Personal Relationships and Digestive Disorders


Family and personal relationships can have an effect on illness and on how well a person will feel as he or she lives with chronic digestive disorders. These interactions have been described by family medicine experts.

Relationship factors, which are particularly relevant

  • Putting the illness “in its place” – being concerned about the person with the condition without making the illness the primary focus of relationship life.
  • Recognizing the skills and strengths the person with digestive condition uses to cope with their challenging disorder. For example, calling attention to his or her strategies and skills used in managing intestinal symptoms and distress.

What partners/family members can do

  • Consider the person with the condition 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 a chronic digestive disorder, which affects the gut and can lead to a sudden onset or worsening in symptoms.
  • Help create more regularity in home life and time management. Avoiding disorganization, over-scheduling, or lack of planning will help the person with the condition feel more internally regulated and balanced and help restore a sense of control.
  • Be flexible. Symptoms may 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 the digestive condition. 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 the condition 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 a chronic digestive disorder, 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 a condition like yours 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 onto you. Point out where their comments seem not to apply to your health problems.

Interested in reading personal journeys from others in the GI community?

Check out our Personal Stories page

How to make a mental health part of your health care

Patients that are struggling with medical conditions have improved outcomes when they work on stress and coping skills. Watch a presentation provided by Psychiatrist, Dr. Claire Brandon

Watch now

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