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Food Allergy

Save Your Marriage from Food Allergy Stress

4

The stress of managing food allergies is pitting couples against each other. This article from Allergic Living magazine explores how to turn down the raw emotion and learn to work together.

By the time he was 18 months old, Olivia’s* son had been diagnosed with more than 20 food and environmental allergies and was suffering with head-to-toe eczema. First Olivia created a safe environment at home, and then she became the super-allergy mom, co-founding a food allergy support group, writing allergy guidelines for the school district, and training school staff on anaphylaxis prevention and emergency measures.

“Without a doubt I put everything I had into caring for my son for eight years. This is what I had to do to keep him safe,” she says. “I knew I was not making time for my husband but felt it was most important for us to focus on safety for our son at that time.”

But eight years is a long time. When Olivia’s son was finally in school full-time and she could turn her attention back to her relationship, it was too late. Her husband had lost interest and already decided he wanted to leave the marriage. Despite more than a year of counseling, the couple began the process of divorce.

It’s no secret that food allergies or gluten sensitivity can affect the quality of a family’s life. Studies of caregivers, such as the one published in 2010 by Dr. Ruchi Gupta’s team at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a study review in 2011 by a Mount Sinai School of Medicine team, reveal a profound impact on both patients and parents.

The truth is that having to control every morsel that you or your child consumes means continuous pressure around food events outside your kitchen – whether a birthday party, a brunch with friends or a holiday dinner with family.

But beyond the social anxieties, what about the stress that day-in, day-out vigilance puts upon a once-happy relationship? Allergic Living reached out to readers to ask whether food allergies or celiac disease were affecting their marriages, and causing any struggles between husband and wife. The answer, and mainly from women readers, was a blisteringly emphatic “yes”.

Like Olivia, some readers told us about divorcing as a result of strains that began with food allergies, while in other cases there is still hope and enough love to stay together. But even when the marriage bonds are holding, there are many, many couples who are hurting; raw from emotion and the rigors of avoiding allergens or gluten. Scratch the surface of these families, and what becomes evident is that communication breakdown or worse is arising with concerning frequency, especially when the couple involved is in the early years of adapting to an allergen-safe or gluten-free diet.

“Stress, marital and otherwise, doesn’t begin to describe it,” says Nadia*, whose 2-year-old daughter has multiple allergies, asthma and eczema. She and her husband have had blow-ups over Nadia’s attempts to introduce new foods in order to expand their toddler’s diet that’s currently limited to soy formula, lamb, rice, potatoes and a few fruits and vegetables. But foods like milk, eggs, chicken and banana have led to allergic reactions, so her husband will demand: “Why do we do this to ourselves and her?”

Their daughter’s asthma or itching with eczema at night means serious sleep loss, “which provides more fuel for fighting,” Nadia says. But in a moment of pride, she adds about her child: “She is totally worth it, though.”

An asterisk (*) indicates name was changed for privacy.

Next: When husband isn’t on the same page

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.