Save Your Marriage from Food Allergy Stress
Advice for Finding Parent Harmony
Issue: Lack of communication on allergies.
Action: Assess how you’ve been speaking to your spouse. Is it as an equal partner, or more like a parent to a child? If the latter, it’s time to change this habit because your spouse will resent being “managed”. You may have more education on allergies than your spouse, but remember that it took a while to learn the risks and safe food practices. Keep your fact-sharing focused and perhaps print out a good article. There is a learning curve so try to avoid frustration when your partner doesn’t quickly “get it”. Otherwise you could make your partner feel incompetent and that will push you two farther apart. Aim to communicate with kindness.
Issue: Allergies are making me feel isolated.
Action: It’s important to find others who are coping with food allergies or celiac disease and create a network of support to reduce such feelings. You may find this through an allergy support group or an online allergy forum (such as the one at allergicliving.com) or through volunteering on an anaphylaxis fundraising event (such as the FARE Walks). Allergy dad Allen Diewald notes: “We food allergy families are a resilient bunch. We have met some really nice people just because we share this challenge in common.”
Issue: My partner thinks the precautions required to stay safe and avoid cross-contamination seem over-the-top.
Action: Bring your spouse along to a support group meeting or food allergy conference. Include him in allergist appointments. “I have seen good results from the spouse agreeing to speak to an objective expert to resolve the issue about how careful to be,” says psychologist Laura Marshak. While it may seem annoying to have an ‘expert’ say what you’ve been saying, she adds: “it works.”
Issue: A high stress level in the household.
Action: With a child with multiple food allergies, it’s easy to go into crisis control mode, but you can’t live well every day at that level. Don’t let the allergy become the family’s identity. Once safe eating and label reading rules are in place, find opportunities to develop your child’s independence. Help young children develop confidence by allowing them (with assistance) to call friends to initiate a play date. Encourage normalcy that doesn’t focus on allergies and parents should take time to focus on their own relationship. Date nights with no allergy talk should be mandatory.
For adults with fears about safe eating outside the home: do more home entertaining (but keep it simple, don’t make it a burden). Once feeling more confident, find one good accommodating restaurant, then maybe another to widen your safety net. Join a support group and learn to manage anxiety. Marshak also recommends the books The Worry Cure by Robert Leahy and The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques by Margaret Wehrenberg.
Issue: I’m doing everything!
Action: Focus on including all family members in daily tasks so that you are not over-burdened, but don’t micromanage. Assign tasks according to strengths: a detail-oriented spouse can label-read at the grocery store, a child can put the groceries away at home and the partner can help with meals. It’s counter-intuitive to give somebody a task they will not succeed at.