding disorganization, over-scheduling, or lack of planning will help the person with IBS feel more internally regulated and balanced and help restore a sense of control.
- Be flexible. IBS symptoms can flare up at any time without warning. Understand that plans sometimes will need to be changed.
- Avoid (sometimes unintentionally) laying blame on the person with IBS. Saying things such as, “You don’t eat right,” or “You worry too much,” grows out of a desire to help, but places blame. It makes the person with IBS feel less in control because she or he knows how often even the best of self-discipline cannot always prevent an outbreak of symptoms.
What you can do
If you have IBS, here are some things that you can do to help you manage your condition and improve how you feel:
- Try to locate areas of conflict in your personal relationships and reduce distress. Research shows that continuing to talk about problem areas, not withdrawing or blaming, results in much less personal stress, no matter how serious the issue.
- Be specific about the kinds of support you need from your significant others. Others are often misinformed about what is useful in terms of reminders, scheduling, and other restrictions.
- Explain that having IBS requires you to be a kind of active researcher, always looking for what does and does not help, hurt, and work best for you. Sorting this out takes time and focus, and your efforts should be recognized and admired.
- Be aware that friends and family members may be projecting their own worries about health issues on to you. Point out where their comments seem not to apply to your health problems.
Adapted from IFFGD Publication #213 by Mary-Joan Gerson, PhD, Clinical Professor, Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, New York University; and Charles D. Gerson, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, Gastroenterology Division, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY. Last modified on September 16, 2014 at 08:42:18 AM