Women's Experiences of Intimate Relationships While Living With Irritable Bowel Syndrome


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Abstract

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic digestive disorder that commonly affects women. Research has shown that the illness experience of irritable bowel syndrome can disrupt social relationships. However, the area of intimate relationships has yet to be explored despite the deep involvement that intimate partners often have in the experience of living with chronic illness. Using a critical feminist lens, a narrative methodology was employed to explore women's experiences of intimate relationships while living with irritable bowel syndrome. Data collection methods included semistructured interviews and an arts-informed activity. The women's narrative accounts and artistic pieces reflected the emotional, physical, and interpersonal aspects of intimacy while living with irritable bowel syndrome. The findings indicated that women's experiences were deeply emotional and involved laborious and gendered emotion work. Their body concept complicated their relationship experiences. Women's emotional and social well-being was fostered by their partners' provision of acceptance, understanding, and support. The findings highlighted the need to implement and further explore the inclusion of emotional support and counselling as well as dyadic and gendered approaches to irritable bowel syndrome management.

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