A recent study, published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences journal, found over a third of partners of celiac patients found the disease to be a mild to moderate burden on their relationship. The study looked at relationships where one partner was diagnosed with celiac disease. The study compared the celiac patient’s self-reported symptoms with a relationship satisfaction quiz completed by the non-celiac partner. They found that worse reported symptoms also correlated with lower sexual satisfaction.
In the discussion, the study’s authors noted that celiac disease can affect the patient’s social life, because it’s harder to go to events centered around food. They also noted the financial burden, which can stem from higher food costs and the additional medical care needed to identify and treat celiac disease and any other co-occurring conditions. The study concluded that doctors should talk to newly diagnosed celiacs about the effects on their relationships.
While I don’t have an official diagnosis, I can certainly confirm my gluten free diet and related digestive issues haven’t always been easy for my partner. Legend is vegetarian, so choosing a restaurant that can accommodate both of our diets is usually an adventure, particularly when traveling. He has to be careful when he has bread in the house and assure he doesn’t accidentally leave crumbs where I might eat them (like in the butter!) I think, though, that because we’re both in the same boat of respecting the other’s dietary needs, it’s not as burdensome for either partner. I’m lucky that he looks out for me, often reminding me to check on the ingredients of a dish if I’ve forgotten while out to eat.
I will say, though, that there’s something about dining with someone else who has the same dietary restriction as you that seems to take the pressure off. Today I had lunch with a good friend who is also gluten free, and it just feels better when we’re both on the same page when choosing a restaurant. My mom is also gluten free and is one of the few people I can always trust with my diet! She’d never steer me wrong.
The thing that frightened me most about the study is where they said the following:
The degree of burden experienced by partners of patients with CD is also remarkably similar to the reported burden with other chronic, organic diseases such as terminal cancer. …The similar partner burden scores between CD and cancer does demonstrate that like other chronic illnesses, CD requires a level of understanding, acceptance, and support from the loved ones of those with the disease.
Though they note that the partner’s responsibilities are different in celiac disease versus cancer, it’s scary to think that the impact can be this large.
Part of me is really annoyed by this study – as if we need anything else to worry about! However, it’s common to study impact on relationships with many other diseases, so celiac disease was due. I think that knowledge is power, and being aware of just how much impact celiac disease can have on our partners is important. Just like understanding the risk of vitamin deficiencies or the potential challenges of weight management, it’s one more piece in the celiac puzzle to keep your eye on!
If you want to read some lovely stories about relationships coming together in the face of celiac disease, check out Gluten Dude’s Gluten Free Love Stories – it will renew your faith in humanity.
Has your relationship been affected by your gluten free diet? Do you find your celiac disease a burden for those around you? Tell me in the comments!