Navigating relationships with IBD

Living with IBD can complicate relationships with your family, friends, and significant others, both positively and negatively. There are several ways in which your disease can impact your relationships:

  • Your family members, friends, and significant others become your caregivers when your disease flares
  • The ups and downs of IBD can strain relationships over time as your disease fluctuates between active flares and periods of remission
  • Some people will be supportive of your needs as you manage life with a chronic illness, while others may be less understanding

The best way to understand the different ways IBD has impacted relationships is by asking you—and that's what we did. Below is a compilation of responses from members of the Foundation's National Council of College Leaders (NCCL) and social media followers sharing how their disease has had affected their relationships:

"'Sharing' your body with medical professionals, not just your girlfriend or boyfriend, can be hurtful to your relationship." 

"It has shown me that my man will love me even if my butt leaks on him and our bed."

"Some partners have left because they can't handle the reality of what living with IBD can be like."

"It's brought me closer to people. The fact that they take the extra mile for me."

"It's made my relationship with my mom stronger. She has helped me through so much and I'm forever grateful."

"It's made going out in social situations harder. I never feel comfortable with spur of the moment events and need to plan everything ahead of time to truly be comfortable."

"It's difficult for people to truly understand what I'm going through."

"Having IBD can sometimes be hard on my relationship with my boyfriend. When I first started dating him two years ago, I started to have a flare up only a few months later. It was really hard for him to understand and see me in so much pain, as he had never been through anything like this. At this point, I had had IBD for over seven years. He asked questions about it that I had asked already a long time ago. I had a lot of time to come to terms with what was wrong with my body, and he did not, and it scared him. There was a time when he did not know if he could handle it and see me so sick all the time. It was hard to work through, but we have figured it out and know that we can get through anything." 

"Having IBD has allowed me to see who my true friends are and who really cares for me."

"It's helped me be vulnerable in order to create stronger relationships."

"I've met so many new people and made so many new friends at Camp Oasis!"

"I think that IBD has helped my relationships by forcing us to communicate more."

"Since I don't leave my house as often as I used to, my friends have stopped inviting me to go [places]."

"It has made my true relationships stronger and filtered out temporary friends."

"I worry that I'm too much to handle for a partner."

"My family is tired of hearing anything about how I feel. They think I'm being dramatic."

"IBD has really helped my relationship and has helped me care for my body more."

"My ex-boyfriend decided to break up with me because I became 'too sick' for him to handle."

"It's hard when family thinks they know it all and give advice that's harmful."

"Friends are not understanding and get mad when I can't do something due to Crohn's."

"It's allowed me to figure out who truly cares and how to establish boundaries."

"I lost a lot of friends. IBD can be isolating sometimes. Family has stepped up to replace those."

"It's made me feel like I'm not ready for a romantic relationship."

"It puts a lot of stress on my marriage. We can't do things we used to do anymore."

"Intimacy is non-existent during a flare for me. It hurts my romantic relationship."

It's important to remember that you can build and maintain strong relationships as you manage the ups and downs of IBD. It's all about finding the right people who care about your physical and emotional health and will support you through the good and the bad, and weeding out the individuals who aren't understanding and cause you stress. A strong support system will value and respect you.

It can also help to join a support group (in person or online) to connect with others who understand what you are going through. Relationships between IBD patients can be some of the most supportive and helpful ones out there because you can relate to each other. Always remember that you are not alone in your IBD journey!

It's not too late to purchase a #LoveYourGuts shirt! Click here to buy a shirt and help support the Foundation's research, education, support, & advocacy programs. 

Rebecca Kaplan is the Public Affairs and Social Media Manager for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation and the caregiver of a Crohn's disease patient.