Guest Post for IBS Awareness Month: My Perceptions and Tips On Being a Supportive Spouse
IBS Impact welcomes another guest blogger this week. Jake S. lives in the United States with his wife, who has IBS. He is an engineer and an outdoors enthusiast. He also loves smoking low FODMAP meals with her, as well as hiking and camping. He wrote this article especially for IBS Impact. We appreciate his willingness to support his wife and other people with IBS and their partners by sharing his experiences and useful advice.
Read a recent post by Jake’s wife here.
For the last five years my wife has been suffering from IBS-D. It took almost three years to diagnose her GI issues as IBS and start managing it with things like the low FODMAP diet and gut directed hypnotherapy. The journey that those with IBS go through, I think, can only be given justice by those who experience it. Since I do not have IBS, I am here to speak to the five-year journey I have been on as a supporter of a spouse with IBS. If you are reading this, you already know IBS is not the sexiest of conditions and as a spouse it can be difficult to know how to be supportive and how to adjust to the changes that come from living an IBS friendly lifestyle. I would like to share three topics I think new supporting spouses and others will find helpful on their own journey towards supporting a spouse with IBS. The first is simply how to talk about IBS, the second is the isolating effects IBS has on your spouse, and the third is guilt as a spouse without IBS. For all three, communicating and having open discussions with your spouse are crucial.
Being in the support role means sometimes you might have to explain why your spouse has disappeared to the bathroom for an extended amount of time, why they didn’t eat any of the food they were served, or why they are not going out to dinner that night. Due to the social stigmas around discussing your spouse’s bowel movements, it is important to have a plan going into social interactions. As everyone is different, there is no one right answer here, but the best advice I can give is to simply have a conversation with your spouse. Find out where their comfort level is when discussing their IBS with various people and to what degree. You may find their answer is significantly different in what they desire to share from one family member to another. The same goes for any friends or social groups that you interact with. So, really discuss this with your spouse and understand how best to support them. This will allow you to respect their comfort levels when having to handle these sensitive and personal moments like a lengthy bathroom visit.
The feeling of isolation that occurs once you know your spouse has IBS can be very real and it will impact the both of you. However, it doesn’t need to be all consuming. This is unfortunately amplified by the fact that IBS is oftentimes a lesser known and understood condition that is uniquely different for everyone afflicted by it. In the beginning, going out to do anything associated with food seems incredibly daunting because you just don’t know what landmines lie ahead. The best advice I have about this is for both you and your spouse to go through the process of understanding their dietary restrictions together. When your spouse goes through the oftentimes tedious process of the FODMAP diet, slowly eliminating and reintroducing foods to understand their specific triggers, be attentive! Learn their triggers alongside them. This will ensure that your spouse is not completely alone on their journey.
Knowing the triggers will set you up to be more supportive in the future too. You can then be an extra set of eyes to help avoid the trigger foods and find new foods to build out a meal plan that has been severely cut down from what it used to be. Just don’t make the mistake I have made several times of not asking before purchasing a new item. Ask your spouse before bringing home that lactose free cottage cheese. Just because it is low FODMAP and safe doesn’t mean they are going to like it! Turns out, she really hates cottage cheese. (Side Note: I highly recommend downloading the Monash FODMAP app. Trust me, it will help immensely when shopping for your spouse.)
Another example of where having this knowledge can help relieve the feeling of isolation is that you will find people who want to be supportive but just don’t have the tools or knowledge to be helpful. They will most likely look to your spouse for information. Given that you have been involved and have the knowledge, you can share in this burden and step in to help others learn more about your spouse’s specific needs. Again, just make sure your spouse is okay with your discussing it with each person. Most likely, they will welcome the support of this tag-team approach.
In supporting your spouse, you may find yourself doing what we did and shifting most of your meals to low FODMAP, versus making separate meals for them and the rest of the family. This allows you to meal plan together and again helps in alleviating that feeling of isolation. Although we rarely eat out anymore, we instead get adventurous in our own cooking, oftentimes experimenting with new recipes or modifying old ones to suit her dietary restrictions. We have found cooking together to be enjoyable and have found ways of creating low FODMAP meals we never thought possible, such as pizza and BBQ! It can even be an excuse to get a fancy new toy. My new smoker is a great example.
In wanting to be supportive of my spouse, I also found myself dealing with quite a bit of guilt, especially early on in this journey. I even shame-ate in the car on a few occasions just so she didn’t have to see me eat a delicious burger she could no longer enjoy without consequence. My feelings of guilt, about how she could no longer eat what I could, were real, but my actions were unnecessary. Discussing this guilt with my wife helped lessen those feelings. She never asked me to shame-eat in my car. She wants me to still be able to eat foods I enjoy, but that she can no longer have. If you are sharing a meal plan and being supportive of your spouse, they will understand if you need to have something different on occasion. Being a supporter of someone with IBS means you’ll be emotionally involved in the experience too. Communicating and sharing in the experience with your spouse means you’re both not alone as you go through this experience together, although differently.
Everyone is different and will have a different experience, but hopefully this post helps you, as a spouse, family member, or friend, on your journey to supporting a loved one with IBS. In the end, communication is important and will help in the many situations you’ll encounter in this journey.