Finding the right man – and getting intimate – feels impossible for women who have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis a few years before my husband and I married. Now, 15 years later, I understand how a woman with IBD can have loving relationship with a man. I’m not a marriage therapist or a gastroenterology specialist, but my personal experience with intestinal disease and marriage has been enlightening…and often humbling.
While writing 10 Natural Ways to Ease the Pain of Ulcerative Colitis, I realized I’ve never written about how ulcerative colitis can affect relationships, marriage, or physical intimacy. Are you struggling with an inflammatory bowel disease or syndrome? If you’re worried about finding love, my experience with IBD and love might comfort and encourage you.
After being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis I thought I could never get married! How could I possibly take my nightly Pentasa enemas with a husband in bed beside me? What would he think about my intestinal flareups and noisy, stinky stints in the bathroom? Was it possible to hide the fact that I have an inflammatory bowel disease?
Fortunately my ulcerative colitis has always been relatively mild. The only thing that flared it was lack of sleep and stress. Even more fortunately, I can control both triggers. Nevertheless I was I was so relieved when my colitis starting going into remission more often when I was about 45 years old. That’s when I went into peri menopause; I suspect my decreasing hormones pushed my IBD into remission. Now I’m 50 and haven’t had a flareup for at least three years.
But it hasn’t always been easy to live with ulcerative colitis. When I was first diagnosed at age 29 I worried for years that I wouldn’t meet a man, fall in love, or be able to sustain a long-term relationship. I hoped I’d marry but really didn’t know how a woman with ulcerative colitis could be intimate with a guy without being humiliated by her body. I didn’t end up getting married until I was 35 years old, so I had lots of time to think. And write articles like 4 Reasons to Wait Until You’re 35 to Get Married.
5 Relationship Tips for Women With Ulcerative Colitis
Do you have an inflammatory bowel disease? Feel free to share your colitis or Crohn’s story in the comments below. Writing about your IBD – and your worries about finding love, building a relationship, having sex and getting married – can help you work through your emotions. In fact, this may be one of the few places you can be truly honest about your fears. I definitely didn’t want to ask my gastroenterologist about intimacy, marriage, and inflammatory bowel disease. I also hadn’t thought about keeping a relationship strong through sickness.
Remember that not all types or degrees of IBD are the same. My experience isn’t the same as yours, which means my tips may not work for you. It’s not just the bowel disease that’s different; it’s how women experience intimacy, romance, and connection.
1. Be emotionally authentic and physically private
I learned how to keep my ulcerative colitis from flaring, so my ulcerative colitis isn’t a big issue in my marriage now. We’ve been married for 15 years; the IBD was a much bigger problem the first few years of our marriage. Sleep and stress management techniques (prayer, connection with God, yoga, running, being with my dogs, and writing) are my most important “treatments” for ulcerative colitis.
When I feel the colitis start to flare, I use a Pentasa enema before falling asleep at night. My husband knows I use enemas – and he was actually fascinated by the contraption and wanted to see how it works – he has never been in the bed with me while I use them. I ask him to leave the bedroom and shut the door, so I can have my privacy. This is a bit of a pain for him because I like to do the enema right before I fall asleep, which means I often have to kick him out of bed for those few minutes. He leaves without complaint, but it still feels awkward.
If you’re worried you’ll never find love because you have ulcerative colitis, know that you will find the right man for you. And you’ll be able to be honest with him about what your body is experiencing because of the IBD. Share enough details to keep you emotionally connected but not so many that you feel your privacy is invaded.
2. Know that IBD, colitis, or Crohn’s cannot prevent love
Sure, ulcerative colitis is embarrassing. My bathroom experiences are gross – and thankfully my husband isn’t involved in this aspect of my life! Unfortunately, however, sometimes he hears what happens when I’m in the bathroom and the colitis is flared. I’ll never forget one time – we were on vacation in Munich, Germany. The hotel room was so tiny he could hear everything I was experiencing in the bathroom! Blech.
An intestinal bowel disease can be humbling, but it does not have to be humiliating. IBD can change a relationship, but it does not have to block or destroy love! Sometimes your boyfriend or husband will witness the effects of your ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s. It may affect how attractive you feel. Your job is to work through your feelings, and allow your true self to shine through with your husband. It also helps to remember that most men easily dismiss silly (and funny) things like bathroom noises.
3. Be where you are
When you’re being intimate with your boyfriend or husband, forget about the ulcerative colitis. Forget about the bathroom noises, the medications, the enemas, all the rest of the problems that an inflammatory bowel disease brings.
Finding love and building a healthy relationship is about presence and attention. An inflammatory bowel disease doesn’t have the power to prevent a relationship or destroy a marriage – unless you give it that power! When you’re with your boyfriend or husband, be with him. Focus on connection and love, not your own fears or self-consciousness.
If you tend to be anxious and fearful about how IBD will affect your relationship, read How to Stop Anxiety From Ruining Your Relationship.
4. Let your IBD do what it needs to do
Will your ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease make an appearance while you’re actually having sex with your boyfriend or husband? It never happened to me. My colitis seems to shut down when I was intimate with my husband. Sometimes I felt my guts burbling and the ulcerative colitis acting up, but I proceeded to be intimate with my husband. I was worried about a possible toot toot (or worse), but my body knew what she was doing. While sex was happening, my ulcerative colitis went to sleep.
Will your IBD act up during intimate moments? Test and see! Be intimate with your own body. Do your intestines quieten down as the rest of your body rises up? Of course it depends on the type, degree, and activity of your ulcerative colitis. Learn about your body. You already know your body better than anyone (except maybe your gastroenterologist who has inside information because of the colonoscopy).
Love, relationships, and intestinal bowel diseases can co-exist. You’ll just have to feel your way to a healthy intimate life with your boyfriend or husband.
5. Love your body – for better or worse!
Your body, mind and spirit are the only things you’ll have for the rest of your life. Love, relationships, boyfriends, husbands, friends, family, children – everything else will eventually leave you. Or die.
Learn how to love your body – and yourself – for who you are. Intestinal bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and all the associated therapies, equipment and surgeries are part of who you are. Your body is doing the best she can to survive; give her the love and attention she needs.
Treat yourself well, and a relationship will fall into place. Love yourself fully and completely, and love will find you. Build a strong relationship with God, and every other important relationship in your life will unfold naturally.
3 final tips for women, love, and IBD:
1. Talk to a trained professional if your IBD is serious. Since I’m not a marriage therapist or gut doctor, I can’t offer specific relationship or health tips for women with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s. Get in-person help if your inflammatory bowel disease is affecting your marriage, life, or overall health. Book an appointment with a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy if necessary. Definitely find counselors or IBD support groups in your area. Talk about finding love and being in a relationship with IBD.
2. Try not to let embarrassment or shame stop you from reaching out for help. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s are a stinky diseases for women (and men). They can negatively affect your sex life, relationship, and ability to relate to a boyfriend or husband. Feeling embarrassed or ashamed is normal…but it doesn’t have to prevent you from falling in love or having a good relationship with a boyfriend. And IBD certainly doesn’t have the power to stop you from creating a strong emotional and physical connection with your husband! Unless, of course, you let it.
3. Find and stick with a healthy IBS eating plan
In The IBS Elimination Diet and Cookbook: The Proven Low-FODMAP Plan for Eating Well and Feeling Great Patsy Catsos, MS, RDN, LD, expands on her previously self-published book IBS–Free at Last! She ushered in a new era of treating IBS through diet instead of medication with the use of a low-FODMAP diet (difficult-to-digest carbohydrates found in a variety of otherwise healthy foods).
FODMAP is known to doctors and other specialists as an invaluable tool for anyone suffering from IBS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, SIBO, and gluten sensitivity. Patsy’s program and theory walks you through eliminating FODMAPs and adding them back one by one. This is the most usable, thorough program available.
You might also be interested in my Simple, No-Cook Ulcerative Colitis Diet Plan.
What do you think? Feel free to share your comments on living with IBD and falling in love. Has ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s affected your relationship or marriage?