11. April 2016
Relationships and Food Allergies

How are relationships affected? Should one’s partner exclude the same foods?

There are no hard and fast rules or secrets to success when it comes to relationships and food allergies. People are all so different. Some handle change very well while others are stuck in their old ways and unwilling to try new things. There are situations that absolutely require change, especially where health is concerned.

A new life situation requires patience

Some couples approach the new situation together from the outset. For other couples, the partner with the allergy must deal with the new situation and needs time and perhaps support in doing so. Then there are couples in which the non-allergic partner needs time to accept the new circumstances. There is no right or wrong approach in dealing with and accepting the new situation as long as the process occurs. After all, your partner has not turned into someone else just because of a food allergy. Of course it is not always easy to be patient. After receiving a medical diagnosis, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed at first by the new situation.

Time, patience, research, mutual consideration, appreciation and communication can help both partners get their bearings in the new situation. It can also be good for the relationship to give one’s partner some space. Again, we all ‘tick’ differently. It is easier for some, and harder for others, to accept that life will change forever the day a food allergy is diagnosed. We often only realise at that moment how much we enjoyed a particular food or food group that is now suddenly off limits. This is also completely normal.

Chances are you have thoughts running through your mind such as ‘How will I ever bake a cake again for our new neighbours when I can’t eat eggs anymore?’ These thoughts can even stir up anxieties about a relationship. It happens all the time. Every relationship has its rituals and traditions, which are then brought into question. We need to see our lives, relationships and everyday events as constantly changing and evolving. Looking at it from this point of view makes it easier to adapt the cake recipe to make it egg-free so that you can also eat it. The ritual remains the same. This perspective can help you ease into your new lifestyle.

Do the problems within the relationship seem insurmountable and too difficult to bear? This can happen too, especially if one feels completely overwhelmed by it all. I personally believe it is a good idea to seek professional help from a couples therapist. One or two sessions can make a big difference in your lives.

Should both partners exclude the same foods?

Only in rare cases do both partners have to exclude the offending foods. If a life-threatening food allergy has been diagnosed, the entire household may need to be allergen free so that the allergic individual has a safe zone. This has an impact on one’s partner, children and other family members. For example, if one member of the household has a severe peanut allergy that can be triggered by merely opening a bag of peanut puffs in the presence of that person, who might breathe it in and risk having an anaphylactic reaction, everyone in the house must exclude the offending food. It is also advisable to refrain from kissing if the non-allergic partner has just eaten something that triggers anaphylactic shock in the other partner.

In other cases, both partners do not necessarily have to exclude the same foods. If the allergy is not severe, it may suffice to prevent contamination and allergic reactions by storing foods separately and consistently using separate kitchen equipment. It is important to know one’s allergy risk in order to determine which measures are necessary.

‘Should’ or ‘would’ one’s partner exclude the same foods out of solidarity? There are as many answers to this question as there are relationships (apart from certain extreme cases). I know of more than a few couples in which one partner has voluntarily given up the foods to which the other partner is allergic. This always depends on the relationship and the importance of food, enjoyment and shared experiences in the relationship.

8 April 2017. Author: Stefanie Grauer-Stojanovic